Poor voters turn on Brazil’s leftist leader
Brazil’s suspended president Dilma Rousseff is fighting impeachment to the end, but in poor districts some of her leftist party’s most loyal voters are sick of her — and all politicians.
Cidade Tiradentes on the outskirts of Sao Paulo, a bastion of Rousseff’s Workers’ Party (PT), has suffered as much as anywhere from the political and economic crises that have brought down the 68-year-old leader.
“I always voted for the PT but in the last election in 2014 I cast a blank ballot,” said Pamela Dos Anjos, 28, outside a social welfare office in the district.
“I was tired of hearing them say that things were going to get better and then nothing did.”
She scrapes a living delivering newspapers for $13 a day.
“I am fed up with them, all of the politicians,” she said. “They are all the same.”
The Senate opens Rousseff’s impeachment trial on Thursday and is expected to vote on Tuesday whether to fire her for good.
For political observers, it is a turning point: the end of 13 years of leftist government in which Latin America’s biggest economy boomed and then went bust.
But for the poorest in a country with 11 million unemployed, the political milestone means little. They are sick of politics.
“The truth is I don’t care much if Dilma stays or goes,” Dos Anjos told AFP. “Here things are always bad.”
– ‘Fed up’ –
A large majority of voters backed the PT in 2014 when Rousseff was narrowly re-elected.
Her predecessor, PT founder Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, had launched social welfare programs that lifted millions out of poverty.
Among these is the “Bolsa Familia” or “Family Fund,” a system of conditional subsidies that has won praise in international media.
“With Lula our lives got better,” says Naira de Oliveira, 27, an assistant cook.
“There was more work and less hunger. We got the Family Fund and help to pay the rent.”
Lula presided over a commodities boom fueled by Chinese demand for Brazil’s iron ore, oil and other raw materials.
When commodities prices dropped, Brazil’s economy slowed down.
It tipped into recession early in Rousseff’s second term in 2015.
“I voted for Dilma both times, but now I am fed up,” said Oliveira.
Rousseff’s popularity rating was just 13 percent in a survey in July by pollster Datafolha.
That was just below her interim replacement Michel Temer. He will become full president if Rousseff is removed.
– Corruption –
On top of economic suffering, voters are angry at corruption.
Numerous politicians in the Workers’ Party and their rivals are implicated in a probe into alleged embezzlement at the state oil firm Petrobras.
Rousseff is not being investigated in that case. She is accused of fiddling the state accounts to mask the depth of the recession.
But several of Temer’s allies are implicated in the Petrobras affair and three of his ministers have resigned.
“In the end, whoever’s in or out robs just the same,” said Oliveira.
For faithful PT supporters, Temer and his center-right PMDB party are no replacement.
But Rousseff is not expected to survive the impeachment vote. Brazilian media calculate that a majority of senators will vote to impeach her.
“I voted and will keep voting for the PT. But I cannot leave work to go to political demonstrations” in her support, said Levy Marques, 28, who owns a sign-making business in Cidade Tiradentes.
“I would prefer Dilma to stay. But at this stage there is not much to be done.”