In a rapidly growing number of Brazilian cities, hundreds of thousands of people protest against the government.
Acorda Brasil! Brazil, wake up! Already for more than a week, Brazilians move in the streets to protest against the political establishment. What started with protests against increased public transport fares, they now appear to have been the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Public transport fares
Recently, transport companies in a large number of Brazilian cities introduced another increase of transport fares. In São Paulo, this increase was 20 centavos, accumulating the fare to 3.20 reais (1.15 euro). People in São Paulo had become very tired of this announced increase, that they had to pay more for a public service that doesn’t meet the needs. The first protests in São Paulo gathered few thousand people in the streets. Initially, the police kept some distance, but acted violently when some protesters sought confrontation with the police. The police used teargas bombs, pepper spray and rubber bullets against the protesters. As a result, massive disapproval of this excessive violence brought more protesters in the streets, in a growing number of cities.
More protests quickly followed in other major Brazilian cities. In Rio de Janeiro, tens of thousands of protesters gathered in the center; in Brasília, in Belo Horizonte and other Brazilian state capitals – thanks to invitations through Facebook – protests were held with smaller numbers of people in the streets. The start of the Confederations Cup and the presence of the media from all corners of the world became the start of a large protest march near the soccer stadium in Brasília. Also here, the police reacted violently. One day later, the same happened in Rio de Janeiro. International news agencies weren’t paying too much attention to these situations; they were much more focused on the matches between Spain and Uruguay, and between Italy and Mexico.
Monday: Belo Horizonte
The first Confederations Cup match in Belo Horizonte was on Monday. The Nigerian soccer team had some trouble to arrive, and had to play against tiny Tahiti, champion of Oceania. Through Facebook, messages and invitations were massively sent for a protest in the center of Belo Horizonte, at Praça Sete (de Setembro). At one pm, this square – where two large avenues cross each other – was occupied by the protesters, mainly students. From this square, the crowd marched in the direction of the Mineirão Soccer Stadium, a distance of about ten kilometers. Initially, the police kept some distance, but intervened with teargas bombs, pepper spray, and rubber bullets, when the crowd (already grown to a respectable number of twenty thousand people) arrived – despite police blockades – at the main entrance of the federal university, at about one km from the stadium. One protester, trying to escape the teargas, fell from a viaduct and was carried to a hospital.
Strikingly, Polícia Civil – the police force dealing with criminal investigations – joined the protesters. Banners with text in English and Spanish made clear that safety isn’t guaranteed in the state of Minas Gerais, of which Belo Horizonte is the capital.
Monday: ‘O Gigante Acordou’
O gigante acourdou. The giant (Brazlian people) woke up. In São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Brasília, massive protests were held. The crowds tried to reach government seats, in order to have their protest voice heard. In Rio de Janeiro, the crowd had grown to a number of more than a hundred thousand people. Among them, some dozens started acts of vandalism: windows were broken, cars set on fire. Palácio Tiradentes, government seat of the state of Rio de Janeiro, was surrounded by a large crowd. The cornered police was force to shoot in the air. Some of the vandals managed to enter the historical building. At other locations in Rio de Janeiro, the police kept some distance. Some of them didn’t respond, or even showed solidarity with the protesters.
In Brasília, the crowd marched towards the National Congress building. Dozens of protesters managed to break the police blockades and reach the roof of the Congress. The police didn’t intervene in this action.
In São Paulo, the crowd had reached Palácio Bandeirantes, government seat of the state of São Paulo. Firworks were thrown to the building, but the police didn’t intervene. Estimations revealed the number of 65 thousand participants in this protest movement. In Fortaleza, the crowd tried to reach the hotel, where the Brazilian soccer team resided. The police had to intervene. In Porto Alegre, things went out of control. Vandals set fire on a bus. As a result, the bus company ordered the bus drivers to return all 420 buses to the garage.
How to continue now? We only can speculate. As long as the Confederation Cup is going on, attempts will be made to keep the attention to the matches. Thus far, it proved to be quite effective, since the international media hadn’t paid much attention to the protest marches and riots outside the soccer stadiums. These were considered as incidents caused by some dissatisfied Brazilians. They openly questioned the boos against president Dilma and FIFA president Blatter. It was explained as a protest against the huge spendings in favor of the sports events, while nothing was done to battle crime. But that is only part of the big story. There is also much dissatisfaction about the poor quality of education, the low salary of teachers, the low queues at hospitals, the lack of equipment and facilities in hospitals. There is much money to be spent, but not in an efficient way, and much of the money appears to disappear in the large pockets of corrupt politicians, public servants, and businessmen.
The government won’t have a clear answer and solution for this public uprising. Most probably, the raises of public transport fares will be undone, until a quieter moment to have them introduced again. More complicated will be the law proposal to move the powers of criminal investigation from the District Attorneys to the Federal Police. More controversial is the law proposal (the so-called PEC 37) to transfer the decisions that should be made by the Federal Supreme Court to the National Congress. Many Brazilians fear that the Congress might gain too much power, and most probably might try to avoid to pass corruption and other controversial cases, especially when politicians are involved.
For now, yet the word of the Brazilian people.
Brasil, teras que um filho teu não foge à luta
Brazil, that your children won’t run from a fight
By Adriano Antoine Robbesom