Caption:A woman holds a sign reading 'Dilma out and take de Workers Party with you' during a demonstration against re-elected President Dilma Rousseff, corruption and governmental policies, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on January 31, 2015. AFP PHOTO / MIGUEL SCHINCARIOL (Photo credit should read Miguel Schincariol/AFP/Getty Images)
Protesters rally against Brazil's president
03:04 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

CNN's Shasta Darlington, who lives in Sao Paulo, explains who protesters are and what they want

Demonstrators are angry about a massive scandal involving state oil company

Protesters also are incensed about a stumbling economy

CNN  — 

Hundreds of thousands of protesters gathered in cities across Brazil this weekend, incensed by serious economic woes and a massive scandal involving the country’s oil company. The demonstrators have called for President Dilma Rousseff to be impeached.

CNN correspondent Shasta Darlington, who lives in Sao Paulo, explains who the demonstrators are, why they’re mad and what could be in store for the President and the country.

What do the protesters want?

They’re angry about the country’s economy being in shambles at a time when political corruption at the highest levels of government is alleged. If it were just one of those things, maybe we wouldn’t be seeing this kind of turnout because Brazilians have lived with corruption for decades and the economy was not doing well before the presidential election in October. But it’s all come to a head.

Political corruption – let’s break that down. What’s the scandal about?

Petrobras is the national oil company. It’s one of the most powerful, richest companies in the country – and has been counted among the largest in the world. It was very respected. People invested in it. Rousseff, who won election in October by a slim margin, was – before becoming President – the chairwoman of Petrobras’ board of directors. She was chairwoman during much of the time that former oil company executives have told investigators that bribes were paid to Petrabras executives and politicians in order to secure contracts from Petrobras. In early March, the country’s highest court authorized the investigation which involves about 40 politicians, many of them from the President’s ruling Workers’ Party and the speakers of the House and Senate.

But Rousseff hasn’t been accused of anything, right?

Right. She’s not being investigated. Protesters’ call for impeachment – the formal process of accusing, because she’s not been accused of anything – looks very unlikely. But, the public perception is that even if she didn’t personally profit for this scheme, she was still the chairwoman at a time when it was supposedly happening and she should be held accountable.

Has she responded to the protesters?

She has. What she says is that she will not stand for corruption and she’s rooting it out. As proof, she contends, she’s given her attorney general free rein to investigate who is stealing from the state oil company. It’s important to know that the Petrobras scandal has been known publicly for at least a year and during Rousseff’s election campaign, she said over and over that she would root out corruption.

It’s also interesting that she isn’t lashing out at protesters. She is saying she won’t put up with violence – and so far the protests haven’t gotten violent. But she says that Brazil is a democratic country and people have the right to protest. She comes from a left-wing background so that approach is fitting.

You brought up that she is from the left-wing Workers’ Party. How is that significant?

The protests were mostly organized by the right-wing party that opposes Rousseff…organized by people who didn’t vote for her.

There aren’t people out today protesting. The next demonstrations are scheduled for April 12. I guess that goes to how organized these demonstrations really are – setting an advance date like that.

Yes, well, that’s Brazil. It’s so the word can get out on social media.

If she’s not accused of anything and the protests are politically motivated, will the protests affect her presidency?

Rousseff has four years ahead of her, it could end up being very hard for her govern. She won a little over half the vote in October and the people who didn’t vote for her are still making their voices heard. And this Petrobras scandal is a problem.

Why was the election so close?

You have to bring it back to the economy. It had been slowing down, and traditionally the wealthier parts of the country like Sao Paulo haven’t voted for Rousseff’s party, the Workers’ Party. The country is at 7.5% inflation.

The April 12 protest is ahead but three or four months down the road, what might happen?

The Senate and House speakers are Rousseff’s allies and they are among those implicated in the Petrobras scheme. What if she isn’t able to get badly needed legislation? What will she do? What will be party do? These questions are hard to answer now.

CNN’s Ashley Fantz in Atlanta talked with CNN’s Shasta Darlington who lives and reports in Brazil.