— Patricia G. Ferreira (@Pat_Galvao) June 17, 2013
Brazil’s public transportation is often slow, dangerous and crowded, and these fare increases come at a time when Brazil’s decade-long economic success has slowed dramatically. Inflation is on the rise and many basic services are woefully underfunded. For years, the economy grew, the middle class expanded and millions rose from poverty. After the country suffered through crushing hyperinflation in the 1980′s and 1990′s, inflation seemed to be finally under control.
But recently the economy has stalled, much-feared inflation is outside of targets, and rising prices on everything from food to transportation have made life more difficult for the average Brazilian. It is this contrast, between the massive investment in Olympic and World Cup infrastructure, and the lack of investment in the basics Brazilians depend on in their daily lives, that seems to be sparking the unrest.
Roberto Ferdman breaks down how badly the hikes are squeezing average Brazilians:
A fare price that sounds pretty minuscule in dollar terms actually takes up a huge chunk of Brazilian incomes for those at the bottom (and presumably, those who most need to use the bus). The $0.09 hike brought the price of a single bus fare in Sao Paolo up to $1.47. Assuming Brazil’s city dwellers ride the bus twice daily—to and from work during the week, and to and from anywhere during the weekend—that’s $82.46 a month. For Brazilians making the minimum wage of $312.33 a month, that’s a whopping 26% of their income.
A reader quotes another to underscore the severity of the World Cup concerns:
The reporters also are lamenting that this is happening during the Confederate’s Cup, as it’s going to embarrass the country on the international level. It was a HUGE deal for Brazil to land the World Cup and Olympics because it meant tons of money was going to be pumped into the country to build infrastructure.
This is like saying Oakeshott is a good philosopher. Factually true, but greatly understated. The World Cup is, arguably, the largest cultural event on the planet.
Although occurring once every four years (like the Olympics, but not diffused by numerous sports). It appeals to anyone who has kicked a soccer ball, which means billions and billions of people, in every nation (unlike the Olympics, where most countries do not participate in all sports). In many places soccer (henceforth, football) is woven into the fabric of society and culture; it is the leading game for children and the leading subject of interest for adults. More so, it defines public identity.
One of the places where football is so woven is Brazil, home of the “beautiful game.”
Brazil is one of the few non-European nations with consistent football success on the world stage, in fact the most such success amongst those nations. Brazil is one of the leading nations of football, which is to say, one of the leading nations of perhaps the most important activity on Earth outside of producing and consuming economic goods. Only religion, treated collectively, stands higher, and unlike religion football is practiced in the same manner worldwide.
Economically, Brazil has risen to be a notable economic power, the strongest in South America. While any number of third-world countries stopped being “backward” some time ago, symbolically it has taken time for the perception to catch up with the reality. Hosting the World Cup is a chance for Brazil, and by extension South America, to present itself to the world anew.
So your reader further says:
Well, the money came and the infrastructure didn’t. So now you have tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of pissed off people on the streets.
It’s not just a lack of infrastructure. Stadiums are well behind schedule. And yet the world’s eyes are about to descend on Brazil, along with up to a hundred thousand travelers, perhaps to see a country, said to have built a strong economy, without the basics complete. Yes, the lack of infrastructure is pissing off people, but the prospect of humiliation looms. It could be a public relations, economic, cultural, and almost spiritual disaster of biblical proportions.
Update from another reader:
Three thoughts (from another native here in Brazil):
1. Most of the rioting is being done by teens who suffer and are humiliated on a daily basis at the hands of the PM, the Military Police, a very nasty legacy of the Dictatorship years. Young, poor men are routinely slapped, kicked and sometimes even killed for minor offenses, so there is a pretty large amount of latent anger already there. All the rest of the several hundreds of thousands of us that marched yesterday are just having a grand old peaceful time.
2. Some say that protesters want to “take advantage of this moment when we have foreign visitors”. Yep, they sure started out that way, but it has become something way bigger. Something big enough to take Brazil’s attention away from an international soccer competition being played at home. Believe me, that’s *big*!
3. Dilma’s “Workers’ Party” was always seen as both government watchdog and protector of the poor and huddled masses. But after Lula got to power, then Dilma, corruption and government overreach rose to (almost comically) absurd levels. From laws forbidding congressmen to stand trial to public officials being caught with thousands of dollars stuffed in their underwear, people are feeling mighty disenfranchised right around now.
So expect some “The View From Your Protest” pictures tomorrow, ’cause take to the streets again. We are happy, we are hopeful and most of all; we are acting.