The protest included performances and speeches from some of the country's most renowned artists
Temer's political future may be determined as early as June 6
Hundreds of artists and activists gathered along Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana Beach Sunday to demand the resignation of President Michel Temer and to ask for Congress to approve a call for new elections. Temer is under investigation for bribery, after a whistleblower’s testimony alleging that he paid the former House Leader hush money leaked to one of the country’s biggest newspapers.
Sunday’s protest included performances and speeches from some of the country’s most renowned artists, including musical legends Caetano Veloso and Milton Nascimento and actor Wagner Moura, best known for his role as drug kingpin Pablo Escobar in the Netflix series “Narcos.”
“We cannot allow Temer to continue to govern or allow our Congress to choose his substitute,” Moura said, addressing the crowd on a crackling microphone from a sound truck. “When our grandkids ask us where we were during this time, we will say we were on the beach, listening to good music and fighting for our country’s democracy.”
Despite the festive atmosphere of the event, the anger and frustration of the crowd was palpable. Dozens of flags representing some of the country’s largest workers unions waved against the misty skyline, and chants of “Out with Temer” erupted between performances. A street vendor hung colorful cleaning rags on a clothesline with Temer’s face on them, available for sale to the protesting public.
“(Temer) can either leave the good way or the bad way,” protestor Renata Silva said. “We will not abandon the streets until he leaves the presidency. If he doesn’t leave on his own, we will get him out there.”
The protest comes more than a week after allegations of corruption and bribery rocked Temer’s government. Leaked testimony from whistleblower Joesley Batista suggested that the President may have been involved in a kickback scheme to bribe former house leader Eduardo Cunha, who was stripped of his congressional seat and arrested last year in connection to a sweeping graft probe, dubbed “Operation Car Wash.”
Many of the country’s top political parties, politicians and business leaders have been implicated in the probe, which began in Brasilia more than three years ago. Since then, Federal Police and prosecutors have brought charges against hundreds of the country’s most powerful public figures.
Temer may now be the next domino to fall. The unpopular leader took office a year ago, after former President Dilma Rousseff – Temer’s running mate in the 2014 elections – left office during her impeachment investigation. Temer was officially sworn in in September 2016, after the Senate voted 61-20 in favor of impeaching Rousseff.
Many at Sunday’s protest said they believe Temer’s ascension to power was a coup, and that the only way to restore Brazil’s democracy is to call for new elections.
“This President was caught committing a crime, his presidency is unsustainable at this point,” Rio de Janeiro Congressman Alessandro Molon said. “He knows he has to leave office, I just hope he leaves quickly in order to not cause more harm than he has already done.”
Since Brazilian newspaper “O Globo” published an article on May 25 detailing the content of Batista’s testimony to the country’s Supreme Court, Temer has made several public statements saying he will not resign. He claims the leaked “clandestine audio recordings” were doctored and denies any wrongdoing.
But the embattled leader is losing much of the support he once had in the House and the Senate, which could weaken his ability to pass proposed economic and social reforms or secure his presidency in the face of an impeachment process.
Many key cabinet members have also resigned, including the Minister of Culture Roberto Freire. Planalto Presidential Palace also confirmed a change in the Ministry of Justice this weekend. The President has nominated Torquato Jardim for the post, Planalto’s press office said in a statement.
While Sunday’s protest in Rio de Janeiro was peaceful and smaller than originally expected, others have been more violent. Last week, several ministerial buildings were damaged in the capital Brasilia – including the Ministry of Agriculture, which was set on fire. At least forty people were arrested. In the midst of the chaos, Temer authorized the army to take over security in the streets, fueling accusations that his ascension to office was a coup.
The President’s political future may be determined as early as June 6, when the Supreme Electoral Tribunal is scheduled to rule on the validity of the 2014 Rousseff-Temer ticket that led the 76-year-old leader to office in the first place. Seven judges are expected to rule on whether or not the campaign was legal and if it was financed with public funds.
Another option may be opening impeachment proceedings, much like those that were brought against Temer’s former running mate Rousseff. Congress has already received more than a dozen requests to open impeachment investigations, including one from the Brazilian Bar Association.
In the midst of the political crisis, the country’s economy has taken a hit. Moody’s Investor Service changed the outlook on Brazil’s rating from stable to negative. The country’s currency, the Real, was devaluated by 10% and the national stock market, Bovespa, temporarily halted trading when the implications against Temer were made public.
“What happened last week increased the level of uncertainty, delayed any private investment and sent our financial market into a panic,” Getulio Vargas Foundation professor and economist Mauro Rochlin said. “There is no doubt that what happened last week affects the signs of recovery we were seeing in the first trimester.”
Brazil, once the world’s sixth-largest economy, has been engulfed in a political and economic scandal that has led to a crippling recession, increase in crime and political uncertainty. If Temer is forced to step down from office, it is unclear who will govern the country and how that person will assume office, whether it be by congressional appointment or new elections.
“No fiction writer could have ever come up with the reality we are currently living in Brazil,” Rochlin said. “It is just too unbelievable to be made up.”