Brazil's president Dilma Rousseff delivers populist response to unrest

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      It remains to be seen if the recent mass protests by Brazilians in cities throughout the country will result in lasting changes. But after more than one million people gathered in city streets throughout Brazil over several days in demonstrations for political reforms and improved public services, President Dilma Rousseff and some politicians look to have at least realized the urgency of the protesters’ demands.

      With a speech last Friday (June 21), though, Rousseff seemed to arouse even more anger and frustration from Brazilians. UBC political scientist Deborah Farias described Dilma’s first statement since the protests’ start as "weak and nothing substantial" in a phone nterview with the Georgia Straight.

      The Brazilian president--who is facing an election campaign in 2014, directly after the world's eyes have been trained on her country for the World Cup--promised to create a national plan for public transport, to invest in education, and to bring in Cuban doctors to improve treatment in public hospitals.

      Then, after a meeting with governors from all 27 states and their capital cities’ 26 mayors on Monday (June 24), Rousseff appeared on TV and radio to present her plan in more detail for all Brazilians, which included: to hold a referendum for political reform; to guarantee economic stability with controlled inflation; to accelerate investments in health care and to hire foreign doctors for public hospitals; to spend 100 percent of oil royalties on public education; and to invest the equivalent of $24 billion in improving public-transportation infrastructure.

      For Farias, Rousseff and her team used a smart strategy when presenting her proposals. "In a lot of the things that she said, she doesn’t have the constitutional power to do it. But the fact that she is saying she support these changes, she kind of throws the hot potato to the hands of congress."

      In general, the Brazilian government has reacted positively to the protests. In a 430-to-nine vote, congress rejected a constitutional proposal that would have prevented the federal public ministry—a watchdog over corruption—from investigating criminal activity. Congress also voted and approved the use of 75 percent of oil royalties to finance education and 25 percent to be dedicated to health care.

      And on June 21, for the first time in 25 years—since the democratic constitution was created in 1988 following the end of the military dictatorship in 1985—a federal politician was sentenced to jail. And politicians also quickly passed a languishing bill that toughened penalties for corruption.

      Farias said she believed that although these changes are important for Brazil, there is still a list of other things that need to be addressed. She said: "There are going to be a lot of politicians actually trying to do things, but what is interesting is that people don’t want the sugar coating. They want concrete results.

      "All this, I think, creates a different dynamic in people’s minds, which I think is probably a long-lasting effect. Now people believe that a better Brazil is not so far away. It’s not so impossible; it’s not so distant.".