RIO DE JANEIRO – Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of cities across Brazil on Sunday to protest against corruption and demand that ongoing investigations be allowed to proceed without obstacles.
The protests were triggered by the introduction of a controversial anti-corruption bill in Congress and the recent arrests of leading political figures, including the last two governors of Rio de Janeiro state.
Some 399,000 Brazilians took to the streets in some 200 cities nationwide, including most of the regional capitals, according to estimates by organizers cited by the G1 Web site, leaving aside their ideological differences and joining forces with a common aim.
Grassroots organizations called for the protests, which drew people from all walks of life fed up with corruption.
Protesters want the legislation, which must still be approved by the Senate, scrapped and demand that the independence of institutions created to fight corruption be respected.
Senate President Renan Calheiros, a suspect in the sprawling bribes-for-inflated-contracts scheme centered on state oil company Petrobras, is the author of one of the bills that has triggered a conflict between the legislative and judicial branches.
The proposed legislation could lead to suspects filing criminal complaints against the judges and prosecutors investigating them for alleged graft, Judge Sergio Moro, who is leading the massive Petrobras corruption probe that has ensnared some of Brazil’s most powerful individuals, told Congress last week.
Prosecutors in the Petrobras investigation have threatened to collectively resign if the measures, which were inserted into a civil society-backed bill to stiffen punishments for corruption, are enacted.
The biggest protest took place Sunday in Rio de Janeiro’s iconic Copacabana district, where thousands of residents blocked traffic on Avenida Atlantica to make their demands heard.
The Petrobras investigation unearthed a decade-long scheme in which Odebrecht and other large Brazilian construction and engineering companies allegedly overcharged the oil giant for contracts and split the extra money with corrupt Petrobras executives while setting aside some of the loot to pay off politicians who provided cover for the graft.
Prominent figures, including erstwhile Odebrecht CEO Marcelo Odebrecht, have been convicted and sentenced to lengthy prison terms over the scandal, which is estimated to have cost Petrobras as much as $2 billion.
Protesters also took to the streets in Brasilia, Sao Paulo, Belo Horizonte, Recife and Belem, among other cities.