Impeachment or coup? As vote on president’s future nears, Brazilians take to streets in protest


Protesters opposing impeachment of Brazil’s embattled president blocked roads, set fires and slowed traffic in 15 Brazilian states Tuesday, underlining the political divisions a new government will face if Dilma Rousseff is removed from office Wednesday as expected.

Acts attempting to stop what demonstrators call a “coup” against Rousseff and her center-left Workers’ Party have erupted in over half of Brazil’s state capitals, organized by the “Frente Brasil Popular” group, which brings together labor unions, social movements and left-leaning groups.

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“Workers are standing their ground on this ‘National Day of Paralysis,’” says a note published by the dominant CUT trade union association, which has traditionally supported the Workers’ Party. “All across Brazil, social movements are blocking roads and highways. ... This is the anti-coup struggle.”

The demonstrations came after protesters demanding Rousseff’s ouster took to the streets in Sao Paulo on Monday night, some carrying posters of Rousseff in striped prison garb.

Brazil’s Senate is expected to go forward with a vote Wednesday to remove Rousseff from office and subject her to an impeachment trial for misleading accounting maneuvers. Legal experts agree that impeachment is a legitimate instrument in Brazil, but some argue that the case against Rousseff is weak and politically motivated.

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If the deeply unpopular Rousseff is removed, a coalition of Brazil’s traditionally more conservative parties is poised to immediately enter power and form a new government, which promises to be more market-friendly and to cut spending in an attempt to pull the country out of its worst recession in decades.


Prices on Brazil’s stock exchange have tended to rise on news that Rousseff will be removed, serving to again pit left-wing movements and unions against the international investors and “speculators” they had traditionally considered their enemies in the last century, before Brazil’s now-past economic boom.

In São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, smoke rose into the sky Tuesday as red-clad protesters blocked its main arteries, and commuters slogged through traffic or found alternate routes.

Some residents said the inconvenience paled in comparison to the economic and political crisis that has wracked the country for months.

“The traffic here is always bad, but today it was unreal. People couldn’t even get in and out of the airport. They have a right to protest, but I wish they’d do it another way,” says Paulo Stross, 45, who took an hour-long bus Tuesday morning from his home to his job in downtown São Paulo at a bakery. “I personally support impeachment. I have no idea if the new government will be better, but hopefully it won’t be worse.”

An April poll showed a majority of Brazilians support removing Rousseff, but that a larger percentage favor holding new elections and less than 10% want Vice President Michel Temer to take over, as is likely.

The impeachment process was briefly complicated Monday, as the interim lower house speaker attempted to annul a previous pro-impeachment vote in Congress, then later retracted his efforts.



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Bevins is a special correspondent.