Brazil′s fight for the streets | Americas| North and South American news impacting on Europe | DW | 19.03.2016
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Brazil's fight for the streets

Protests against - and supporting - President Dilma Rousseff and her predecessor "Lula" brought tens of thousands to the streets. DW's Tobias Käufer reports from an increasingly divided country.

The clanging noise of cooking spoons banging on metal saucepans echoes through the street canyons of Rio de Janeiro. President Dilma Rousseff is speaking on television, but her words are being drowned out. This form of protest has a long tradition in Brazil, and in these days of deep political crisis, the noise is even a bit louder than on earlier occasions.

Part of the Brazilian population has already inwardly turned away from this government; they no longer want to listen to their president, whose popularity has plummeted in recent opinion polls. The major Brazilian broadcasters are dominated by wall-to-wall coverage. People stand in front of cafés and restaurants, following the developments on TV as if mesmerized.

Brazil protests against Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff Copyright: DW/T. Käufer

"Lula and Dilma Prison," read these creatively redesigned banknotes

'Corrupt to the core'

"This system is corrupt to the core," said Andre Ribeiro, an economic science student who has taken to the streets to protest. "The terrible thing is that the opposition isn't a real alternative either, because it's also had cases of corruption."

As a special stunt, Ribeiro and his fellow students have covered themselves with fake, creatively redesigned 100-reais banknotes (about 25 euros). The notes are emblazoned with the slogan "Lula and Dilma Prison" - at the end of the day, they lie in puddles.

In the center of Rio, on the other hand, the red color of the Workers' Party (PT) is everywhere. The ruling party, deeply mired in a corruption scandal owing to payments to the tune of millions from the state-run oil corporation Petrobras, has mobilized its supporters.

For a long time, PT followers were in a state of shock, facing a constant stream of new accusations and the subpoena of ex-president and party founder Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva. But now, the party's base seems ready to fight back.

Brazil protests against Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff Copyright: DW/T. Käufer

Live TV broadcasts of the protests have transfixed Brazilian for days

Silva's controversial return to politics this week has given them courage. The ex-president was brought back by Rousseff to the center of power as chief of staff to "strengthen the government," as Rousseff stressed. But on Friday the Brazilian Supreme Court put a stop to this, ruling that further investigations into Silva's alleged involvement in the kickback scheme were necessary, and that it was not permissible for the former president to join the government.

"Lula, Lula" resounds over the squares on this afternoon. "No to the coup by the courts," is written on the placards. The two sides could barely be further apart in their views.

Opposing forces threatening to pull Brazil apart

The return of the icon of the PT seems to be pouring oil on the flames. Government opponents have interpreted the contents of a wire-tapped phone call between Silva and Rousseff as an attempt by the government to give the former president a kind of immunity against the corruption investigations. This has enraged them even further.

"This man belongs in prison. He has robbed the people," shouts Luana Vierra, a nurse. She is one of the few Afro-Brazilian demonstrators at the anti-PT demonstration , and her presence highlights the deep fissure running through the Brazilian population.

In Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, Brazil's largest city, government opponents mostly come from the white middle class, which has been hit particularly hard by the country's severe economic crisis. The number of Afro-Brazilians is much higher at demonstrations in favor of the PT, which traditionally sees itself as the advocate of ordinary citizens.

Jostling among the government opponents are also those who openly advocate a return to a military government or even a monarchy - though this is only a small minority.

Brazil protests against Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff Copyright: DW/T. Käufer

Demonstrators have been calling for Rousseff to be impeached

At the PT demonstrations there are more and more left-wing fundamentalists joining the ranks, demanding a radical change of course from Rousseff, one modeled on Venezuela.

The different perceptions of the two sides are made particularly apparent in the view each takes of Judge Sergio Moro, who is overseeing the Petrobras case. For PT supporters, Moro is a helper to dark powers who are preparing a putsch. For the opposition, however, he is a popular hero standing up to a corrupt government.

The opposing forces threatening to pull Brazil apart are enormous. A party or a personality from the middle ground, one capable of reconciling the deeply divided country, is nowhere in sight.