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

Reports of Mass Murder on Mediterranean Smuggler’s Boat

Boat sailed from Libya with 750 migrants aboard and arrived in Italy with 569 More

Video New Thailand Hotline Targets Misbehaving Monks

Officials say move aims to restore country’s image of Buddhism, tarnished by recent high profile scandals such as opulent lifestyle, drug and alcohol abuse, as well as child sex abuse More

Study: Dust from Sahara Helped Form Bahama Islands

What does the Sahara have in common with a Caribbean island? Quite a lot, researchers say 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.
Astronauts Train in Underwater Labi
X
George Putic
July 25, 2014 7:25 PM
In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid

More Americas News

Obama Asks Central American Presidents for Help on Border Crisis

In White House meeting, president tells leaders of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras that migrant children without valid claims to stay in US would be sent home
More

S. Africa Launches Campaign Against US Cuba Sanctions

African National Congress launches the Cuban Solidarity Campaign to work against long-standing sanctions
More

Honduran President Links Border Crisis to US Policy Divide

Human, drug traffickers 'perversely' exploit confusion about US immigration policy, Juan Orlando Hernandez tells reporters on Capitol Hill
More

Migrant Issues Close to Home Spur Groups to Take Action

Groups placing water, food in the desert, or aiding detainees after release, have one common goal: no more deaths of migrants crossing illegally into the US
More

House Republicans Present Border Plan for Child Migrant Crisis

Proposal, they say, offers alternative to emergency funding requested by President Obama to deal with massive influx of illegals
More

US Ambassador Calls for LGBT Rights

John Berry spoke at the 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne
More