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

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Researcher: Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor at Symposium on Obesity, Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome says problem involves more than calorie intake, warns of worldwide health impact 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.
Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thoughti
X
George Putic
May 26, 2015 9:26 PM
Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.

VOA Blogs

More Americas News

Video Galapagos Volcano Eruption Threatens Pink Iguanas

Nearly 1.8 kilometer-high Wolf volcano on Isabela Island is home to world's only population of pink iguanas, as well as variety of plants, animals
More

Video Extreme Weather Wreaks Havoc in Texas, Mexico

More than 1,000 homes damaged or destroyed in Texas, thousands of residents displaced; Tornado cleanup continues near Mexico border
More

Colombia's FARC Says End of Ceasefire a 'Step Back' in Peace Talks

Speaking from Havana, Cuba, where talks have been taking place for two and a half years, FARC Marxist leadership says peace would be unattainable if offensives intensify
More

Relatives Doubt 42 Men Died in Mexico Ranch Shootout

The lopsided death toll and photographs from the scene in which bodies appeared to have been moved have raised questions
More

Pope Beatifies Murdered Salvadoran Archbishop

Hundreds of thousands of worshippers converge on Salvadoran capital to witness papal declaration for late Oscar Romero - now one step from Roman Catholic sainthood
More

Scores Killed in Western Mexico Gunfight

Officials say almost every person killed in Michoacan state shootout was a suspected gang member
More