News / Americas

Brazil's Rousseff Strains to Manage Unrest

People march during an anti-government protest at the Copacabana beach, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 23, 2013.
People march during an anti-government protest at the Copacabana beach, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 23, 2013.
Reuters
Few people in Brazil know what it's like to be 20-something and angry at the government quite like President Dilma Rousseff.
 
Rousseff, a Marxist guerrilla during the 1960s who fought against a military dictatorship, now finds herself on the other side of power. She's struggling to defuse protests by more than 1 million people in the past two weeks that have unsettled markets and could threaten her re-election next year.
 
The irony has not been lost on protesters, one of whom held up a poster last week with a mug shot from Rousseff's arrest for subversion at age 22 and the words: “Your ideals were the same as ours! We want that Dilma back!”
 
Despite her past and her leftist policies now, Rousseff's aides say that, like other politicians, she has had a tough time understanding what exactly the protesters want and deciding how to react. The hard truth is that she has no easy options.
 
Protesters' calls for higher spending on hospitals, schools and public transport could not come at a worse time for the government, which is trying to rebuild its credibility with investors through a renewed focus on fiscal discipline.
 
The nameless, leaderless protest movement, which blossomed thanks to social media and strong participation of university students, has brought together Brazilians angry about corruption, poor public services and billions of dollars being spent to host soccer's World Cup next year.
 
Dozens of people have been injured and two killed, although most of the protests have been peaceful. The demonstrations have subsided in recent days but more are planned for the coming weeks.
 
While vowing to crack down on a violent minority that have looted stores and vandalized government buildings, Rousseff has praised the democratic spirit of most protesters and vowed during a televised speech on Friday to address their concerns.
 
Rousseff was to meet on Monday with governors and mayors to win backing for plans to build more public hospitals and prioritize a project aimed at improving transportation in Brazil's cities. She also is lobbying them to support a congressional bill that would funnel all royalties from new oil fields to public schools and other education projects.
 
The economy, however, is struggling to gain steam, inflation is eating away at purchasing power, and rising interest rates are making consumer credit more costly. In addition, two straight years of what many economists decry as fiscal slippage under Rousseff make increased spending even harder.
 
That means Rousseff does not have much room for maneuver and protesters are unlikely to see any concrete improvements to daily life in the near term.
 
Still, Rousseff's ability to convince Brazilians that she is at least on their side will be key to preventing the protests from degenerating into even worse violence or becoming so disruptive that they push aside the rest of her agenda at a time when the economy is looking delicate.
 
“From this point on, she's going to start making decisions with less certainty” because of the scrutiny stemming from the protests, said Marcio FranEca, a congressman for the PSB Party, part of Rousseff's ruling coalition.
 
Rousseff is a widely respected career technocrat but she sometimes comes off as gruff and authoritarian. Her strong approval ratings, however, began to slide before the protests began, a trends that is likely to continue in the near term.
 
So far, the unrest has been directed at politicians of all stripes, not her in particular. Some aides worried that having Rousseff address the nation could turn her into the primary target of the protesters' ire.
 
One thing that Rousseff has not discussed much since the crisis started is her personal past.
 
Rousseff, the daughter of a Bulgarian aristocrat, was a teenager when she joined one of several small guerrilla groups that proliferated in Brazil in the late 1960s. Her ex-husband Carlos Araujo told Reuters in 2010 that Rousseff helped plan some of the group's activities but never engaged in violence herself.
 
After her arrest in early 1970, Rousseff was taken to a detention center. There, she was beaten and hung upside down by her knees from a metal rod while interrogators applied electric shocks to her head, ears and nipples, trying to get her to give them the names of fellow guerrillas, according to an interview she gave in 2005 to Folha de S.Paulo.
 
Rousseff remained in jail for 3 1/2 years. Following her release, she studied economics and evolved into a more moderate leftist, and then took a series of government jobs after democracy returned to Brazil in the 1980s.
 
During her presidential campaign in 2010, Rousseff's TV ads cast her guerrilla years as a struggle for democracy and greater equality in a country that, then as now, has one of the world's biggest gaps between rich and poor.
 
Since then she has rarely spoken about her guerrilla period, in part because she does not believe it defines her but also because of concerns it might alienate more conservative voters, aides say.
 
In her Friday speech, she seemed to refer to her struggle only obliquely.
 
“Brazil fought a lot to become a democratic country,” she said. “It wasn't easy to get where we did, just as it isn't easy to get where many of those who went to the streets want to go.”
 
Some aides have urged her to share her story more often but Rousseff has pushed back, arguing that people would much rather hear about the broader tale of Brazil's growing prosperity in the past 10 years.
 
Some demonstrators also have said they are eager to hear Rousseff talk about Brazil in more personal terms.
 
“She seems good, but I ask myself who she is,” said Ana Cattaldi, 27, at a march in Sao Paulo on Saturday. “Is she a product of marketing? Or is she angry like we are?”
 
When the protests intensified with some 200,000 people joining in last Monday, Rousseff dispatched a top aide to deliver a written one-sentence message to reporters saying that peaceful protests were “legitimate.”
 
That was typical for a president who has given only a handful of media interviews and prefers to speak instead in speeches or tightly managed “conversations” with officials that are then broadcast on radio.
 
She has been criticized for not meeting enough with leaders in Congress or representatives of social movements and activist groups that form the base of her leftist Workers' Party.
 
One reason for her aloofness, aides say, is her disgust with the way business is done in Brasilia. Since taking office, she has fired or urged the resignation of seven of her own ministers after they were accused of corruption - a stance that has earned her a clean reputation and boosted her popularity.
 
Rousseff has surrounded herself instead with a core group of about a half-dozen aides and ministers, and spends much of her time in her comfort zone, managing economic policy.
 
The results have been mixed. Unemployment has remained near historic lows, but many investors blame Rousseff's frequent interventions for an economy that has slowed sharply since she took office and inflation running above 6.5 percent.
 
One member of her inner circle, Trade Minister Fernando Pimentel, is another former guerrilla who knew Rousseff in the 1960s, and still walks with a limp after he was hit by a car during a failed kidnapping in that era. He was one of the few officials last week to speak about the protests.
 
He denied that the government was “out of tune” with the protests, and played down any impact they might have on Rousseff.
 
“They're against the status quo,” Pimentel told Reuters as he left a meeting with Rousseff. “Not against the government.”

You May Like

Photogallery Pistorius Sentenced, Taken to Prison

Pistorius, convicted of culpable homicide in shooting death of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, will likely serve about 10 months of five-year sentence, before completing it under house arrest More

UN to Aid Central Africa in Polio Vaccinations

Synchronized vaccinations will be conducted after Cameroon reports a fifth case of the wild polio virus in its territory More

WHO: Ebola Vaccine May Be in Use by Jan.

WHO assistant director Dr. Marie Paule Kieny says clinical trials of Ebola vaccines are underway or planned in Europe, US and Africa More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid

More Americas News

Video US Political Parties Face Challenge Motivating Hispanics

As November 4 midterm elections loom, Latino activists, who are mostly Democrats, say they are disappointed and angry with president over immigration reform
More

Photogallery Possible Suspect Named in Ottawa Shooting

Authorities searching for one or more suspects in incident on grounds of Canada's parliament building; one soldier and one gunman shot dead; one of the shooters reportedly a Canadian convert to Islam
More

Head of Mexican Cartel Appears in US Court

Juan Francisco Saenz-Tamez was arrested by US federal agents while shopping in Texas
More

Egypt Sets Appeal Date for Al Jazeera Journalists

Journalists were convicted in July on charges of aiding terrorist organization in verdict condemned internationally
More

Canadian Soldier Dies in Car Attack Linked to Radical Islam

Police shoot and kill driver - suspected Islamic radical - after he rammed into two soldiers Monday in parking lot in Quebec province
More

UN Rights Chief Urges Venezuela to Free Opposition Leader

Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein calls for release of Leopoldo Lopez and scores of others detained in a crackdown on protests that began in February
More