In Brazil, Independence Day commemorations this September 7, in Brazilian capital Brasília with the presence of president Dilma Rousseff were overshadowed by a protest march against corruption. According to the Military Police, by the end of the march, around noon, there were between 25,000 and 30,000 people.
The protesters were dressed in black, many wearing bright red clown noses, carrying banners and posters demanding an end to secret votes in Congress and punishment for corruption. Among the shouts, a warning to corrupt politicians inspired in US president Obama’s election campaign: “No, you can’t.”
They marched down the Mall (Esplanada) on the opposite side from the official Independence Day parade. Along the way they symbolically “washed” the ministry of Agriculture and the Congress where there have been recent scandals.
There were also loud protests of other scandals in the ministries of Transportation and Tourism, as well as the case of deputy Jaqueline Roriz from the Federal District who was absolved by the Chamber of Deputies after being filmed receiving dirty money.
The march was the result of social networking on the Internet where messages declared that as there was nothing to celebrate on Independence Day the idea was to paint one’s face, dress in black and demonstrate indignation.
The national Bar Association (“OAB”), the Catholic Bishop’s Conference (“CNBB”) and the Association of Journalists (“Associação Brasileira da Imprensa” – ABI”), came out in favor of the march, calling for more transparency in government spending, fewer political appointments and immediate approval of a Clean Criminal Record law.
This is a law that would prohibit people with criminal records from running for elective office. Such a law does exist and it’s called Ficha Limpa (clean record), but in Brazil sentences can be appealed endlessly so it is practically impossible to get a final decision that actually puts a politician in jail.
Besides Brasília, other cities like São Paulo and Rio had similar anti-corruption protests. Four government ministers and several deputies have left office over corruption allegations since President Dilma Rousseff took office in January.
Dozens of government officials have also lost their jobs or been arrested, and several other ministers have been accused of corruption, though all deny wrongdoing.
Some of the protesters chanted slogans in support of President Rousseff, who has promised a zero-tolerance approach to graft. Others gathered outside government ministries and the Congress with buckets and mops in a symbolic gesture to wash away corruption.
The demonstration in Brasília – dubbed the March Against Corruption – had no political party affiliation. Many of the protesters were students, who organized the demonstration using social networking websites like Orkut and FaceBook.
Justice Minister Eduardo Cardoso voiced his support for the protests: “We all have a duty to combat corruption and the president supports this,” he said. “I think it is a legitimate demonstration and an opportunity for everyone to fulfil their role as citizens.”
President Rousseff’s chief of staff, Antonio Palocci, resigned in June after media reports questioned his rapid accumulation of wealth. Since then, the ministers of Defense, Agriculture and Transport have also been forced out of office by corruption allegations – though like Mr Palocci, all deny wrongdoing.
President Rousseff has won widespread praise for her firm reaction to the successive corruption scandals. But her determination to clean up her administration had put severe strain on her governing coalition, which is made up of more than a dozen parties.
Some Brazilian political parties have traditionally given their support to the government in return for official jobs for their members and for money – either for personal gain or for party funding.
The Official Party
For the first time a woman, president Dilma Rousseff, reviewed the troops and then authorized the Independence Day parade to begin. Among those who passed in front of the reviewing stand: Olympic swimmer Cesar Cielo, 1,200 students, veterans of the Brazilian Expeditionary Force that saw combat in Italy during the Second World War, military vehicles, the Mounted Guard (Guarda Montada) on their horses and marching soldiers from all the branches of the Armed Forces.
The parade traditionally ends with a human pyramid on motorcycles and a flyover by the acrobatic flying squadron (Esquadrilha da Fumaça).