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

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

Euro falls after European Central Bank announces a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program More

Saudi King’s Death Clears Succession Route

Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef is Saudi Arabia's New Crown Prince-in-waiting More

Cloud Hangs Over US Counterterrorism Efforts in Yemen

Sources say resignations of Yemen's president, government has left US anti-terror operations 'paralyzed,' yet an American military 'footprint' remains 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.
Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youthi
X
Julie Taboh
January 23, 2015 11:08 PM
Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.
Video

Video US Marching Bands Grow Into a Show of Their Own

The 2014 Super Bowl halftime show was the most-watched in history - attracting an estimated 115 million viewers. That event featured pop star Bruno Mars. But the halftime show tradition started with marching bands, which still dominate the entertainment at U.S. high school and college American football games. But as Enming Liu reports in this story narrated by Adrianna Zhang, marching bands have grown into a show of their own.
Video

Video Secular, Religious Kurds Face Off in Southeast Turkey

Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast has been rocked by violence between religious and secular Kurds. Dorian Jones reports on the reasons behind the stand-off from the region's main city of Diyarbakir, which suffered the bloodiest fighting.
Video

Video Kenya: Misuse of Antibiotics Leading to Resistance by Immune System

In Kenya, the rise of drug resistant bacteria could reverse the gains made by medical science over diseases that were once treatable. Kenyans could be at risk of fatalities as a result if the power in antibiotics is not preserved. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story from Nairobi.
Video

Video Solar-Powered Plane Getting Ready to Circumnavigate Globe

Pilots of the solar plane that already set records flying without a drop of fuel are close to making their first attempt to fly the craft around the globe. They plan to do it in 25 flying days over a five month period. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video How Experts Decide Ethiopia Has the Best Coffee

Ethiopia’s coffee has been ranked as the best in the world by an international group of coffee connoisseurs. Not surprisingly, coffee is a top export for the country. But at home it is a source of pride. Marthe van der Wolf in Addis Ababa decided to find out what makes the bean and brew so special and how experts make their determinations.
Video

Video Yazidi Refugees at Center of Political Fight Between Turkey, Kurds

The treatment of thousands of Yazidis refugees who fled to Turkey to escape attacks by Islamic State militants has become the center of a dispute between the Turkish government and the country's pro-Kurdish movement. VOA's Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video World’s Richest 1% Forecast to Own More Than Half of Global Wealth

The combined wealth of the world's richest 1 percent will overtake that of the remaining 99 percent at some point in 2016, according to the anti-poverty charity Oxfam. Campaigners are demanding that policymakers take action to address the widening gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid

More Americas News

Thousands of Venezuelan Opposition Supporters Protest in Caracas

Angry about inflation and shortages of goods, they want an end to the presidency of Nicolas Maduro
More

Haiti Electoral Council Called 'New Step' Toward Democracy

Impoverished Caribbean nation has not held legislative or municipal elections for three years, is due for presidential election at year's end
More

Argentine Government Thinks Rogue Agents Killed Prosecutor

Alberto Nisman, who was investigating the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, was found fatally shot last Sunday
More

In Shortages-hit Venezuela, Lining Up Becomes a Profession

Job usually involves starting before dawn, enduring long hours, dodging or bribing police, and then selling a coveted spot at front of huge shopping lines
More

Video Jacobson: US-Cuba Talks Are 'Important' Step

U.S.-Cuba are trying to eliminate obstacles to normalized ties; U.S. delegation visit for the first time in more than three decades holds a second day of talks with Cuban officials
More

Argentina's Fernandez: Prosecutor's Death Was Not Suicide

Government says two men who Alberto Nisman believed were deeply involved in alleged cover-up of 1994 attack had been falsely presented to him as state intelligence agents
More