Brazil: Rousseff offers protesters a plebiscite

On June 24 Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff began a week of meetings with various groups—youths, unionists, campesinos, political party leaders, state governors, congressional leaders and Supreme Court members—in response to the massive protests that broke out in the middle of the month. Rousseff initially proposed a plebiscite on holding a constituent assembly to reform the Constitution, but she quickly dropped the idea. Instead, she proposed a plebiscite that would allow voters to choose from various options in three areas: public financing of political campaigns, methods of electing legislators and voting by party list. The vote would be held by October.

In a note published on June 28, former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011) supported Rousseff’s proposal, which he said “has the merit of breaking the impasse on this decisive question, which for decades has entered and left the national agenda without accomplishing significant changes.” Rousseff and Lula are both members of the center-left Workers Party (PT). The opposition parties oppose the plan, which some analysts think could open the way to the sort of political transformation that center-left presidents have carried out in other Latin American countries. In the opposition’s counter-proposal, the National Congress would develop a reform plan and the government would then hold a referendum allowing voters to accept or reject the entire project. (El PaĂ­s, Madrid, June 28, from correspondent; La Jornada, Mexico, June 29, from AFP, DPA, Notimex)

For its own part, the National Congress responded to the protests with legislation, much of which had been stalled for months. On June 26 the legislators voted down a constitutional amendment that would have limited federal prosecutors’ authority to investigate crimes; many protesters considered the amendment an effort by politicians to stymie corruption investigations. In addition, the Senate passed a bill making corruption a crime as serious as murder or rape; the Chamber of Deputies is expected to pass it later. The Chamber passed a bill allocating 75% of royalties from oil production to education programs and the remaining 25% to healthcare. 

Meanwhile, the protests continued, although on a smaller scale than the week before. On June 26 some 50,000 people demonstrated in Brazil’s third largest city, Belo Horizonte in the eastern state of Minas Gerais, while Brazil’s soccer team was playing the Uruguayan team; the allocation of funds to international sports competitions rather than education and health has been a major grievance in the demonstrations. Hooded youths threw rocks at the police, who used tear gas to keep the protesters 3 km away from the city’s MineirĂŁo stadium. According to the authorities a young man was seriously injured and at least 24 people were arrested; looting was reported, along with two fires and damage to dozens of stores. In Brasilia, protesters kicked soccer balls towards the police line at the Congress building. (LJ, June 27, from Reuters, AFP, DPA, Xinhua)

One of the main triggers of the mass protests was a series of small demonstrations early in June by the Free Pass Movement (MPL), a SĂŁo Paulo-based organization fighting an increase in transit fares. MPL was the first group scheduled to meet with Rousseff on June 24. Before the meeting, they issued an open letter to the president saying they were surprised by the invitation since “social movements in Brazil always suffered repression and criminalization…. We hope that this meeting will mark a change of position by the federal government that will extend to other social struggles: to the indigenous peoples, who, like the Kaiowá-GuaranĂ­ and the Munduruku, have suffered various attacks from large landowners and the public power; to the communities affected by evictions; to the homeless; to the landless; and to the mothers whose children were murdered by the police in the peripheral neighborhoods.” (Adital, Brazil, June 24)

Correction: In the third paragraph we originally wrote that  the Chamber of Deputies’ bill concerned oil revenues; the bill concerns the royalties from oil production.

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, June 30.