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How Brazil lost faith in its president

Brazil, South America's largest nation, is facing its worst recession in decades, the Zika crisis and the upcoming Olympic games. Now add to that political upheaval, after an overwhelming vote to impeach President Dilma Rousseff amid a corruption scandal. Guillermo Galdos of Independent Television News reports on the events and Hari Sreenivasan talks to Lourdes Garcia-Navarro of NPR.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    But, first: The overwhelming vote to impeach Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff has deepened the crisis in South America's largest nation.

    We begin with this report from Guillermo Galdos of Independent Television News.

  • GUILLERMO GALDOS:

    Political goals don't come much bigger.

  • MAN (through interpreter):

    We have been working on this for a long time, believing that something had to change.

  • GUILLERMO GALDOS:

    As with any win, there is always a loser. And for the president's supporters, those trying to remove Dilma Rousseff are playing a dirty game.

  • WOMAN (through interpreter):

    This fascist Congress wants to lead a coup d'etat on Brazil's democracy. We will resist and always fight for democracy.

  • GUILLERMO GALDOS:

    From the streets of the capital to Congress, Brazil is now a house divided. Rousseff stands accused of fiddling the national accounts to hide the budget deficit before her reelection in 2015. Yet a third of Brazil's lawmakers are being investigated for corruption themselves.

    Having ruled for 13 years, Brazil's Workers' Party, the P.T., is now on the ropes. After her election in 2011, Dilma once enjoyed 90 percent approval ratings. Those days are long gone. Even her popular predecessor, Lula da Silva, is now mired in his own corruption scandals.

  • JOSE EDUARDO CARDOZO, Attorney General, Brazil (through interpreter):

    I heard people saying, is she going to resign? Is she becoming weak several times? No, a person who believes in a just cause fights on until the end, to have it written in history that she wasn't a coward.

  • GUILLERMO GALDOS:

    Brazil is facing its worst recession since the 1930s, and 60 percent of the country is now against her.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    For more on the tumultuous events in Brazil, as the country deals with the Zika virus and the upcoming Summer Olympics, I'm joined by Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, the Brazil bureau chief for National Public Radio.

    She joins me tonight from NPR's headquarters here in Washington.

    First, how do we get to this point? Is it that old phrase, it's the economy?

  • LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, NPR:

    Well, I think that's certainly part of it. The economy in Brazil is doing extremely badly. It contracted by 3.8 percent last year alone. It's expected to contract by the same this year.

    It's shedding jobs at an alarming rate. People are extremely anxious. They're angry. And they're taking it out on the leader, President Dilma Rousseff. She has record low popularity. Only about 10 percent of the country approve of her leadership. And about 60 percent wanted to see her impeached.

    And so the economy really is a key factor in all this, but, of course, there are other things, like a massive corruption scandal that has been engulfing the government, and that really has also really affected very much her presidency and led to this right now.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Now, as far as corruption scandals go, how bad is this compared to what might have happened with her predecessors or in the political climate of Brazil?

  • LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO:

    Well, I mean, it's really hard to know, because what I think is really interesting about this corruption scandal is that, for the first time, it's coming to light.

    And it has really shocked the Brazilian population, which has really felt, I think up until now, inured in some sense to corruption. They really haven't cared very much about it.

    But when this came to light, it really shocked them. And because And it was because it was about the state oil company. You have to understand that Petrobras, the state oil company, is the crown jewel for the government. It's a massive source of income.

    And what was uncovered was a scheme by which politicians and businessmen were bilking it for billions and billions of dollars. And it was really shocking to many, many people. And that has had wide-ranging effects. And so many people have been implicated.

    Billionaires have been put in prison, politicians are under indictment. It's a corruption scandal that has really shocked and engulfed Brazil.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    How likely is Rousseff then to be removed from office?

  • LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO:

    I think, at this point, extremely likely.

    The government was very disheartened, of course, by what happened on Sunday night. It went much worse than had originally been expected. But you also have to understand that what's happening in Brazil is very, very difficult for the population.

    Even though most of the people in Brazil want Dilma Rousseff gone, they do look at the people that might succeed her and they are very skeptical of them, too. The vice president, Michel Temer, has approval ratings similar to Dilma Rousseff. About 57 percent of the population do not like him.

    After him comes the speaker of the house, Eduardo Cunha, who has been implicated in that massive corruption scandal. He is accused of having embezzled millions of dollars and having secret Swiss bank accounts where he stashed it all.

    So, you look at the political class in Brazil, and for ordinary Brazilians, they don't see a lot of hope there. They don't see a good way forward.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    So, are there people concerned about the long-term stability for not just Brazil, but the region, because of how powerful Brazil is?

  • LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO:

    Yes, Brazil is extremely powerful.

    It is the largest democracy in the Americas, the largest economy in South America and Central America. So it is extremely worrying for many, many people. And, yes, instability is a big concern.

    The economy is in a freefall, as we mentioned. But the political class also seems to be frozen. And let's not forget they're dealing with the Zika virus. They don't have a health minister right now. They are dealing with the Olympics coming up. They just had to replace the sports minister.

    If the new government comes in, if Dilma Rousseff is indeed removed from office, how much legitimacy will a new government have in the eyes of the international community, considering that so many people look at the political class that enacted this — these impeachment proceedings, and see many, many people who are themselves the subject of corruption investigations?

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Yesterday, when we saw some of the imagery, it was almost like it was a World Cup soccer game. People were painted in flags.

    And it was I'm with this or I'm with the other team, right? And they were out there. But, as you mentioned, there are some deep systemic problems. What are the people on the street and the people that you speak to concerned about on — this particular problem is solvable. Let's say we get this particular person out of office. Then what?

  • LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO:

    Yes. I mean, it's a very difficult situation.

    I recently traveled to the north of the country. This is the place where the ruling party, Dilma Rousseff's party and her predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, that was really their bastion of support. It's the poorer, blacker part of the country. And it has really been helped a lot by the ruling party and many of their social policies.

    But when I went up there, many of the people said that they had just lost faith in the government, that they were now supporting the removal of Dilma Rousseff. And that is because many people are facing a loss of jobs. They have no money. And they have very — they don't really have a lot of hope in the future.

    And that has really, I think, been the fatal blow to this administration.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right, Lourdes Garcia-Navarro of National Public Radio, thanks so much.

  • LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO:

    You're welcome.

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