Brazilians Divided by Wall and Losing Facebook Friends
The steel wall cutting across the heart of Brasilia does more than separate rival protesters for Sunday's Congress vote on impeaching President Dilma Rousseff -- it now symbolizes the divide tearing through Brazil.
Authorities installed the kilometer (half-mile) long barrier in front of Congress to prevent disturbances when an estimated hundreds of thousands of people gather for the controversial vote.
The two-meter high barrier now represents the widening gulf between supporters of the 68-year-old leftist leader and her detractors who argue in the streets, at home and on social media.
"This is what the government has done its whole life," said Ilson Jose Redivo, a 60-year-old soya farmer from Mato Grosso state holding a banner reading "impeachment now."
"It has divided the rich against the poor, blacks against whites, and bosses against employees. It is once again dividing society," he said.
As he walked toward Congress late Saturday to hold a candlelight vigil there with others from the agricultural sector, Rousseff supporters driving by shouted at his group, which replied in kind.
But for Jose Cesar Silva, who was marching with hundreds of other Rousseff supporters down another boulevard, the right wing was responsible for the wall.
"It's a symbol of the division of our country, the old class struggle," said Silva, a 53-year-old high school art teacher playing an acoustic guitar as others chanted "there won't be a coup!" over samba beats.
People on both sides of the political divide were optimistic that their cause would prevail on Sunday.
At separate camp sites on opposite sides of a huge boulevard, they pitched tents for the night, played samba music and ate barbecues.
But the mood could turn darker on Sunday as lawmakers hold a marathon vote.
At least 342 of 513 lawmakers must back impeachment in the lower house for the measure to move to the Senate, which would then decide in May whether to open trial and suspend Rousseff.
Rousseff's supporters say the charges against her -- that she illegally manipulated public accounts to mask government shortfalls during her 2014 reelection -- are not grounds for impeachment.
Her opponents blame her government, and her predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, for the current economic recession and a massive corruption scandal at the state-owned oil firm Petrobras.
"I have already lost a lot of friends because of my opinion about Dilma," said Carlos Conrado, 30, a book editor wrapped in a Brazilian flag at the pro-impeachment camp site near an amusement park, where 200 tents were erected.
Fifteen people have cut links with him on Facebook because of his political opinions. Some uncles, meanwhile, no longer talk to him.
At the pro-Rousseff camp outside the Mane Garrincha football stadium, physical education teacher Jose Carlos Lemos said 10 people have unfriended him on the social media website.
"They didn't agree with my comments," Lemos said. "I came to protest in favor of democracy."
There is one thing both sides seem to agree on: Corruption scandals have infected a wide array of Brazilian politicians.
On the pro-impeachment side, some say they are not enamored with the idea of Vice President Michel Temer, a former Rousseff ally, succeeding her.
Temer, whose centrist PMDB party left Rousseff's coalition, is alleged to have been involved in illegal ethanol dealings.
For his part, House Speaker Eduardo Cunha, the architect of the impeachment process, has been charged with taking millions of dollars in bribes linked to a massive embezzlement cartel centered on Petrobras.
Zaqueu Oliveira Mota, a 33-year-old private security guard from Sao Paulo state, backs military intervention, a sentiment that a small and controversial minority share in a country that was ruled by a junta from 1964 to 1985.
"We need a total cleanup," he said.