On the heels of Pope Benedict XVI's sudden resignation, Brazilians in the full swing of Carnival called on the country's newly elected Senate president, who is at the center of a corruption investigation, to follow the example set by His Holiness and step down.
More than 1.5 million people have signed an online petition [pt] seeking the ouster of Renan Calheiros, who despite being investigated for embezzlement, forgery, and the use of a false document, was elected head of the Senate on February 1 in a secret ballot with 56 voting in favor and 18 against.
The accusations of corruption leveled at Calheiros by the country's top prosecutor were not made public until the same day of his victory [pt]. Calheiros himself did not mention the investigation in his opening address as Senate president.
Outraged by the secrecy surrounding the affair, Brazilians quickly mobilized at the time against Calheiros, a member of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB). Carnival revelers took advantage of the pontiff's departure to reignite protests amid the festivities.
Blogger Genésio Braganza wrote [pt] that the Pope has provided a great example for Brazilian politicians:
Enquanto na renúncia do Sumo Pontífice as reações no mundo são de felicitações diante da grandeza da atitude, nos casos brasileiros, a ausência de renúncia causa rubor, indignação, insatisfação, tristeza e frustração!
While the world reacts to the Supreme Pontiff's resignation with congratulations for the greatness of His attitude, in the case of Brazilians, the absence of resignation causes blushing, anger, dissatisfaction, sadness and frustration!
Neither the high-ranking position nor the allegations of corruption are anything new for Calheiros, re-elected in 2010 for his third term. The senator from the northeastern state of Alagoas was head of the upper chamber from 2005 to 2007, until a corruption scandal nicknamed “Renangate” [pt] forced him to resign. With the move, the congressman avoided a possible disqualification from holding office, which would have prevented his re-election for the current term.
If convicted this time by the Supreme Federal Court (STF), Calheiros will face up to 23 years in jail and a fine.
Journalist Marco Eusébio commented on the same day of the bombshell news [pt]:
A renúncia do papa Bento XVI é, disparado, o assunto líder em comentários hoje no “Trending Topics” do Twitter Brasil. Usuários sugerem que o novo presidente do Senado, Renan Calheiros (PMDB-AL), fiel seguidor do governo, seja qual for o governante, siga o exemplo do alemão. Doce ilusão, mas, é carnaval, e não custa fantasiar. Quem sabe cola, né?!
The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI is by far the top “Trending Topic” on Twitter Brazil today. Users suggest that the new Senate President Renan Calheiros (PMDB-ALAGOAS), a faithful follower of the government, whoever the ruler is, follow the footsteps of the German [pontiff]. A sweet dream, but it is Carnival and it costs nothing to fantasize. Who knows?!
The message below, by Tico Santa Cruz, was shared over 250 times on Twitter:
@Ticostacruz: Não sou Católico, então a Renuncia do Papa não me diz nada. Mas sou Brasileiro e a Renuncia do Renan Calheiros seria muito importante p mim
@Ticostacruz: I'm not Catholic, so the Pope's resignation means nothing to me. But I am Brazilian and Renan's resignation would be very important to me
Other tweets demonstrated the frustration and hope of the people:
@josealaide: Feliz Ano Novo a todos. O carnaval acabou. O ano começou. O Papa renunciou. O Renan ficou. E o povo… “dançou”.
@josealaide: Happy New Year everyone. Carnival is over. The year begins. The Pope has resigned. Renan carries on. And the people… “danced” [TN: slang for to come off badly].
@Nailormarques: O Papa renunciou. Chavez, Renan, Sarney vocês têm que se tocar, o prazo de validade já venceu.
And many protested with an added hint of typical Brazilian humor:
@fabricio_cunha: Especula-se um rodízio no triângulo política-religião-futebol. Renan é cotado para o Vaticano, Felipão para o Senado e o Papa p/ a seleção.
@athosronaldo: A gente faz um abaixo-assinado com mais de um milhão e trezentas mil assinaturas pela saída de Renan Calheiros e quem renuncia é o Papa.
@athosronaldo: We hold more than 1.3 million signatures in a petition to oust Renan and it is the Pope who resigns.
That online petition [pt] was set up in Avaaz by sales representative Emiliano Magalhães a few hours after Calheiros’ election and surpassed, in the heart of Carnival Sunday, the target established by the organizers of 1.36 million signatures, equivalent to 1 percent of the national electorate. The new goal is now 1.6 million – twice as many as the number of Calheiros’ electors. As of February 14, the petition was only 80,000 signatures shy of its target.
Although the petition has no value from the legal standing, it will be used to “stir things up in the media and demand the resignation of the Senate president”. The campaign's introduction reads [pt]:
Povo Brasileiro! Acabamos de ser chamados de Palhaços!!!
O Senador Renan Calheiros acaba de ser eleito Presidente do Senado com 56 votos secretos!! Isso é um absurdo! E não podemos ficar calados diante de tal ATROCIDADE!!!
Não podemos ficar de mãos atadas!
Brazilian people! We have just been made buffoons!!!
Senator Renan Calheiros has just been elected Senate president with 56 secret votes! This is absurd! And we shall not be silent in the face of such ATROCITY!!!
We must not have our hands tied!
Besides virtual petitions, the Brazilian population has been taking to the street throughout Brazil even over the bank holiday weekend to demand Calheiros’ impeachment or resignation. The Carnival block party “Out Renan and the Guisers” was quickly improvised in Rio de Janeiro on Ash Wednesday. According to the event page on Facebook [pt], the idea is simple:
Produza sua máscara, leve sua vassoura, produza uma marchinhas e envie aos organizadores… use sua criatividade e arranje uma forma de protestar e se divertir ao mesmo tempo. A ideia é inovar, conscientizar, divertir, e principalmente: protestar.
Make your own mask, bring your broom, compose marchinhas and send them to the organizers… use your creativity and come up with a way to manifest and have fun at the same time. The idea is to innovate, educate, entertain, and most of all: to protest.
Revelers have not missed a samba beat, composing several satirical songs especially for the 2013 Carnival, such as Renan's Marchinha [pt] below. With lyrics by Carlos Cabalini, it could well have been the soundtrack of the carnival block party of the 840,809 people who voted for Calheiros:
Você não é culpado
A culpa é de quem
Te mandou lá pro Senado
Quem foi, quem foi
Quem foi que te elegeu?
Eu sei, eu sei quem foi
Esse otário foi eu…
Oh Renan, poor Renan
You're not in the wrong
The blame lies with whoever thought
that in the Senate you belong
But who was it, who was it -
Which idiot elected you so unduly?
I know who it was, I know -
That idiot was yours truly.
Many other public events are being organized by the group Fora Renan Calheiros [Renan Calheiros Out, pt] on Facebook, to culminate in major protests in several Brazilian cities and abroad on February 24. Since legal proceedings against Calheiros in Supreme Federal Court “shall take a little while” [pt] – perhaps long enough for the senator's term to come to an end – the Senate may come to inspire the upcoming Dia do Basta [Day of Enough] [pt], a series protests against political corruption to be held in more than 60 cities on April 19, 20, and 21.