One million people flooded Sao Paulo’s main avenue, Avenida Paulista, on Sunday. It was the largest of dozens of protests held across Brazil where marchers demanded the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff.
Although the chances of Rousseff being ousted are slim, it shows how angry and disillusioned Brazilians are over a widening corruption scandal at Petrobras, the state oil firm, and an increasingly weak economy.
Brazil’s inflation is at a 10-year high and the real, it’s currency, has lost nearly a quarter of its value against the dollar this year.
My crew and I were squeezed in among the million plus protesters on Paulista.
Looking out among them you could see a sea of yellow and green, Brazil’s national colours. It was a clear decision for the marchers to drape themselves with the flag’s patriotic colours while also chanting songs against Rousseff’s Workers Party.
One chant: “Our flag will never be red”, was both a dig at the Workers Party’s red flag and an anti-communist-sounding rant.
One man we spoke to in the street, Vladimir Segallo, said, “We can’t take this anymore. They take our tax money and don’t give us anything back in return. Enough!”
Others in the march said they wanted better services. They felt that all Rousseff cares about are the poor.
A political scientist we interviewed in the lead up to the march told us although Rousseff and her successor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva helped pull millions out of poverty and created a growing middle class, members of that new middle class don’t always feel loyal to the PT (Workers Party.)
It’s an irony that the same people who benefitted from PT policies aren’t necessarily out in the street defending them right now.
“This is the paradox if you enlarge this sector and make them much more middle class then perhaps you can lose them,” said political scientist Claudio Gonçalves Couto.
Another irony: the protests on Sunday come exactly 30 years after Brazil ushered in democracy after a two-decade military dictatorship.
Rousseff herself was a victim of torture by the military regime. People on the street calling for her impeachment surely believe they are strengthening democracy while Rousseff and her allies see those calls perhaps as a threat to that very democracy itself.