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Amid Protests, Brazil's President Faces Impeachment Process


This was the scene overnight in Brazil's capital city.

Huge anti-government protests not only in Brasilia but around the country and more protests continue today both against and for the government. Police have reportedly blocked the streets of Sao Paulo causing massive traffic jams and fired water cannons and tear gas to clear anti-government protesters. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro joined us to talk more. Good morning.


MONTAGNE: Now, so there is this political drama that is playing out. Tell us the basic plot.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: There are several things going on here, but it boils down to a huge political crisis, Renee. Yesterday, two things happened. One, impeachment proceedings were opened against President Dilma Rousseff in Congress. Two, Rousseff tried to swear in her predecessor and former president Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, known as Lula here, as a member of her cabinet. He's her patron. They're from the same party, and that's what sent these anti-government people out onto the streets. He's been implicated in a corruption scandal, and the move to put him in her government was seen as a way to shield him from prosecution. But a judge blocked the appointment, and that's just added to the chaos here.

MONTAGNE: Yes, it was quite a shock when Lula, former president, was investigated at all because he was very popular, I gather. Why are Lula and Rousseff in such trouble?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The president, Dilma Rousseff, is facing impeachment over allegations that are seen as just a way to get her out of office. She's being charged with having fiddled the accounts to hide how bad the economy is here. She's extremely unpopular, though, and this really is just seen as a way to kick her out. Lula, on the other hand, the former president as you mentioned, is being investigated for money laundering linked to a beachfront condo. Now, that is part of a massive corruption scandal linked to the state oil company that has implicated many political figures. But, by far, the biggest one is Lula. He's a man, as you mentioned, that was incredibly popular, someone who was credited with lifting millions out of poverty, a towering figure of the left.

MONTAGNE: So this seems pretty shocking in the largest nation in Latin America, the world's seventh-largest economy. How serious is this crisis?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Renee, I think extremely serious. The economy is going through one of the worst recessions in generations. The population is really polarized, and the government is just sort of besieged. They're paralyzed by this political crisis. As you recall, we have the Olympics coming up here, there's the Zika virus issue as well, unemployment is soaring and this political drama is a serious threat. You know, analysts I've spoken to say they're not sure this government can survive.

MONTAGNE: And so what today?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, after these really big anti-government protests especially last weekend which saw the largest demonstrations in Brazil's history, today the government is trying to get its supporters out onto the streets. They really want to have people that are supporting them come out and say so. The government, troubled as it is, has been defiant. Yesterday, we saw President Dilma Rousseff say that the opposition is trying to remove her through a coup, and that she is vowing to stay in office and fight to the end. So the scene, I'm afraid, is set for more conflict.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro speaking to us from Rio de Janeiro. 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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