Brazil protesters demand anti-corruption drive go 'all the way'
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – Brazilians furious at corruption took to the streets Sunday, March 26, to support a politically explosive probe into high-level embezzlement and bribery.
The long-planned day of nationwide demonstrations kicked off in the capital Brasilia and Rio de Janeiro, with the nation's biggest city Sao Paulo due to start later.
Protesters, many wearing the yellow shirts of the country's beloved football team, said a huge investigation known as Operation Car Wash must not let up in intensity.
With the number of politicians targeted by the probe rapidly increasing – reportedly including around half a dozen members of President Michel Temer's cabinet – there is pressure in Congress to try and slow Car Wash down.
Protesters weren't having any of that.
"We're supporting Car Wash. It's an operation that must go all the way," said Teresa Kohler, 51, who was in Rio helping to organize the demonstration with the group Take to the Streets.
"We must punish the corrupt, make a real cleanup and build a new Brazil."
Compared to similar demonstrations over the last two years, Sunday's event got off to a slow start.
There were hundreds gathered early in Brasilia and several thousand in Rio on the iconic Copacabana beachfront.
Analysts say Brazilians weighed down by the country's worst recession in history may be starting to tire of the seemingly endless anti-corruption drive.
Operation Car Wash has uncovered a vast web of politicians and executives who fleeced state oil company Petrobras, with a lot of dirty money funneling into party election funds.
The probe got even bigger this month with a request by Prosecutor General Rodrigo Janot to open new investigations expected to target more than 100 politicians.
And a week ago Brazilians got a shock on a new front when police said they'd uncovered a scheme to bribe corrupt health inspectors at meatpacking plants to certify tainted meat. The revelation prompted several big markets, including China, to impose brief, but damaging import bans.
Bring in the military?
As Car Wash's crusading chief judge Sergio Moro advances, a panicky Congress is trying to push back.
Lawmakers have attempted to pass legislation that would pardon anyone who had received undeclared campaign donations in the past, while making it illegal in the future.
This would effectively become an amnesty for politicians who took secret donations or what may have been plain bribes.
Another initiative being discussed is to change the electoral system so that voters cast ballots for parties, not individual candidates, meaning that scandal-tainted politicians would be able to escape much of voters' direct anger.
The result is an ever-widening divide between politicians and voters.
Protester Paulo Rachid, 63, an engineer in Rio, described Temer's ruling PMDB party as a machine existing only to make money for its members.
Corrupt politicians are "a gang that has taken control of Brazil. They have infiltrated at every level of society," he said.
Voicing hopelessness at Brazil's mix of recession, political paralysis, violent crime, and corruption, Rachid said the only real way out would be military intervention.
"When there's social chaos, then the army will have to intervene – they'll be legally obliged to intervene," he said.
Support for a military takeover is in the minority, with memories still fresh of two decades long dictatorship that followed a military coup in 1964.
However, the subject is far from taboo and the military is widely seen as among the few institutions that can still be trusted.
Even more popular for fed-up Brazilians, though, is Moro.
Street vendor Edison Reis sold inflatable dolls depicting the judge as Superman. They were priced at 20 reais ($6.45), while dolls of unpopular ex-president Dilma Rousseff, impeached last year for illegally manipulating government accounts, went for 10 reais.
"He should be president," Reis, 60, said, brandishing a Moro doll. "And all the rest should be put in prison." – Rappler.com