SAO PAULO – More than 250,000 anti-government demonstrators again took to streets in several Brazilian cities Saturday and engaged police in isolated, intense conflicts. Anger over political corruption emerged as the unifying issue for the demonstrators, who vowed to stay in the streets until concrete steps are taken to reform the political system.
Across Brazil, protesters gathered to denounce legislation known as PEC 37 that would limit the power of federal prosecutors to investigate crimes, which many fear would hinder attempts to jail corrupt politicians.
Federal prosecutors were behind the investigation into the biggest corruption case in Brazil’s history, the so-called “mensalao” cash-for-votes scheme that came to light in 2005 and involved top aides of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva buying off members of congress to vote for their legislation.
Last year, the supreme court condemned two dozen people in connection with the case, which was hailed as a watershed moment in Brazil’s fight against corruption. However, those condemned have yet to be jailed because of appeals, a delay that has enraged Brazilians.
The protests continued despite a prime-time speech the night before from President Dilma Rousseff, a former leftist guerrilla who was tortured during Brazil’s military dictatorship. She tried to appease demonstrators by reiterating that peaceful protests were a welcome, democratic action and emphasizing that she would not condone corruption in her government.
“Dilma is underestimating the resolve of the people on the corruption issue,” said Mayara Fernandes, a medical student who took part in a march Saturday in Sao Paulo. “She talked and talked and said nothing. Nobody can take the corruption of this country anymore.”
The wave of protests began as opposition to transportation fare hikes, then became a laundry list of causes including anger at high taxes, poor services and high World Cup spending, before coalescing around the issue of rampant government corruption. They have become the largest public demonstrations Latin America’s biggest nation has seen in two decades.
Across Brazil, police estimated that about 60,000 demonstrators gathered in a central square in the city of Belo Horizonte, 30,000 shut down a main business avenue in Sao Paulo and another 30,000 gathered in the city in southern Brazil.