Brazil's ideological divides deepen as thousands are expected to march on Sunday in at least 50 cities across Brazil demanding the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff, of the Worker's Party.
On Friday, unions supportive of the Worker's Party called a ‘counter-rally’ to defend Rousseff from what they claim is the beginning of a coup.
Rousseff, who was re-elected only five months ago in Brazil's most competitive vote since the end of the country's military dictatorship in the 1980's, has seen her approval ratings shrink from 42% to 23% since November, according to a study released last month by Datafolha, a research institute.
Last week, as she was addressing the nation on International Women's Day, people went to their windows banging pots and pans in protest in a dozen Brazilian cities.
In 2013, what were typical leftist rallies against a bus fare hike that started at the end of May got transformed into a fusion of groups from different ends of the political spectrum with a myriad of demands participating in the largest protests the country has ever seen.
But as the demonstrations gathered pace, the leftists social movements who initiated the rallies grew increasingly marginalized and harassed. By the end of June the left had completely vanished from the streets, claiming the protests had been hijacked by the right.
The right had managed to mobilize the masses before since the Worker's Party came into power in 2002. In 2007, the movement ‘Cansei‘, or ‘I'm tired’ emerged, with protesters demanding then President Lula step down, but the movement lost momentum after a few months.
Different shades of opposition
Four Facebook pages have been prominent in mobilizing this new crop of anti-government sentiment: Movimento Brasil Livre (Free Brazil Movement), Vem Pra Rua (Come to The Street), Revoltados Online (Online Outraged) and SOS Forças Armadas (SOS Armed Forced). Two of the four demand the impeachment of Rousseff, while another goes further and demands that the Brazilian army intervene.
What they share is their heavy reliance on social media to spread their word and mobilize their followers and their non-partisan nature: they all claim to have no connections to any of the political parties in power, not even PSDB, the main party opposing Rousseff in the capital Brasilia. They also claim to survive entirely on donations from their followers.
The movements have also adopted an anti-socialist tone, drawing frequent comparisons between the Worker's Party government and those of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela and Castro's Cuba.
The following is an overview on each movement based on available sources:
Created last year, this movement openly advocates liberal values in the vein of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. In their manifesto, they defend a free press (“with no government regulations that might influence them”) and economic freedom (“a market free of abusive regulations and suffocating taxes”). One of the movement's founders, 18-year-old Kim Kataguiri, owns a popular Youtube channel where he lectures their followers on “how to argue with leftists” and, satirically, on the Cold War and the perks of communism.
In an interview with El País in December, the movement's young members said that among their goals is “rebranding” the right:
A esquerda se apropriou da cultura, da arte, da música, daquilo que é considerado cool ou moderno. Hipster. Nossos amigos artistas não podem revelar sua ideologia porque sofrem uma repressão cultural se não forem de esquerda.
The left has appropriated the culture, art, music, everything that is considered cool or modern. Hipster. Our artist friends cannot reveal their real ideology because they suffer reprisals if they are not leftists.
Last month, amid more protests against another bus fare hike in São Paulo, MBL hosted a public lecture where it advocated free market solutions to solve the city's expensive public transportation system. By opening the service up to competition among private firms, costs would decrease and quality would improve, they claimed.
The oldest of the four pages, and also the most popular. Founded in 2010, it is often regarded as a common-sense page, sharing cheesy messages like ‘all politicians are thieves’, and ‘save the environment’, but became specifically critical of the Worker's Party after Rousseff became president in 2011.
It is constantly being accused of spreading false rumors about politicians online — such as the rumor that ex-president Lula's son is a partner in a muti-million dollar company and owns a luxury jet. This is was later rebuffed by Forbes magazine.
The page's founder Marcello Reis is known for not holding back on criticism on social movements and unions traditionally connected to the Worker's Party, like the MST (Land Reform Movement) or CUT (Worker's Central Union), which he refers to as “terrorists”.
In an interview with news website IG, he said he had previously defended a military intervention, but “changed his mind” and says the movements should try for a more democratic tool like the impeachment.
During the cazerolazo last Sunday, the page shared countless videos where people called president Rousseff a “slut”, or “cow”. Reis says this was just the people exercising their freedom of expression.
Vem Pra Rua is the most moderate of the four pages — it is the only one currently against the impeachment of President Rousseff. In a recent press release, they said they are “against any kind of violence of extremism (separatism, military intervention or palace coup)”.
Their positions are somewhat general and vague. In the same press release, they defend “economic freedom and support to free enterprise”, “more meritocracy, less populism”, and, at the same time, “equality of opportunity to all” and “education, healthcare, security, infrastructure to all”.
Military rule is a sensitive topic in Brazil, as the country spent 21 years under the military after deposing leftist president João Goulart, who was viewed as sympathizer of the communist bloc during the Cold War, in 1964.
The page mostly shares photo montages with quotes by Plínio Salgado, the former leader of Brazil's “National Integralist Action”, a movement from the 1930's often popularized as “Brazil's fascists”. The page has declared full support for the protests today.
Global Voices contacted all four groups, but they declined to provide an interview.
A “third way”?
Despite being accused of wanting to implement a ‘new Cuba’ in Brazil, Rousseff began her second term announcing a series of austerity measures, including trimming unemployment and retirement benefits, having promised in last year's campaign that she would never “touch” Brazilian labor rights.
Leftist activists, who largely supported her re-election campaign in 2014 under the motto ‘voting critically’, have a different set of criticism of Rousseff's government. They took umbrage at her backing a proposal to decriminalize abortion in the 2010 elections, were vocally against the construction of the Belo Monte dam in the Amazon Forest and, most importantly, resent the Worker's Party's alliances with conservative parties and politicians — including conservative evangelicals — during its recent history.
Those activists are not willing to ally themselves with the liberals taking part in today's protests. They rebuffed the panelaço on Sunday, dubbing it “the veranda protest”, a term that implied the protesters were wealthy citizens living in apartments facing out onto the streets. They also criticized the sexist slurs aimed at Dilma Rousseff by some of the protesters.
São Paulo acaba de inventar o Protesto Gourmet. Na varanda, de pantufa, sem atrapalhar o trânsito. Non dvcor dvco.
— Marília Juste (@mariliajuste) March 9, 2015
“São Paulo has just invented the Gourmet Protest. On the balcony, in slippers, without botching the traffic.
One thing I have to say to my right wing friends: the crowd that has voted for Dilma is also pretty disappointed. Some even would like to protest. In the streets, not from inside our houses, you know, personal taste. But when you, my friends, behave so disgustingly, we can't tolerate it, it scares us off, you know? We even impose on ourselves the obligation to defend her, to defend respect. If you want to protest, do it. Even demand the impeachment, it's your right. But we can't, for absolutely nothing in this world, fight side by side with misogynists. We can't even begin to think about the possibility of sharing a cause with people that treat a woman in such a dehumanizing way. Just reminding that today is still March 8th.
[…] I don't know anyone who voted for Dilma who is satisfied. I feel fooled by the lies on the electoral campaign, for the lack of clear positioning and for those economic measures, but I will not protest alongside imbeciles. I won't be an useful idiot, I will not lend my voice to oafs, never. Where is the third way? Friends that think like I do — I know there are many — how can we position ourselves in a way that would show our dissatisfaction but won't call for a coup, won't call for anyone's head in a democracy, won't shout prejudiced watchwords… those things that seem small, but are important, because they show our opposite world views?