President Dilma Rousseff promised increased spending on her partyâ€™s most popular social program and took other measures aimed at her electoral base, less than two weeks before Brazilâ€™s Senate is expected to vote in favor of the impeachment process she calls a coup dâ€™etat.
At a rally of labour unions and Workersâ€™ Party faithful in Sao Paulo on Sunday, Rousseff announced tax cuts, more public housing units and an average 9 percent increase in the cash transfer program known as Bolsa Familia, even as Brazil faces a record budget deficit. The May 1 rally, traditionally a celebration of worker rights and leftist policies, this year doubled as a protest against the drive toward impeachment approved by a wide margin in Brazilâ€™s lower house. The Senate will vote on May 11 on Rousseffâ€™s ouster.
â€œThis coup isnâ€™t just an attack on democracy and my mandate, but also on the victories of the working class,â€ Rousseff said. â€œI will resist. I will fight until the end.â€
Aides to Brazilâ€™s first woman leader concede itâ€™s all but inevitable the Senate will vote to temporarily remove her from office this month while the impeachment process plays out, handing power to Vice President Michel Temer. Rousseffâ€™s critics say Sundayâ€™s policy announcements are intended sabotage the transition and the governmentâ€™s budget, while her supporters say the moves are an extension of programs that reduced inequality in Latin Americaâ€™s biggest nation.
The Sao Paulo demonstration was one of many held across the country in which the red-shirted supporters of the Workersâ€™ Party and Rousseffâ€™s predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva criticized austerity policies expected from a future Temer government. Leftist organizations and labor unions led chants of â€œthere will be no coup,â€ repeating that Rousseff has committed no crime that merits impeachment.
A special Senate committee is analyzing the current request to remove Rousseff from office based on allegations her government used accounting tricks to hide a budget deficit.
The committee report will then be put to a vote on the floor of the Senate. Approval by a simple majority would force Rousseff, 68, to step down for as long as 180 days during her full trial in the Senate. The chamber then would need support from two-thirds of its 81 members to impeach the president and terminate her mandate.
General Strike Possible
Self-described militants within the Workersâ€™ Party, which has governed Brazil for more than 13 years under Rousseff and Lula, promised to resist a future Temer government. Some demonstrators called for a general strike.
Members of pro-impeachment labor groups at an opposing rally, also in Sao Paulo, blamed Brazilâ€™s recession on Rousseffâ€™s economic mismanagement and said Temer promised to preserve workersâ€™ rights and fight unemployment.
Eduardo Cunha, Rousseffâ€™s sworn political enemy and speaker of the house, who has been charged with corruption, said via text message that the measures announced on Sunday were â€œfiscally irresponsible,â€ especially since the government risks shutting down if Congress doesnâ€™t approve changes to this yearâ€™s budget goal by May 22. He contested Rousseffâ€™s claims that the increase was already in this yearâ€™s budget, and said the decree could be viewed as another â€œcrime of responsibilityâ€ by the president.
Sundayâ€™s decree raises the monthly wage levels considered to be poverty and extreme poverty as a way to make more families eligible for payments under the Bolsa Familia program, according to a statement from Rousseffâ€™s press office. The average benefit paid to almost 14 million families will be 176 reais ($51.23) a month, a 9 percent increase compared to what was paid in April. Itâ€™s unclear how many additional families may be added to the programâ€™s rolls under the higher caps.
In addition to increased spending on Bolsa Familia and a 5 percent income tax adjustment, Rousseff offered extended paternity leave for public servants, increased financial help for small-scale farmers, and the creation of a council with representatives from labor groups, businesses and government to look after workersâ€™ rights.