Sao Paulo / AFP
Supporters of Brazil’s former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva rallied in their hundreds outside his Sao Paulo house a day after his dramatic detention in a corruption probe.
The show of resolve was the latest sign a mounting political crisis over the investigation into alleged embezzlement and bribery at the state oil giant Petrobras was spilling onto the streets. “We are here out of solidarity,” said one man in the crowd, Jesualdo Freitas, 57. He described anger at Lula’s brief detention on Friday as having galvanized the left. “It strengthens the Workers’ Party and the movement to defend president Lula,” he said.
The charismatic leftist icon emerged mid-morning to greet the approximately 500 people. Shortly afterward, President Dilma Rousseff, Lula’s successor and protege in the ruling Workers’ Party, arrived for a private visit.
Until now, the massive anti-corruption scandal has unfolded mostly in the civilized surroundings of courtrooms and lawyers’ offices.
But during Friday’s drama, opponents and supporters of Lula and Rousseff scuffled in Sao Paulo. Late in the day, opponents organized on social media to lean out of windows in Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and the capital Brasilia, shouting and banging pots in celebration.
The opposition blames Lula for the gargantuan corruption network uncovered at Petrobras, which was systematically plundered during much of his presidency, with bribes funneling into the pockets of high-ranking politicians, including from the Workers’ Party.
The opposition also blames Rousseff for a brutal recession in a country that just a few years ago was the darling of emerging markets, even if those troubles are partly due to plunging commodities prices. The sight of armed police at Lula’s home has given opponents a boost as they seek to reignite a stalled impeachment drive against Rousseff and prepare for nationwide demonstrations on March 13.
“The opposition will move with greater strength, with new impetus to try and force out Rousseff,” Sao Paulo-based political analyst Andre Cesar said.
Risk consultancy Eurasia Group called Friday’s events “a tipping point” that will energize both the government’s leftist power base and the pro-impeachment forces.
“In the very near term, we expect a highly polarized environment to ensue,” Eurasia Group said.
With figures last week showing the economy shrank a whopping 3.8 percent in 2015 — fueling ever-rising unemployment and inflation— along with the taint of the Petrobras scandal, Rousseff is already fighting for her political life. Lula’s deepening problems make her position more fragile still.
Although Rousseff has not been implicated directly in the Petrobras scandal, she was chairman of the company during much of the period in question and her fate remains tied to that of her mentor.