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Brazil Protests Widen As Leaders Attempt To Mollify Crowds

Brazil Protests 2

The protests in Brazil widened overnight while simultaneously leading political leaders to take steps to attempt to address the protesters concerns:

SÃO PAULO, Brazil — A wave of new protests swept through areas of São Paulo, the country’s largest city, early on Wednesday as groups of demonstrators shut roads leading into the city, snarling traffic and increasing pressure on political leaders.

Shaken by the biggest challenge to their authority in years, Brazil’s leaders made conciliatory gestures on Tuesday to try to defuse the protests engulfing the nation’s cities. But the demonstrators have remained defiant, pouring into the streets by the thousands and venting their anger over political corruption, the high cost of living, and huge public spending for the World Cup and the Olympics.

Protesters denounced their leaders as dedicating excessive resources to cultivating Brazil’s global image by building stadiums for international events, when basic services like education and health care remained woefully inadequate.

“I love soccer, but we need schools,” said Evaldir Cardoso, 48, a firefighter at a protest here with his 7-month-old son.

On Wednesday, the state news agency, Agência Brasil, said that a branch of the federal police deployed in cases of social unrest would be sent to five of the cities hosting the Confederations Cup soccer tournament to help with security.

The demonstrations initially began with a fury over an increase in bus fares, but as with many other protest movements in recent years — in Tunisia, Egypt or, most recently, Turkey — they quickly evolved into a much broader condemnation of the government.

By the time politicians in several cities backed down on Tuesday and announced that they would cut or consider reducing fares, the demonstrations had already become a more sweeping social protest, with marchers waving banners bearing slogans like “The people have awakened.”

“It all seemed so wonderful in the Brazil oasis, and suddenly we are reliving the demonstrations of Tahrir Square in Cairo, so suddenly, without warning, without a crescendo,” said Eliane Cantanhêde, a columnist for the newspaper Folha de São Paulo. “We were all caught by surprise. From paradise, we have slipped at least into limbo. What is happening in Brazil?”

Thousands gathered at São Paulo’s main cathedral and made their way to the mayor’s office, where a small group smashed windows and tried to break in, forcing guards to withdraw.

In Juazeiro do Norte, demonstrators cornered the mayor inside a bank for hours and called for his impeachment, while thousands of others protested teachers’ salaries. In Rio de Janeiro, thousands protested in a gritty area far from the city’s upscale seaside districts. In other cities, demonstrators blocked roads, barged into City Council meetings or interrupted sessions of local lawmakers, clapping loudly and sometimes taking over the microphone.

The protests rank among the largest outpourings of dissent since the nation’s military dictatorship ended in 1985. After a harsh police crackdown last week fueled anger and swelled protests, President Dilma Rousseff, a former guerrilla who was imprisoned under the dictatorship and has now become the target of pointed criticism herself, tried to appease dissenters by embracing their cause on Tuesday.

“These voices, which go beyond traditional mechanisms, political parties and the media itself, need to be heard,” Ms. Rousseff said. “The greatness of yesterday’s demonstrations were proof of the energy of our democracy.”

Her tone stood in sharp contrast to the approach adopted by Turkey, where similar demonstrations over what might also have seemed an isolated issue — the fate of a city park in Istanbul — quickly escalated into a broad rejection of the government’s legitimacy from a vocal section of the population.

But while Turkey’s prime minister has dismissed the protesters as terrorists, vandals and “bums,” Ms. Rousseff seemed acutely aware of the breadth of frustration in Brazil over the gap between the nation’s global aspirations and the reality for many millions of its people.

The protests in Brazil are unfolding just as its long and heralded economic boom may be coming to an end. The economy has slowed to a pale shadow of its growth in recent years; inflation is high, the currency is declining sharply against the dollar — but the expectations of Brazilians have rarely been higher, feeding broad intolerance with corruption, bad schools and other government failings

While I am by no means drawing direct comparisons between the Arab Spring, the protests in Turkey, and these protests in Brazil, it is fascinating that, in all three cases, protest movements that started over relatively minor things — a fruit vendor’s protests against police harassment in Tunisia, a protest over redevelopment of a park in Istanbul, and now bus fare in Brazil — but quickly expanded into something far larger. It suggests that there was conflict and resentment beneath the surface that was just waiting for the right opportunity to express itself, and it makes one wonder what other parts of the world might also be hiding such slowly boiling waters waiting to vent themselves under the right circumstances.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Brett says:

    Brazilians spend as much as a quarter of their income on bus fare, so it was a fairly big deal from the beginning when those rates suddenly got raised because of inflation (after being held steady in an election year).

    The bigger problem is that the police just grossly overrated to the initial protests demanding free bus fare. If they had handled them lightly, the whole thing would have probably fizzled out.

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  2. becca says:

    The have-nots have had enough of the haves having it all.

    Seems conservatives have a hard time accepting this fact.

    If you won’t give the dogs a bone they may well just bite you in the ass.

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  3. Andre Kenji says:

    @Brett:

    Brazilians spend as much as a quarter of their income on bus fare

    Not really. In São Paulo(Not Sao Paolo), most people do not receive the minimum wage – a janitor can receive a three times the minimum wage – and in Brazil employers are obliged to pay for it´s employees transportation. Besides that, in Brazil you have a 13o. salary(And, aham, paid vacations and food stamps provided by your employer), so, wages are a little better than they look.

    In São Paulo, there is even a bus line that goes to a peninsula that is only reachable via a barge. And since the system is integrated people you can travel the whole system paying a single fare. A single bus can travel 20 miles inside the city in a single trip. So, no wonder that the system is subsidized because a bus trip can take hours.

    Part of the problem is that there are too few subway lines, and the city is too dependent from these buses. Buses are appropriate to cities that have lower density than São Paulo. On the other hand, subsidizing bus lines means that you have less money to pay for subway expansion.

    What´s is happening is that the media is covering these demonstrations, so, all kinds of parties and political groups are profiting from it. There are groups from the Extreme Left to the Extreme Right in these demonstrations. It´s like seeing the Tea Party and Code Pink on the same demonstration.

    I´m also seeing people using racial slurs against the mayor of São Paulo, that´s has an Arab surname, I´m also seeing people using misogynistic slurs against Dilma Rousseff. I´m not so sympathetic to them.

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  4. My Brazilian friend (Sao Paulo) compares this to Occupy… and not favourably. She states that the protests were legitimate at first, but a few anarchists have started destroying statues and causing problems, much to the chagrin of the actual protesters. In other words, the day is being carried by people who don’t have the interests of average Brazilians in mind.

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  5. Andre Kenji says:

    By the way, the World Cup is similar to what happens to Foreign Aid in the US. People are overstating the costs to make political gain. A few stadiums are not going to make a dent in the education system. Besides that, people are considering money that the Development bank(Development bank that lends money to almost every large private company in the country) is lending to private owners of stadiums as “public money”.

    What´s really costly in Brazil is the retirement system, specifically the Pension System for Public Employees. The average age of retirement in Brazil for women is 52 years and Social Security payments are much more generous than in the US(Public Employees receives their full salary as pension).

    There is even a bizarre pension in the Army, where unmarried adult daughters can receive the full salary of their dads(Seriously). Only this single pension costs 2 billion dollars per year. You could build a Yankees Stadium every year, only with this money.

    It´s easier to complain about the World Cup than it´s to accept that you should retire at age 60 or 65.

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  6. Andre Kenji says:

    @Christopher Bowen:

    In other words, the day is being carried by people who don’t have the interests of average Brazilians in mind.

    Yes, exactly. Lula was so politically successful because he had humble roots, and because he could understand the average Brazilian in a way that his colleagues in his party, most of them college professors, could not.

    The average Brazilian is relatively Conservative, much more like a Caseycrat in the US than Tea Party, but even so, relatively Conservative.

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  7. Andrea says:

    Contrary to what the average person might think, the retirement system in Brazil is in surplus. The Brazilian goverment has systematically transfered funds from it to balance its primary surplus over the past years.

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  8. Andre Kenji says:

    @Andrea:

    Contrary to what the average person might think, the retirement system in Brazil is in surplus.

    It´s not. In fact, that´s has little importance, because the retirement system is only supposedly in a surplus because there large taxes paid mostly by companies(Companies pay 20% of their expenses with salary to Social Security, and there are other taxes paid specifically to that) and because Brazil is a very young country.

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