By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – Thousands of pro-government backers took to the streets on Friday in Brazil to show their support for President Dilma Rousseff’s administration as well as state-owned oil giant Petrobras. Marches entitled ‘National Day of the Struggle in Defense of Workers’ Rights, of Democracy, of Petrobras and for a Political Reform’ were held in twenty-two states with organizers stating that more than 175,000 people marched in favor of democracy.
Official police tallies, however, say the crowds totaled just over 33,000 throughout the country. Friday marches came two days before Sunday’s (March 15th) expected nationwide protests, organized by different groups through social media.
Under drizzling skies and with banners of “Stay Dilma” and “I Defend Democracy”, marchers took to the streets in São Paulo. The group organized by CUT (Brazil’s Main Trade Workers Union) met up with the São Paulo State Teachers’ Union (Apeoesp) on one of the city’s most famous avenues, Avenida Paulista. According to the marchers there were close to 100,000, while police put the number of marchers at 12,000.
Up on top of a rally-bus with speakers, union leaders criticized those who have not accepted the results of October 2014 elections and are calling for the impeachment of President Rousseff. “The election is over,” said CUT President Vagner Freitas, as supporters chanted ‘There will be no impeachment’. “This march shows that Brazil needs to end this ‘third’ voting session,” he added.
Another state capital that registered a high number of marchers was Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, with marchers setting off hundreds of yellow balloons into the air while chanting ‘there will be no coup’. In Rio de Janeiro, a traditional stronghold of the PT (Workers Party) the number of marchers was not as high as expected.
According to MST (Landless Rural Workers Movement) coordinator, João Pedro Stédile, the crisis faced by the country is due to capitalism. “We cannot have a primary surplus policy to pay off interest rates to banks,” he told the crowd of approximately one thousand, according to police officials. Stédile said that his group was marching to defend democracy and that the higher classes dare not to speak of coups and impeachments.
Former Petrobras president, José Sergio Gabrielli participated in the march held in Salvador, Bahia, and reiterated what he had said at the Congressional Committee (CPI) investigating the corruption scandal at the oil giant. “Petrobras is a serious company and it has a control system. It was unable to capture through its control mechanisms the criminal behavior of some (employees) which were conducted outside the company realm.”
Despite the high number of marchers, no major problems were reported in any of the cities where demonstrations were held. Earlier in the week, local news media had reported that government officials were asking trade unions and supporters to call of the marches, afraid that they would lead to the same type of violence seen in the 2013 protests.
As the march was ending in Rio de Janeiro, MST coordinator Stédile he was quoted by Agencia Brasil news service as saying hinted: “Prepare your tennis shoes and boots, because we are only getting started. They [opposition] are here on the 15th, but we will be back on April 20th.”