Like fans watching a football final, Brazilians cheered and hugged when lawmakers voted for President Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment, while the losing side sobbed and walked out in disgust at the result.
Tens of thousands massed on the lawn outside Congress in Brasilia while thousands more held rival rallies in Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and other cities, with samba beats animating the crowds.
In the capital, the crowds were separated by a kilometre-long metal wall and they watched the five-hour-long drama unfold on eight large screens, with each side loudly jeering or cheering as each lawmaker declared their vote.
Brasilia’s wall became a symbol of the country’s ideological divide in a searing political and economic crisis, just four months before Rio de Janeiro hosts the Summer Olympics.
When vote number 342 was cast, giving the impeachment backers their two-thirds majority needed to recommend impeachment to the Senate, Rousseff opponents jumped in celebration, launched small fireworks and chanted “ciao dear.”
Janda Ribeiro, a 54-year-old unemployed woman who traveled from Sao Paulo, shed tears of joy amid a crowd clad in the yellow and green colors of Brazil.
“We fought so, so much for this to happen, for our country to be free of these criminals who have stolen so much from us,” she said.
On the other side of the fence, Mariana Santos shed tears of sadness as she watched the decisive vote being cast, surrounded by despondent supporters of Rousseff sporting her Workers Party red colors.
“It’s a disgrace for our country. It’s a coup,” the 23-year-old university student said, repeating Rousseff’s claim that the impeachment process amounts to a putsch.
- ‘Fight isn’t over’ -
About 53,000 pro-impeachment demonstrators gathered on the right side of the wall while 26,000 turned out for Rousseff on the left, according to police. The crowds were smaller than the 300,000 that had been expected.
Hundreds of Rousseff supporters walked out of the esplanade well before the defeat in Congress, many fearing that the social programs implemented by the Workers Party would be rolled back if the president is ousted.
“What we saw today was shameful,” said Elinete Perreira, a 35-year-old historian who was leaving with two other friends, partly out of fear of a violent reaction to the vote.
Many vowed to keep demonstrating as the Senate debates whether to suspend Rousseff and put her on trial.
“I’m very frustrated. I had confidence that we’d have the votes against impeachment,” said Edilonson Oliveira, 19, a law student from Parana state.
“But the fight is not over. Now it goes to the Senate and we will stay in the streets,” he said as percussionists passed by playing samba beats and people chanted “there won’t be a coup!”
The event ended without violence.
- ‘Tired of corruption’ -
Rousseff, whose approval rating has plunged to a dismal 10 percent, faces charges of embellishing public accounts to mask the budget deficit during her 2014 reelection.
But opponents are also angry at the country’s deep recession and a massive corruption scandal at state oil giant Petrobras that has involved top politicians.
Rousseff’s supporters point out that her potential successor and former ally, Vice President Michel Temer, and the man leading the impeachment drive, House Speaker Eduardo Cunha, have themselves been tainted by corruption scandals.
“I’m tired of the corruption. I know the Workers Party is not the only corrupt party, but it’s the one in power and it has to leave,” said Daniel Quagleliato, 27, an agronomy student from Sao Paulo.
In Rio about 3,000 people each from both sides demonstrated at separate moments next to Copacabana beach. The atmosphere even became festive, with a funk band singing.
In Sao Paulo, Brazil’s financial center, thousands of pro-impeachment supporters gathered downtown and celebrated as they watched the result on a giant screen.
“We fought a lot to sack this corrupt government, which destroyed our industry, jobs and left chaos in all social classes,” said Marisa Cardamone, a 75-year-old attorney.