MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
To Brazil now, where calls for President Dilma Rousseff's impeachment are getting louder in the wake of an economic downturn and a massive corruption scandal. Antigovernment protests are planned this weekend throughout the country. As NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports, the embattled leftist leader's only a few months into her second term, and her popularity is at an all-time low.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHANTING)
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: This week, Dilma Rousseff descended the famous ramp designed by Oscar Niemeyer in the presidential palace of Planalto to a crowd of women chanting her name.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHANTING)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: The carefully choreographed ceremony was intended to show Rousseff, who was signing into law a ban on femicide, as a leader who has broad support. But the night before, the scene was a very different one.
(SOUNDBITE OF POTS BANGING)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: This is the sound of what is being called the panelaco, or the pot-banging. While she was addressing the country on TV, people grabbed their pots and pans and drummed on them in protest.
CARLOS PEREIRA: Dilma is facing a very tricky situation.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Carlos Pereira is a political scientist at the Getulio Vargas Foundation. Rousseff was elected only four months ago in the closest elections in modern Brazilian history. She got just over half the vote. Now though, her popularity is at 23 percent. The economy is tanking. Inflation is rising and investors are fleeing. The Brazilian real, according to Reuters, is the world's fastest-weakening currency. But what has hit her administration hardest is the Petrobras scandal. The state oil company is at the heart of a kickback scheme to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. It's implicated her party. Its alleged illegal funds were funneled to it and her 2010 election campaign. In all, dozens of politicians are under investigation, including the heads of both houses of congress and half of the congressional ethics committee.
PEREIRA: And their neck is under threat, so right now they are putting the government in trouble. Their strategy right now is to make the president fragile. They are signaling to the government that they have something to trade.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That trade is legislation. Already there's been trouble passing key laws that are seen as vital to restarting the economy. Pereira says Rousseff's coalition is too broad and diffuse, and she's treated many of her allies badly. So there isn't a lot of good will there. In fact, just today, a member of her coalition was the one to formally put forward a petition for her impeachment in congress.
RODRIGO DA FONSECA: (Speaking Portuguese).
GARCIA-NAVARRO: On the streets of Rio last night, Rodrigo da Fonseca handed out flyers asking people to attend this Sunday's protest in Rio de Janeiro. He lists all the problems the country has had since Rousseff's election in 2010. I'll paraphrase.
DA FONSECA: (Speaking Portuguese).
GARCIA-NAVARRO: "Gas prices have gone up. The water system has been destroyed. Our electricity bills are going up. We are tired of paying for the mistakes of government - the rampant spending. People are on strike. Unemployment is rising. Our taxes are high and we see nothing for it," he says. It remains to be seen though how much traction the movement will get. Today, pro-government marches took place in cities across Brazil, garnering a few hundred to a few thousand supporters in each location. The antigovernment demonstrations will have to mobilize many more than that if they want to unseat a democratically elected leader. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro.
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