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Brazil's Government Struggles To Stay In Power After Protests


Now to Brazil which is in political chaos. Over the weekend, about a million people took to the streets, demanding that president Dilma Rousseff leave office. Tensions have increased since she reportedly invited a former president back into government, a man who was under investigation for corruption. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro is in Rio de Janeiro, and she says there is more than one element to this crisis.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: The biggest thing is that President Dilma Rousseff's political survival is on the line. She has incredibly low approval ratings. The economy is in shambles, and she's in the process of being impeached for allegedly manipulating economic data to make things seem rosier than they were.

But there's a second thing which is separate. There's this massive corruption investigation going on which has implicated former President Inacio Lula da Silva, who is Rousseff's predecessor. He's being accused of money-laundering in connection with a beachfront condo - so two things that united have sort of made a political storm here.

SHAPIRO: And now word is that this former president who is under investigation is going back into the government.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: His critics says it's a transparent attempt to protect himself. Let me explain why that is. Right now, Lula, as he's known here, is being investigated by a crusading prosecutor that has led this investigation into the massive scandal at the state oil company in which he's implicated.

But if he joins the government, he can only be tried by the Supreme Court. And it can take years for the Supreme Court to deal with a case. There are many sitting politicians here that have been charged with very serious crimes who have yet to have had their cases resolved by the Supreme Court. Basically, the Supreme Court is where political cases go to die or at least, I guess, go into a coma. So the idea is that this would protect Lula, at least in the short-term.

SHAPIRO: If that's what's in it for Lula, what's in it for the current government? Why would they invite him back in?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's politically risky, Ari. I've got to tell you. Lula, though, is Dilma's mentor. They're from the same party. He's also a huge figure in Brazil generally, especially on the left. So this is being seen as an attempt to save Lula. But the government might also get something out of this, too, say analysts. Lula could be helpful with Congress where the impeachment fight is taking place.

And I think it's really important to remember that Dilma Rousseff is calling all these attempts to remove her from office a coup. She says she's a democratically elected leader who has not been implicated in any criminal wrongdoing. Lula also has denied the charges, saying they are politically motivated. And so if they're joining forces, they say, this is simply to defend themselves against something that's happening that they feel is incorrect and unfair.

SHAPIRO: Well, what happens next?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: There are going to be pro-government protests planned for Friday. And meanwhile, the investigation that kicked off so much of this turmoil is continuing, and there promises to be many more explosive revelations in the coming days and weeks.

SHAPIRO: And longer-term, the Olympics are coming to Brazil this summer. What does this mean for that?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's just happening under such a cloud. Not only do you have this massive political scandal. You have the Zika virus which is causing so much consternation - so a lot of things really overshadowing these great celebrations that are supposed to be happening this summer.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro speaking with us from Rio de Janeiro. Thanks, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.