Widespread anti-government protests in Brazil have damaged the once stellar image of the country's ruling Worker's Party and its former head Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. President Dilma Rousseff faces continued criticism.
The mass protests across Brazil, especially in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paolo and the capital, Brasilia, forced President Rousseff to address the country on national television late Friday in an attempt to head off a deepening government crisis.
Following the storming of a foreign ministry building in the capital on Thursday (20.06.2013), the government clearly feared an escalation of violence in the midst of the high-profile Confederations Cup soccer tournament.
"Dilma is living through a political inferno," says Adriano Diogo, a state parliament member in Sao Paolo for Rousseff's governing Worker's Party. It is no accident, he maintains, that the president was booed at the Confed Cup opening ceremony in Brasilia's brand new stadium. There are many political forces at work in Brazil that would like to prevent her re-election in October 2014, he said.
Brazil's Worker's Party (PT) has been in power for the last ten years. Since the beginning of former union leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's term in office in January 2003, the country has experienced a breathtaking economic rise.
Millions of poor Brazilians have climbed out of poverty into the lower middle classes, thanks to generously financed social programs. This new purchasing power and the demand for Brazilian products on world markets have fueled a robust and ongoing economic boom. The initial euphoria, however, is subsiding and the myth of Lula as the nation's patriarch is crumbling. What's worse, his political legacy is increasingly a burden for his successor, Dilma Rousseff.
When, in 2007, Lula won the right for Brazil to host the 2014 World Cup soccer championships, the country's economy was growing at a zesty five percent a year. In the meantime, the latest forecast for 2013 is predicting a very modest expansion of just two percent, while the costs for rent and food have exploded - just like the price-tag for hosting the World Cup. The government responded by subsidizing gasoline prices and cutting taxes for the domestic automobile industry, hoping to jumpstart the economy.
Vote-buying in parliament
Voters, on the other hand, were less grateful. The PT lost local town council elections in October 2012 in many of its traditional strongholds, despite campaign stumping by ex-president Lula da Silva. One main reason for the defeat was the guilty verdicts handed down by Brazil's Federal Court against 38 PT congressional representatives for vote-buying to punch party-sponsored bills through parliament.
"The rage of the protesters aimed at corrupt politicians and the excessive World Cup costs is increasingly turning toward the government," notes Merval Pereira, a blogger and columnist for the Brazilian daily "O Globo." Demonstrators blame the government for throwing money at the World Cup, instead of investing in public healthcare, transportation and education, he said.
Dawid Danilo Bartelt, director of the Heinrich-Boll-Foundation in Rio de Janeiro, a group associated with the German Green party, agrees, pointing out that "scandalously little has changed in education and health" since the PT came to power.
Opposition feeling powerless
For Bartelt, the current protests are a sign of how weak the opposition is in the Brazilian parliament. He says "a certain lethargy" has crept into the halls of government, creating a "vacuum in civil society" because many social groups are kept quiet by the PT.
Catholic bishop Erwin Kräutler, who left Austria in 1980 to defend the rights of Indios in the Amazon region of Xingu, told Deutsche Welle that he was "totally disappointed by the government." Lula and Dilma always speak of progress and development, he said, but in the Amazon city of Altamira, for example, nothing has been done for the school system, healthcare, or public safety. "Lula needs to be de-mystified a little," he added.