What The Hell Is Happening In Brazil?


On-the-ground readers report:

Why nary a mention of the anti-government protests going on in Brazil? Tens of thousands of people are demonstrating in cities throughout the world’s sixth largest economy – certainly big news and something of this scale not seen in South America since the ’80s. Granted it’s not the Middle East. However, it’s a significant event worthy of some coverage/analysis on the Dish, IMO.

The IMO is admittedly biased. I just returned from marching with protestors along Av. Faria Lima in São Paulo. Things were quite peaceful, one could even say festive, as clowns trounced about, a man on stilts danced around (dusted them off before Carnaval it seems), and groups of drummers played classic samba rhythms. Much of this is simply indicative of Brazilian culture – the whole enjoying life and trying to have a good time part of it.

Nonetheless, the general message of the protests was not festive: “We deserve better from our government.”

I saw all sorts of signs and placards admonishing a corrupt government that heavily taxes its people with little to show in terms of public services (education and healthcare in particular). I believe your last post about Brazil was this in January – “Boom Times For Brazil”. There are two sides to every coin, so Dish readers should know that boom times don’t necessarily mean good times for the citizenry of a country that suffers from tragic and wholly resolvable social inequality. It will be interesting to see if the momentum of these protests continues.

On the cab ride home, the driver told me that he doesn’t think anything will be done by the PT party in response to this. Brazil’s President, Dilma Rousseff, was quoted simply saying, “It is natural for young people to demonstrate.” Whether this response throws more fuel on the fire is yet to be seen. Also, there were more than just young people in the crowd tonight.

Another gets more specific:

Things here in São Paulo are getting contentious and it looks as if it could be Taksim all over again. About two weeks ago, some small protests started on Paulista Ave in downtown São Paulo over a $0.10 increase in the bus fares. Of course, the protest was about more than a hike in fare though; it was about the horrible state of Brazil’s infrastructure, government corruption, high inflation and low growth – basically everything that’s dysfunctional about this place.

Predictably the police didn’t handle things well, so more people came out, fueling more protests. Last Friday police began firing on protestors and beating journalists – it looks like the government has finally woken the slumbering beast here. 230,000+ people are said to have headed out to the streets of São Paulo, with large protests in Rio and other major cities as well. Brazilians are apparently even going to protest in front of their embassies as far as away as Dublin and Berlin.

For videos and documentation of some of the violence from Friday, you’ll have to Google Translate this (check out number 9). Here is a good explanation of what the real issues are (like Taksim wasn’t about just a park, this isn’t just about bus fares). A Facebook event page for protests is here. And here is a list of 33 foreign cities Brazilians will also be protesting in.

Also worth noting is that the FIFA Confederate Cup is starting this week, which is basically like a trial run for next year’s World Cup. Brazil’s infrastructure is failing spectacularly there, with some people waiting up to six hours just to leave the airport. So this is basically the worst timing possible for the government, as the world’s attention is about to be on the country anyway.

I’ll be going down to the protest today. I can continue passing along info as I find it.

That reader follows up:

This video shows some of the protests over the weekend in Rio. The reporters in the video are trying to blame the violence on the protesters and are writing them off as just angry youth with nothing better to do – while the video shows police beating people and shooting tear gas at them. 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. 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.

Another passes along this video as a good summary of the protestors’ grievances.

(Photo: Demonstrators clash with riot police during a protest in front of Rio de Janeiro’s Legislative Assembly (ALERJ) building in Rio de Janeiro, on June 17, 2013. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of major Brazilian cities protesting the billions of dollars spent on the Confederations Cup – and preparations for the upcoming World Cup –  and against the hike in mass transit fares. By Tasso Marcelo/AFP/Getty Images)