Brazil protests evolve from a fight over transit to a national movement for an end to corruption

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      This month is shaping up as an important moment in Brazilian history.

      Hundreds of thousands have gone into to the streets—each for his or her own reasons—but it’s clear that everybody is fed up with the quality of public services throughout Brazil.

      According to the Brazilian student Leandro Crepaldi Barbosa, who is very active in the protests in Sao Paulo, the demonstrations started earlier this month, when the government and the city imposed an increase on bus and subway fares equivalent to 10 cents Canadian.

      For many, this was unacceptable, because transit service in Sao Paulo is among the worst in the country.

      Days after, rallies were held in other cities, including Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia.

      Speaking in Portugese from Sao Paolo over Skype, Barbosa explained to the Georgia Straight, “Initially in Sao Paulo, they were just asking for the 10-cent rollback—and a few of them, for free tickets—but after a while, the protests reached a huge size.”

      He added that the focus has since shifted to building a better Brazil, which brought issues like the quality of all public services and corruption into the spotlight.

      In subsequent protests in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, a few vandals infiltrated the thousands of peaceful protesters. The police, who appeared unprepared, responded violently, using pepper spray and tear gas against all demonstrators, some journalists, and even people accidentally passing through the area.

      This is apparent from videos, photos, and reports from participants on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms, which have been essential in enabling Brazilians to speak freely about their desire for change.

      Brazilians held a large protest in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery.

      Deborah Barros Leal Farias, a UBC political-science PhD candidate, told the Straight by phone that the police reaction to protests in Sao Paolo was “the last drop”, bringing people into the streets across the country.

      “I think no one was expecting the volume and the speed and the amount of people who have joined the protest,” she said. “It’s never been seen.”

      She added that the last huge protests in Brazil occurred at least 20 years ago.

      According to many Brazilian websites, more than 250,000 people went to the streets on June 17 to protest, which was the biggest turnout up until that point.

      Brazilians chant outside government buildings in the capital of Brasilia.

      The Brazilian research institute Datafolha has reported that 71 percent of the protesters on June 17 were participating in a demonstration for the first time. Furthermore, Datafolha pointed out that the majority of participants were between the ages of 26 and 35 years old, and 81 percent heard about the protest on Facebook.

      When asked about characteristics of the protest, Farias explained, “One of the things that is really unique…in comparison to what happened in Venezuela, or what is happening now in Turkey, is the fact that is not really against a leader—of course you see a lot people protesting against [president] Dilma [Roussef], but it’s not really about her.”

      Farias said many people are fed up with the system “and the structure, corruption, and the lack of public services, such as education, health, and transportation”.

      Another important aspect of the uprising, according to Farias, is that political parties are having no impact.

      “In many protests people who were carrying flags from political parties, they were booed by the other protesters—saying that this is not about political parties, it’s about the everyday Brazilians.”

      Barbosa confirmed this. “We are not fighting for a party,” he insisted. “That is why things like the president’s impeachment should be disregarded.”

      He maintained that the fight is for a better Brazil, and to address corruption and failures in the health, education, and transportation systems.

      The local media has also come under criticism.

      “I classify as shameful everything that I saw from our media,” Barbosa said. “I returned home from the protests carrying a feeling of a huge pride and the certainty that we have done the right thing, with no violence. But as soon as I turned the TV on, the only thing that was being shown was the really small part of vandalism.”

      Farias echoed concerns about the media, noting that protests have been mostly peaceful. However, she said news reports highlighted the violence.

      “But again, when you put 100,000 people together like we had in Rio, you just need a couple hundred or…tens of vandals or people with violent intentions to actually do harm,” she said. “But most of the Brazilian manifestations have been quite peaceful.”

      Some local governments have lowered bus and subway fares in places like Sao Paulo, Rio, and in small cities, which shows how effective all the protests have been.

      Farias said she believes that it’s important to apply the public's energy to the fight for a better country.

      On June 20, several protests happened throughout Brazil, gathering over one million people on the streets.

      Some objected to a constitutional proposal that would prevent the federal public ministry from investigating criminal activity. It has previously served as a watchdog over corruption.

      The amendment, called PEC 37, would ensure that the federal police would have exclusive jurisdiction over criminal investigations. According to Farias, this would facilitate corruption in Brazil, making it less likely for probes into any wrongdoing in connection with the World Cup 2014.

      Many videos on YouTube have revealed police using excessive force against dozens of victims.

      “The government can’t immediately give people health, education, and stop corruption,” Farias said. “But I’m certain that people want to see some sort of an effective action, and this is where I think President Dilma has to come in and really embrace the cause of the people who are protesting.”

      The question remains how Brazil, with the sixth-largest economy in the world, still has people dying in public hospitals without receiving any medical consultation.

      Even though the gross national product was US$2.48 trillion in 2012 and its politicians are among the highest paid in the world, Brazil ranks only 85th on the UN’s Human Development Index.



      Danielle Slawacki

      Jun 22, 2013 at 4:41am

      As a Brazilian living abroad I have to say that is chocking the lack of representation in Brasil. One million people on the streets claiming for big changes in the heart of our political system, and our president Dilma Rousseff, 10 days later, she is a bit slow, come in a public speech saying that she will solve the health problems bringing doctors from other countries, no better hospital, no better and bigger medical universities, but simply paying doctors from Cuba, yes this is want she want to say, the government of Brazil have strong affiliation with Cuba so, they will aloud thousands of Cuban doctors to come to Brazil to solve our health system. After her speech thousands of people get out side their house to show to her and to all the Brazilian politicians that we will not be as compliant as before. O Brasil acordou! But we don’t have coordination and this can be dangerous, the process started, but is so different process that no one knows exactly what will happen.

      Steve B

      Jun 22, 2013 at 11:04am

      Now if we could get your average Canadian ( lazy, self centred ) off their complacent asses, maybe things could change here, for the better.

      Arm Chair

      Jun 23, 2013 at 11:54am

      ".....people are fed up with the system “and the structure, corruption, and the lack of public services, such as education, health and transportation”. Another important aspect of the uprising, according to Farias, is that political parties are having no impact"

      Could just as well be Canada in the not so distant future with our outrageous Harper Conservative government.