By Kevin Belanger,
International News Writer
It is difficult for a presidential administration to maintain high approval ratings when the economy is struggling. If that administration is also associated with graft and corruption, public disapproval can turn to political unrest.
This is exactly the position that Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff finds herself in. On March 16, the New York Times reported that citizens in over 150 cities throughout Brazil had organized marches calling for Rousseff’s impeachment or resignation.
According to the BBC, over 200,000 protesters are believed to have marched in Sao Paulo during Sunday’s protests. In the Brazilian Capital, Brasilia, 40,000 demonstrated in front of the Brazilian legislature building. The protests were sparked by an announcement from federal prosecutors in Brazil that the state oil company, Petrobras, had allegedly accepted bribes worth $800 million dollars from various construction firms and contractors.
Rousseff is the former Chairwoman of Petrobras, and two of her chiefs of staff are being investigated by state prosecutors. Rousseff claims that she had no knowledge of the widespread bribery within the company.
However, protesters have expressed doubt that she could have no knowledge of the corruption in the company. Several members of the legislature have also been implicated in the investigation. Rousseff’s party, the Labor Party, has been in power since 2003. However, the New York Times reports that the Labor Party had trouble mustering pro-Rousseff rallies, as Rousseff’s popularity has dropped to as low as a 13 percent approval rate.
The Huffington Post reports that two of Rousseff’s cabinet members supported the right of protesters to assemble peaceably but still derided the movement as being composed of citizens disappointed by their own party’s failure to win the presidential election.
Rousseff herself, who was once arrested and jailed for political dissent, stated that she supported the right of protesters to protest. The Eurasia Risk Consulting Group, a firm which analyzes political risk, stated that despite extremely low approval numbers, Rousseff is unlikely to be forced to leave office.
According to the New York Times, Rousseff is considered by many to have increased Brazil’s reliance on the oil industry, turning Petrobras into a massive state entity. With falling oil prices, project delays have arisen, and those working in the industry have cooled in their support of Rousseff.
The decline in the oil industry has also led to predictions that the Brazilian economy will enter a recession. Despite the scale of the scandal, the New York Times reports that Petrobras still possesses real expertise in finding new sources of oil and efficiently developing such sources. However, the road ahead will remain difficult for Rousseff as she attempts to prevent the economy from entering a recession while working to protect her own authority.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, March 24th print edition.
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