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Protests Erupt In Brazil Over President's Alleged Attempt To Shield Predecessor


In Brazil, thousands of protesters are in the streets. This crowd was outside the presidential palace.


UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in Portuguese).

MCEVERS: The reason for all this - the president's decision to appoint her predecessor to her cabinet. She is facing impeachment. He is being investigated for corruption. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro is tracking this story, and she is with us now from Rio de Janeiro. And Lourdes, tell us what it's like in Brazil right now.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: You know, it's incredibly tense, Kelly. We're seeing antigovernment protests in several cities. Inside the Congress, pro-government and opposition lawmakers shouted at each other and almost came to blows today on live television. Also today, during a ceremony inside the presidential palace, an opposition lawmaker shouted out, you should be ashamed to the government, which set off government supporters who started chanting no to a coup. This happened in the equivalent of the White House Rose Garden, playing out for the whole country to see.

You know, all this tension, as you mentioned, surrounds the appointment of the former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to the sitting president's cabinet. His appointed to the Cabinet is being seen as an attempt to shield him from prosecution because a cabinet minister can only be judged by the Supreme Court, and that takes a long time.

MCEVERS: I mean, is there a sense that he can serve in the cabinet legally?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You know, that's unclear. He was in power for only a few minutes before a judge declared the appointment void and said it was an attempt to obstruct justice. The government is now appealing.

Meanwhile, there are pro-government protests planned for tomorrow, and it's expected that Lula, as the former president is known here, will be taking part in those. Dilma Rousseff has said what she called the unconstitutional attempts to unseat her won't bring the government to its knees - so a lot of defiance coming from the government right now.

MCEVERS: Talk about this. I mean, these are impeachment proceedings today opened against the sitting president, Dilma Rousseff. How did that happen?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, no. It's a separate issue, but it is also playing into this. She's being impeached with nothing to do directly with the corruption scandal involving the former president. The impeachment case is considered weak, and the man who is leading it is someone who himself is being investigated for embezzlement. Still, the process kicked off today, and it's being fast tracked. And at this point, the country is just in political chaos, and all of this is leading to a general state of instability.

MCEVERS: All right, so with all this going on, what is the chance that Dilma Rousseff's government can survive?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You know, I would say it's really unclear right now. All bets are off. Brazil's in the middle of a historic economic crisis, the worst in generations. Dilma Rousseff is being blamed for that. She has an approval rating in the single digits. Last week, the biggest antigovernment protest in Brazil's history took place. The population is also highly polarized among left and right.

And the central issue, though, is this massive corruption investigation involving the state oil company. It's implicated, Kelly, 50 politicians, business leaders and billionaires. It's absolutely huge. And of course, this all comes at a time when Brazil is going to host the Olympics and it's dealing with the Zika virus - so an enormous crisis.

MCEVERS: That's NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro. Thank you very much.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.
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