Meanwhile, There Are Huge Protests In Many Brazilian Cities
Until I’d read this post at Andrew Sullivan’s blog sharing email he’d received from several of his regular readers, I had no idea that there were massive protests taking place in several of Brazil’s major cities:
SÃO PAULO, Brazil — Political leaders here in Brazil’s largest city braced for yet another round of demonstrations on Tuesday night by an increasingly powerful movement that has grown from complaints about bus fares to a broad challenge to political corruption, lavish stadium projects, the cost of living and substandard public services.
The mayor of São Paulo, Fernando Haddad, met on Tuesday morning with representatives of the protest movement, but warned that it would not be possible to revoke the increase in bus fares, citing budget restraints. In the nation’s capital, Brasília, officials seemed to be grasping for ways to engage the movement, whose protests rank among the largest and most resonant since the nation’s military dictatorship ended in 1985.
“These voices, which go beyond traditional mechanisms, political parties and the media itself, need to be heard,” President Dilma Rousseff said in a speech on Tuesday morning. Ms. Rousseff, who has been the target of pointed criticism by some protesters, said that Brazil “awoke stronger” after the protests on Monday night: “The greatness of yesterday’s demonstrations were proof of the energy of our democracy.”
Gilberto Carvalho, a top aide to Ms. Rousseff, said that the authorities were hoping to establish a dialogue to respond to a widening movement that seems to have caught them by surprise. “It would be a presumption to think that we understand what is happening,” he said before senators on Tuesday morning. “We need to be aware of the complexity of what is occurring.”
Protesters showed up by the thousands in Brazil’s largest cities on Monday night in a remarkable display of strength for an agitation that had begun with small protests over bus fares.
Demonstrators numbering into the tens of thousands gathered here in São Paulo, and other large protests unfolded in cities like Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, Curitiba, Belém and Brasília, the capital, where marchers made their way to the roof of Congress.
Sharing a parallel with the antigovernment protests in Turkey, the demonstrations in Brazil intensified after a harsh police crackdown last week stunned many citizens. In images shared widely on social media, the police here were seen beating unarmed protesters with batons and dispersing crowds by firing rubber bullets and tear gas into their midst.
“The violence has come from the government,” said Mariana Toledo, 27, a graduate student at the University of São Paulo who was among the protesters on Monday. “Such violent acts by the police instill fear, and at the same time the need to keep protesting.”
While the demonstration in São Paulo was not marred by the widespread repression that marked a protest here last week, riot police officers in Belo Horizonte dispersed protesters with pepper spray and tear gas. In Porto Alegre, in southern Brazil, police officers also used tear gas against protesters.
In Rio de Janeiro, where an independent estimate put the number of protesters around 100,000, televised images showed masked demonstrators trying to storm public buildings including the state legislature, a part of which was set on fire. In Brasilía, the police seemed to be caught off-guard by protesters who danced and chanted on the roof of Congress, a modernist building designed by the architect Oscar Niemeyer.
Such broad protests are relatively uncommon in Brazil, with some Brazilian political analysts describing what appeared to be a political culture more accepting of longstanding high levels of inequality and substandard public services than citizens in some neighboring countries in South America.
“The dangerous news announced on the streets, the novelty that the state tried to crush under the hooves of the horses of São Paulo’s police, is that at last we are alive,” the writer Eliane Brum said in an essay about the protests.
Brazil now seems to be pivoting toward a new phase of interaction between demonstrators and political leaders with its wave of protests, which crystallized this year in Porto Alegre. There, a group called the Free Fare Movement, which advocates lower public transportation fares, organized demonstrations against a hike in bus fares.
Similar protests emerged in May in Natal, a city in northeast Brazil, and this month in São Paulo, after the authorities raised bus fares by the equivalent of about 9 cents to 3.20 reais, about $1.47, prompting a wave of demonstrations that have grown in intensity.
In other words, the root of these protests are economic rather than political, although there are obvious connections between the two. Not being at all well versed in Brazilian politics, I’ll refrain from commenting about that side of the equation. However, it is worth noting that mass political issues often begin over what may seem at the beginning to be trivial or relatively minor issues. In Tunisia, for example, it all started because a guy who ran a fruit stand got fed up with the daily harassment from police and government bureaucrats. Those protests ended up changing the face of the Arab world. I’m not predicting the same thing will happen in Brazil, of course, but anytime you get crowds like this out in the streets there’s no telling what could happen.