Brazil's embattled left strikes back

Update: August, 21/2015 - 11:14

RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazil's embattled left staged a string of protests Thursday in a show of support for President Dilma Rousseff, although turnout was markedly lower than at massive anti-government rallies over the weekend.

The protests hit back at the right's push to impeach Rousseff, who less than a year into her second term is struggling for political survival.

"We want to continue with democracy. No to the coup, no to fascism!" said poet Jorge Salomao, 68, attending a rally called by Rousseff's Workers' Party in Rio de Janeiro.

According to organizers, some 172,000 people turned out around the country in more than two dozen cities. However, political parties in Brazil frequently exaggerate turnout.

A partial police estimate, which did not include figures for Rio de Janeiro, was 72,000, including 40,000 in Sao Paulo, the country's biggest city.

Whatever the real number, the mid-week demonstrations were clearly unable to match the heft of protests on Sunday blaming Rousseff for Brazil's recession and runaway corruption – and demanding her ouster.

According to conservative estimates, almost a million took to the streets Sunday, the third mass anti-Rousseff protest in six months.

Rousseff not only faces bitter opposition from the right but disillusion from the left over economic austerity measures enacted to try and fix the failing economy. Her popularity ratings are in the single digits.

That weakness has left her vulnerable in the capital Brasilia, where she faces threats of impeachment proceedings, even if analysts say the grounds for impeachment are far from clear.

Rousseff describes the threats as "coup plotting" – a loaded term in a country that only ended two decades of military dictatorship in 1985.

Divided loyalties

Last week, Rousseff sought to build political bridges by agreeing with the Senate leader to a new set of market-friendly reforms, even if this took her still further from her socialist roots.

She also got a boost on Thursday when prosecutors filed corruption charges against the lynchpin in the impeachment camp, House speaker Eduardo Cunha.

For some of what should be Rousseff's most natural supporters, she has already done fatal damage to her electoral base by shifting to conservative austerity policies.

"We're in a very difficult position," said Luis Felipe Marques, 26, a photographer who attended a smaller protest earlier in Rio.

"It's really complicated. I can't support impeachment, but on the other hand I have to be against austerity, because that's not the left."

But for true loyalists, the impeachment drive and Sunday's huge rallies mean the battle lines have been drawn.

"No to the coup," was the most popular rallying cry at the main Rio demonstration. "No more coups," was another.

Producer Juliana Monteiro, 61, said: "I voted for Dilma and I want her to stay and finish."

One enterprising man was selling T-shirts at the edge of the crowd, sharing the sidewalk with a squad of black-clad riot police.

"Keep calm," said one of the shirts, using the much-copied British World War II slogan. "There won't be a coup." — AFP