Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is fighting for her political life in Congress, the courts and streets this week, but her path to survival has got ever narrower, analysts said on Monday. Rousseff faces impeachment proceedings over alleged fiscal mismanagement, while the Supreme Electoral Court is considering possible campaign funding irregularities that could end up annulling her 2014 reelection.
Those threats had appeared to be receding in the last few weeks. Even Rousseff's dismal popularity ratings were creeping up.
But on Friday, what analyst Gabriel Petrus called an atomic bomb was thrown at her Workers' Party with the brief detention of Rousseff's mentor and charismatic predecessor, Lula da Silva.
Lula, as he is universally known, is accused of taking bribes from companies involved in the gargantuan embezzlement and kickbacks scheme at state oil company Petrobras. And the extraordinary scene of a powerful ex-president being taken away by police, backed up by officers in camouflage with rifles, brought all the simmering tensions to a boil.
Now, with the relative lull forgotten, both the opposition and pro-Rousseff camps are promising to take to the streets, while opposition parties in Congress are licking their lips over a revitalized impeachment push.
Petrus, at the Brasilia-based consultancy Barral M Jorge Associates, said both Lula and Rousseff have their backs up against the wall -- and if necessary will go down swinging.
The Workers' Party will play a winner-take-all strategy -- everything or nothing, Petrus said. I think both sides are preparing for that battle.
The Workers' Party will try to show its muscle with a series of demonstrations announced in big cities, on Tuesday, March 18 and March 31. But analysts believe the turnout will be dwarfed by opposition rallies across the country this Sunday -- and that huge crowds could push hesitant congressional deputies over the edge in backing the push to impeach Rousseff.
David Fleischer, a political science professor at the University of Brasilia, said that prosecutors are closing the circle around Lula, who denies having taken corrupt money and denounced the police operation against him on Friday as a show.
He's going to be in jail in a few weeks probably, Fleischer predicted. But as the reaction to Friday's drama showed, Workers' Party loyalists increasingly see the legal assaults on Lula and Rousseff as an attack on the very core of the country's leftist movement. And that's getting them fired up.
If Lula is arrested, for example, it could get quite nasty, Fleischer said.
Analysts say Rousseff's fate may be decided not in the streets or even in the electoral court, but in prosecutorial and police offices where former friends and allies ensnared in the Petrobras scandal are negotiating plea bargains.
Unconfirmed reports that Workers' Party Senator Delcidio do Amaral is preparing to testify that Rousseff obstructed the Petrobras investigation have already caused a huge stir and could give powerful ammunition to the impeachment camp.
Other major figures arrested in the vast corruption scheme include construction tycoon Marcelo Odebrecht and political campaign guru Joao Santana.
There's going to be a lot more plea bargaining, new information coming out, Fleischer said, and Congress will restart the impeachment process, probably next week.
Rousseff struck out Monday against the leaking of supposedly impending plea bargains, saying this was part of a campaign. The leaks are not true, but the damage caused by throwing mud has already occurred, she said.
Already Rousseff cuts a forlorn figure, with Congress paralyzed and the economy in a tailspin. Every time Brazil's first female president makes a speech on television, crowds of opponents across the country lean out their windows to bang pots and yell.
Rousseff barely occupies the formal post of president of the Republic, O Estado de Sao Paulo newspaper said in an editorial Monday. In practice, she already exercises no power, except for what's provided for by protocol. There'll always be someone in the Planalto Palace to serve her coffee.