Brazilians Protest Massive Government Corruption Scandal
ARUN RATH, HOST:
In Brazil, there are countrywide protests against President Dilma Rousseff today. Tens of thousands of people in over 40 cities and towns are taking to the streets. Their main grievance is over a scandal at the state oil company, which has implicated members of her government, senior politicians and businessmen. In all, investigators say, billions of dollars may have been stolen through graft. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro joins us from the protest site in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Now, there were over 200,000 people there in the streets of Sao Paulo last month for protests - one of the biggest protests since the dictatorship ended there. What's it like today?
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: Well, we've seen protests all over the country in about 40 cities and towns. The numbers have been lower, and that, of course, is a disappointment to the organizers. But, you know, still, tens of thousands of people have come out onto the streets, and it's very well-organized. There's obviously money behind this. Every few blocks here, there are buses blasting music, and someone's denouncing the president. People are wearing the colors of the Brazilian flag. That's become sort of an important symbol here for people in their protest against the government. They're holding signs, and they're asking for President Dilma Rousseff to be impeached, essentially.
RATH: Do the smaller crowds, though, this time around - are they an indication that things might be looking up for the embattled president?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, that's certainly going to be welcome news for the government. They obviously do not want to see these crowds growing. They'll be able to undermine this movement if they see less people out on the street. That's certainly what analysts have been saying. They say these numbers need to at least stay steady or not increase for there to be a sense of real momentum behind these protests. But it's not smooth sailing for the government.
A poll by the well-respected group here, Datafolha, showed that two-thirds of the country want her impeached. Thirteen percent give her positive approval. That said, two-thirds of the country also feels that the protests are positive. So they basically are saying here, in Brazil, that they do not support President Dilma Rousseff, that they do want her out, whether or not they go to the streets.
RATH: I remember before the World Cup, there were massive protests in Brazil. Are these the same people in these protests or different?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's a different crowd, in terms of who has been organizing these demos. I'll just give you an example. In 2013, those massive demonstrations started over a hike in bus fares. And they were spearheaded by a group that wanted free public transport - essentially a leftist group. This year, I just spoke to a 19-year-old libertarian who's inspired by the Cato Institute. And I interviewed him, and he said he wanted, for example, public transport to be privatized. He represents one of the main groups organizing these demonstrations. It is mostly right wing - a lot of banners here today talking about getting rid of communism, a lot of cheers for the military police - so a very different feel to the crowd that we saw two years ago.
RATH: So you say more people from the right wing, but the poll you mentioned shows that there's widespread discontent.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's exactly right, and that's what people are telling me. Whether you're from the right, whether you're from the left, people here are very unhappy, and there's a lot of reasons for that. The economy is tanking. Inflation is rising. Unemployment is up. And, of course, the main thing is this giant scandal at the state oil company Petrobras. And basically what happened was the biggest construction firms would overcharge the state oil company, and that extra money was being funneled into re-election funds and politicians' wallets. And this has really scandalized the entire country. People are extremely upset. They feel like one of the national treasures has been essentially undermined and used as a slush fund to get people re-elected. And so you are seeing widespread discontent, regardless of who is out on the streets today.
RATH: NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro in Sao Paulo. Thanks so much.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.