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Protesters Condemn Brazilian Government

By Teri West

Singer Geraldo Vandré fled Brazil in 1969.

The military dictatorship had banned his song “So as Not to Say I Didn’t Speak of Flowers” for inciting anti-army sentiments, and Vandré went into exile to avoid retribution. Despite the government’s censorship, the song remained a favorite protest anthem against the regime.

Luci Murphy sang Vandré’s words on the Brazilian Embassy’s driveway on an evening in early June.

Gathered around her were approximately 20 other protesters in solidarity with the activists across Brazil demonstrating against the Michel Temer administration.

The musical refrain was a part of an hour-long demonstration that five groups organized consisting of speeches, songs, and chants.

Luci Murphy leads protesters in song at the Embassy of Brazil
Luci Murphy leads protesters in song at the Embassy of Brazil.

“Brazilians, by the hundreds of thousands, are out in the streets demanding a new government, whether it’s through an impeachment process or new elections,” CODEPINK for Peace cofounder Medea Benjamin said. “They’re saying that this illegitimate government must go, and they want the U.S. government to stop being a support of a government that has shown itself to be so corrupt, illegitimate and repressive.”

Temer replaced Dilma Rousseff as president after she was impeached in May of last year. Rousseff’s left-wing supporters believe that the transfer of power was an illegitimate coup that Temer used to cover up a corruption scandal. They want him ousted.

The scandal, known as Operation Car Wash, has not only ensnared Temer, but many at the top of the Brazilian government and economy for the past three years. Temer, Rousseff, and Rousseff’s predecessor Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, as well as scores of other Brazilian government officials, have been investigated for receiving tens of millions of dollars in bribes. The scandal has links to major Latin American corporations including Brazil’s largest oil company, Petrobas.

Many consider Operation Car Wash to be the largest corruption scandal in modern history.

rotesters hold signs that read “Stop Killing Campesinos.”
Protesters hold signs that read “Stop Killing Campesinos.” Their flag represents the Landless Workers Movement in Brazil, a movement that began in 1984 to fight for rights and services for rural communities. There has been a spike in the number of government killings of Brazilian rural workers in 2017.

Police response to protesters since Temer assumed the presidency has included tear gas and rubber bullets. Temer deployed the army on May 24 in response to tens of thousands of protesters approaching government buildings in the capital city of Brasilia. Police killed ten landless activists at a farm in the state of Pará on the same day, which correlates with a spike in such killings in 2017.

The June 1 demonstration at the embassy in Washington D.C. was a small but earnest pledge of support for the protesters and rural workers in Brazil. Signs reading “Stop Killing Campesinos” and “Stand with Brazilian workers” echoed the sentiments of Brazilian American speakers expressing distress about their democracy crumbling. A bucket drum accompanied chants of “Temer must go!” and “Fora Temer!” (Temer Out).

Preceding the protest, Benjamin and fellow organizers delivered a letter to the embassy outlining the group’s opposition to the Temer administration and its policies.

Protesters chant at the Brazilian Embassy
Protesters chant “Temer must go” and “Fora Temer,” meaning "Temer out" in Portuguese. The same chants have reverberated around Brazil since Temer became president in May 2016.

Members of Brazilian Expats for Democracy & Social Justice have been demonstrating in Washington, D.C. for a year. At this event, their ranks were joined by other organizations including CODEPINK and the ANSWER Coalition.

One member of Brazilian Expats for Democracy & Social Justice, who requested anonymity due to the sensitive political situation, thanked the other organizations for encouraging their group to remain vocal. In addition to feeling tired after a year of protesting, the speaker said the group has also recently begun to experience a sense of fear.

“Now we live in a state of seize in Brazil, in a state where all the institutions have been deteriorating by day, and even passing in front of this embassy, which is part of our property, we are afraid of being here,” the speaker said. “We are afraid of who is coming to take a picture of us, to…film us because we are afraid of our jobs, we are afraid of maintaining our international status here. We are afraid of what can happen.”

The Brazilian Supreme Court is currently investigating Temer for involvement with the corruption scheme, and leaked audio has threatened to implicate him. About a week after the embassy protest, an electoral court acquitted him in a decision that had endangered his seat in office.

Murphy sings at the protest at the Embassy of Brazil
Medea Benjamin of CODEPINK invited Luci Murphy to lead songs at the protest. Murphy’s first song was popular among resistance movements during Brazil’s dictatorship.

Not all of the protesters had Brazilian roots, but many felt personally connected to the Brazilian struggle.

Benjamin worked in Brazil as a nutritionist with the U.N. during the period of dictatorial rule and was appalled by the country’s high infant mortality rate. In the early 2000s, she was excited to see progressive new social reforms under Lula da Silva that made Brazil a model for helping people out of poverty. Now, she has noted a reversal of such policies under Temer’s administration.

“I don’t want to be one of those people that stands by to watch Brazil sink into a dictatorship once again,” Benjamin said.

Murphy had previously attended a demonstration that united American mothers of police shooting victims with Brazilian mothers in the same situation.

“As flores no chã/ A certeza na frente/ A história na mão,” she sang into a megaphone, others chiming in with Vandré’s lyrics. In English, “The flowers were shot down/ There is alone the faith in the coming future/ And a page of history to be written.”

“It’s actually the ‘We Shall Overcome’ of Brazil,” she said.

Teri West is an editorial intern of The Washington Diplomat.

 
 

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