Brazil president's own supporters revolt against austerity plans

GMT 13:34 2015 Thursday ,17 September

Arab Today, arab today Brazil president's own supporters revolt against austerity plans

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff
Brasília - AFP

When Brazil's leftist President Dilma Rousseff loses the support of someone like longtime backer Edson Silva, perhaps she had better start worrying.

Silva is an anti-homelessness activist, traditionally the kind of foot soldier the ruling Workers' Party could count on -- and presumably a natural ally for Rousseff when the rest of the country is turning angrily against her.

So what was Silva, 34, doing this Wednesday?

Fuming against Rousseff's latest economic austerity plan. It entails cutting nearly a billion dollars from public housing, long the jewel in the Workers' Party policy crown.

"Who is paying for the economic crisis? The worker," an angry Silva said at a hotel taken over by some 450 homeless families in the capital, Brasilia.

Surrounded by police, who want them out, the squatters are a vivid example of the inequalities in Brazil and the government's unfinished campaign to end extreme poverty during the Workers' Party 12-year rule. Some 22 million people, about 10 percent of the population, remain homeless.

Silva said the austerity package convinces people like him that they have been forgotten by Rousseff. "The government wants to sweep all the social problems under the rug," he said.

So they are taking matters into their own hands, ignoring police warnings and insisting they will stay in their new lodgings.

The three-star hotel, complete with a chandelier in the lobby and made-up beds, was shut down because of an unrelated legal dispute.

"We'll only leave here when we're dead," Silva said.

- Street protests -

Brazil is in recession and the government's 2016 budget proposal is the first in the country's history that foresees a deficit.

So, following the downgrading of the world's seventh-biggest economy's credit rating to junk bond status last week by Standard & Poor's, the finance minister unveiled plans on Monday for tax hikes and billions of dollars in spending cuts.

Those cuts would slash spending on public housing and health, freeze public sector salaries and eliminate 10 of 39 ministries.

But what the government calls necessary medicine has met with an icy reception from both the opposition in Congress and allies in the ruling coalition.

Rousseff has already faced repeated street protests from the centrist and right wing opposition in

, which blame her and the Workers' Party for the economic slump and a huge corruption scandal at state-owned oil company Petrobras.

Now, leftist protesters could be an increasingly frequent sight out on the streets of Brazil.

In Sao Paulo on Wednesday, about 500 members of the Homeless Workers' Movement marched in the city center, calling for housing.

There was another demonstration in Sao Goncalo, in the Rio de Janeiro outskirts, and on Friday some 20,000 people from leftist groups are expected to gather in Sao Paulo.

"We're all angry. How can they go and cut 'My house, my life?'" asked activist Fabiana Lopes in Sao Paulo, referring to the Workers' Party program of giving the poor housing -- and helping to lift 40 million people out of poverty in the last decade.

"Everything is hard: jobs, housing. What are they going to cut next?" she asked. "This is why we are fighting. I supported the Workers' Party in the past, but not any more."

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