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Why A Detested Dilma Will Survive Brazilian Anger

Faced with an economic downturn and corruption among state officials, the middle class is venting its fury at Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. But that may not be enough to oust her.

Why A Detested Dilma Will Survive Brazilian Anger
Eleonora Gosman

SAO PAULO — When Sao Paulo's main thoroughfare was packed Sunday with opponents of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and her Workers' Party (PT), it brought to mind what happened on that very spot 12 years ago, when the same Workers' Party held a massive gathering to celebrate the victory of President-elect Luis Inacio Lula da Silva. It seems the progressive movement led by the former trade unionist has lost one battle at least, that of keeping the middle class on its side.

They want an end to corruption, and they're demanding solutions to economic adjustments that are proving painful. But middle-class Brazilians have no political "boss" to whom they've pledged their support. And it seems unlikely that Rousseff's political opposition, the Social Democrats, has any chance to win over this electoral bloc, which tired a while back of the party's vague discourse and internal rifts.

For these reasons, last Sunday's massive anti-government protests will have only a relative impact on the political goings-on that began in the capital Brasilia early this year, when Rousseff began her second presidential term.

It shouldn't come as a surprise if the president ultimately manages to push away the specter of prosecution amid the country's countless corruption scandals. That's because there's no consensus among the opposition itself about prosecuting her, and even less so within business circles, which have already warned that prolonged political disruptions would create a bad business environment.

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Dilma Rousseff at a Petrobras event in 2011 — Photo: Uberaba - MG

Whether by necessity or conviction, Rousseff's government has agreed on a set of economic measures that are not only limiting the incomes of the old and new middle classes, but also degrading the structure of "inclusive" and supplementary measures that have aided the poor over the past decade. These social programs were necessary in a country where per capita income is sharply at odds with the size of the economy. As the International Monetary Fund has indicated, Brazil's per capita income falls below Chile, Argentina and Uruguay.

Clearly absent from Sunday's mass protests were workers from the city suburbs. The Sao Paulo demonstrators, who were mostly white, educated, well-dressed urbanites, don't represent them. Nor were these workers foremost in the minds of thousands of Workers' Party militants who gathered the same day at the Lula Institute to give the former president a "symbolic hug." Someone threw a homemade bomb at the institute almost a month ago. And nobody chanted anything about police violence or paramilitary gangs, who have reportedly shot dead 19 people in the city periphery.

A political cycle that began this year with Rousseff's reelection may end in the coming days. But the opposition has little to no chance of removing her from office, as it lacks a majority in the Senate to initiate an impeachment process. And the protests weren't imposing enough to pressure senators into voting for a motion they might have approved in other circumstances. As one journalist said, "They weren't hair-raising enough for the government."

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