Brazil braces for protests as former president joins Cabinet

World Today

Demonstrators call for the impeachment of Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff and protest the naming of her mentor, former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, as her new chief of staff, outside Planalto presidential palace in Brasilia, Brazil, Wednesday, March 16, 2016. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)

Protesters gathered in cities across Brazil on Thursday as President Dilma Rousseff prepared to swear in her predecessor and mentor as chief of staff, a stunning development that government supporters believe will ease the political crisis roiling Latin America’s largest country but that detractors call a naked attempt to avoid prosecution in corruption probes.

Rousseff appointed former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Wednesday, saying it will help her navigate the worst recession in decades and deal with a hostile Congress that has shown little willingness to work with a president with approval ratings in single digits. A political crisis is gripping the country that will host the Summer Olympics in less than five months.


Paulo Sotero on Brazil’s political crisis

CCTV America’s Elaine Reyes spoke to Paulo Sotero, director of the Brazil Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholar.

Paulo Sotero on Brazil's political crisis

CCTV America's Elaine Reyes spoke to Paulo Sotero, director of the Brazil Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholar


Brazilians rally against ex-president’s enter into the Cabinet

Another twist in Brazil’s political drama. A federal judge moves to block a popular ex-president from becoming a top political advisor to current President Dilma Rousseff. While another judge leaks recordings of a phone tap in a corruption probe.

CCTV’s Paulo Cabral reports from Sao Paulo.

Brazilians rally against ex-president's enter into the Cabinet

Another twist in Brazil's political drama. A federal judge moves to block a popular ex-president from becoming a top political advisor to current President Dilma Rousseff. While another judge leaks recordings of a phone tap in a corruption probe.


A skillful political operator, Silva is seen as Rousseff’s best hope for shoring up support by sealing alliances with key centrist and right-wing parties in Congress and securing the backing of social movements. He’s also regarded as crucial to blocking impeachment proceedings against Rousseff over allegations of fiscal mismanagement. Both Rousseff and da Silva have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

Hours before the swearing in ceremony was to begin, demonstrators in Sao Paulo and Brasilia carried banners saying “Resign Now!” and chanted slogans demanding that Rousseff be impeached. Some protesters carried inflatable dolls portraying Silva in prisoner’s stripes.

The friction comes as the country of 200 million is dealing with crises on several fronts. The investigation of a sprawling kickback scheme at state oil company Petrobras has stained Brazil’s political and business elite. The country is ground zero for the Zika virus, which scientists believe can lead to birth defects. The economy is mired in the worst recession since the 1930s, with rising inflation and daily announcements of layoffs adding to people’s fears and desperation. And in the middle of it all, Brazil is set to host the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in August.

Speaking at a news conference Wednesday, Rousseff vehemently denied that Silva accepted the post to delay investigations against him related to the Petrobras probe, stressing that Cabinet ministers’ special judicial standing does not grant them immunity.

“It doesn’t mean that he will not be investigated,” Rousseff said. “It’s a question of whom he will be investigated by.”

Rousseff, who herself was chief of staff for Silva in 2005-2010, said she was “very happy” to have Silva in her government.

“His joining my government strengthens my government,” she said.

An already momentous week in Brazil ended with a bizarre twist late Wednesday: The judge leading the Petrobras investigation released tapped phone calls between Silva and prominent public figures. The calls suggest attempts were made to aid the former leader in his judicial woes, according Judge Sergio Moro.

Moro justified the release by saying democracies “demand that the people know what their officials are doing, even when they attempt to act under the cover of shadow.”

While he said there was no indication the attempts to secure favors for Silva bore fruit, the day’s rollercoaster of events seemed to stoke more anger at Silva, Rousseff and the governing Workers’ Party.

The presidential palace called the release of the tapes an “affront to the rights and guarantees of the presidency” and said “all the appropriate judicial and administrative measures will be taken to repair the flagrant violation of the law and the constitution committed by the judge behind the leak.”

An attorney for Silva, Cristiano Zanin Martins, condemned the recordings, saying their release was sparking a “social convulsion … which is not the role of the judiciary.”

Police used tear gas and stun grenades against an estimated 5,000 anti-government protesters who massed outside Congress late Wednesday. Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro also saw protests. In the southern city of Curitiba, where Moro is based, hundreds gathered in front of the court to show support for the magistrate and his “Car Wash” investigation into a corruption scheme at Petrobras that prosecutors say involved billions in bribes for inflated contracts.

On Sunday, an estimated 3 million people turned out for anti-government demonstrations nationwide. Protests are planned for Thursday and Friday.

Story by the Associated Press