Brazil Is Still Broiling

Another update to the stellar coverage provided by Dish readers, this one from São Paulo:

Fortunately, even though the initial demands by the protesters have been met (the transit fare has returned to its previous level), the protests have continued. In fact, they are showing this amazing level of self-organization. Groups will march together and decide which route to follow, where to stop and chant, where to sit and block the street, etc. There will be announcements about when and where the next protest will happen, and once the end time is reached, the protest will end.

There have been protests for various things, the largest being against PEC 37, which if passed, will make it much harder to catch and convict wrong doers within the government (involved in corruption, the horrors of the military government, etc).

Among the other protests, there was a protest against the Cura Gay (Gay Cure), which if passed would allow psychiatrist/psychologists to offer treatments to those who want to cure their same-sex attraction. This has been outlawed by the government since 1999, as its fraud, the treatment does not exist, and the acceptance of it sends the wrong message. Keep in mind that a poll done asking whether Brazilians thought the law should be passed found that 49% did not believe it should be passed, 36% felt it should and 11% had no opinion. (I have been desperately searching for where I read these numbers, but haven’t been able to find the link.) Also, unlike the US, same-sex marriage is legal and is recognized by the federal government.

Of note, if the Cura Gay legislation is passed, gays may be able to retire or I suppose go on paid disability as they are “sick.” !!!!  Here’s the link. The Cura Gay is being pushed by Marco Feliciano, who is a Deputado Federal (roughly equivalent to a congressman in the US) and who is involved in the Assembleia de Deus (Assembly of God), one of the powerhouse churches of Brazil’s increasingly popular evangelical movement.

After the jump is a longer update from our reader. Meanwhile, Colin Snider pushes back against critics of the protesters:

As is all too often the case amongst neoliberal analysis, they falsely equated growth to development. Sure, Brazil’s economy had grown, but it also retained one of the higher levels of income inequality in the world. … Brazilians had been told for ten years that things had improved, that Brazil had finally “arrived,” and that they were now enjoying material and social benefits that they’d always been excluded from. And in some ways, there were real gains in the 2000s – the purchasing power of the working class and middle class strengthened somewhat, and programs like Bolsa Familia and Fome Zero helped millions of poor families. But at the first sign of economic instability, it all threatened to come apart… .

James Greiff refers to such insecurity as “the middle-class illusion” in Brazil:

Millions of Brazilians have indeed made it into the middle class and enjoy the trappings of a lifestyle that would be recognized by their economic peers in the U.S., Japan, Canada and most of Europe. They have iPhones and SUVs, Nike sneakers, Oakley sunglasses, take overseas vacations, enjoy imported delicacies, get braces to straighten teeth and plastic surgery to mask the wear of time.

They enjoy much of this material plenty, though, inside a personal-security bubble. Houses are fortified behind high walls topped by broken glass and barbed wire, while iron bars seal windows. Apartment complexes are similarly ring-fenced, with entranceways secured by guards, often bearing arms. These are needed not just to keep out robbers, but also so much else of what’s on the other side. Indeed, the middle-class illusion ends at the first step outside the front door.

And Joshua Tucker observes:

As Brazilians move into or climb up the middle class, they inevitably pay more in taxes – yet they also inevitably grow increasingly aware that they do not get their money’s worth. One commonly hears Brazilians complain that they pay “1st world taxes” – about 36% of GDP – but receive “3rd world services” in return. The protests thus represent growing frustration that established political parties are unwilling to implement reforms on both sides of the fiscal coin – to improve public services (particularly healthcare, education, and public safety) and reduce corruption.

Marc Tracy sees the ongoing protests as an outcome of urbanization:

This process upended centuries of a static social order in which the majority were denied many rights. Brazil’s urbanization, then, was in one sense a major step forward for most Brazilians, providing, as Holston put it, “a new density of opportunity” that stemmed from the literal density of the way people actually lived.

But the dialectical result of this new density and these new nominal rights has been that as tremendous inequality has remained—and when it has been ostentatiously exacerbated by, say, hosting international prestige projects such as the World Cup Finals and the Summer Olympics—Brazilians in the satellite cities on the peripheries (and even poorer Brazilians in the favelas, the frequently illegal shanty towns which are almost like the peripheries of the peripheries) have grown angry that their economic rights have not caught up with their political rights.

When you add to this mix the fact that everyone now lives closer to each other—another opportunity borne of density—you have the recipe for these massive protests.

However, when comparing Brazil to Turkey, James Traub finds that the former has democratic institutions better able to handle such strife:

While [Turkish Prime Minister] Erdogan has demonized his foes, President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil has praised protestors for waking the country to its shortcomings. Brazil, too, faces a crisis, but not a crisis of representation, as Turkey does. Larry Diamond, a leading democracy scholar at Stanford, points out that both Rousseff and her Erdogan-like predecessor, Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva, had to do far more political bargaining than Erdogan because they rule through coalitions while Erdogan controls a parliamentary majority. And the reason for this, in turn, is that Turkish law excludes parties from parliament which do not win more than 10 percent of the national vote. The Turkish system enables Erdogan’s worst impulses. Working with rival parties might force him to learn a few hard lessons.

Another update from our São Paulo reader on the ground:

The protests and protesters here have been overwhelmingly peaceful and the police response has been largely peaceful for over a week. Following a series of protests in which the Policia Militar (they are the police force for this type of situation) were being very brutal and injured not only protesters but also passersby and journalists, the state governor Geraldo Alckmin, who controls the PM, told them to cool it. Since then, the front-lines of the PM who are following the protests are largely not carrying guns.

On Saturday night, at this protest I was following the police seemed to be in a good mood, at times were laughing along with the protesters. All this while the protesters were halting traffic on busy thoroughfares. Fortunately, many of the drivers seemed to be in favor of the protest, and were honking their horns and giving thumbs-ups. The difference that I saw between now and a week and a half ago is downright shocking.

In other parts of the country, however, the situation is completely different. While it seems that the vast, vast majority of protesters are peaceful and only want to engage in peaceful actions, the police response has been BRUTAL. In this report on Globo’s Jornal Nacional, one can see footage of the police response during a huge protest that occurred in Rio on Thursday June 20th. This was a huge protest with tens of thousands of people. At one end of the avenue were vandals who decided to attempt to break into city hall and do general damage to their local area. But the rest of the crowd were peaceful protesters, many of whom hadn’t even take part in a previous protest out of fear of violence. The way I have described it to my worried American friends is imagine a protest from Times Square to 72nd Street along Broadway. The crowd is peaceful, except for those between 70th and 72nd.

The police response was brutal. Instead of just focusing on the troublemakers (those between 70th and 72nd), they decided to just go bananas, shooting tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters along the length of the crowd. In Globo’s report, there were people who were just waiting for the subway station to be reopened who were targeted. I came across reports of canisters of teargas being shot into bars where people are not even taking part in the protests, and tear gas was apparently even shot into a hospital.

In addition, there was a report in which three “protesters” were picking fights, yelling at the police and punching the horses of the mounted policemen (horrible!). The peaceful protesters (who were apparently everyone else) demanded that the police arrest these three vandals, but the police apparently refused and decided instead to shoot rubber bullets and tear gas at the entire group. The report was indicating that the bad protesters were planted there by the police to give them an excuse to be violent. Apparently, reporters were there but are no reporting this event. Here’s the link.

The police forces should be maintaining security for the peaceful protesters, in my opinion. Many of the people who have hit the streets have come out because of disgust at the violent police response. Brazilians have the constitutional right to protest and on this point Dilma agrees. However, the situation outside of what I have seen in the city of São Paulo has not changed.

Anyway, I don’t know where this is going. What I do know is that politicians have been incredibly spoiled by a populace who felt largely disenfranchised and who had accepted that the government was corrupt, there was no way to stop it, and let’s just focus on football, novelas and Big Brother. That feeling of disenfranchisement seems to have changed.

In this poll by Folha de São Paulo, 66% of people think the protests should continue. The fact that two-thirds of Paulistanos think the protests should continue is amazing, as the protests are negatively affecting all sorts of businesses (due to lack of customers), not to mention the traffic situation. For many of these people, their two-hour commute between work and home is growing even longer.

As everyone knows, Brazil has lots of problems, but Brazilians seem optimistic. According to Fantástico, Globo’s Sunday night news program, 94% percent of those polled thought that the issues pressing Brazil would be addressed, and 82% said they would not vote for a candidate who was corrupt. Here’s the link.

What The Hell Is Happening In Brazil? Ctd

IMG_1897 1

Brazilian readers continue to inform us on the situation as good as any blogger:

I live in Sao Paulo and here are some photos I took last night. One thing of note for your readers is that, as usual, the media is focusing on the violence of the protests.  The vast, vast majority of the protesters are not violent at all.  In fact, a common chant of the protesters is “Sem Violencia,” or without violence. Take a look at the photo that says “Violência é a tarifa” (violence is the fare). Reuters cropped the photo so it only showed the word “Violência,” and then selected largely photos of protesters doing mischief and burning things.  Oh well, confirming our ideas about “dangerous Latin America” always sells ad space.  Never mind trying to figure out what a place like Brazil is really about.

The protests are more than just calling for a 9 cents (US) fare reduction.  Brazil has a lot of very serious problems that need to be addressed.  But at times during the protests I have been to, I don’t know … while I’m delighted to see everyone out on the streets (especially on Mondaynight), I couldn’t shake the feeling of worry.  Where’s the plan? You can’t just hold up a sign that says “End corruption.”  Who wants corruption? IMG_1905 1Who doesn’t want better schools?  The call for reducing the transport fares is a good start, I suppose, but 9 cents does not really fix the problem.  What about the fact that the system needs to be expanded further?

I guess I am worried that the government will cave on this fare hike and then say, nope, sorry no money to improve schools.  No money to improve health care.  Of course, this response is ridiculous, as they have plenty of money.  It’s just being directed into the politicians’ pockets.


I may be biased, but this reader is uninformed. They’re right that Dilma herself is not the issue here. Where they’re wrong is that this is just people feeling the economic squeeze. Things have not gotten that bad here economically, at least not yet. And they definitely haven’t tanked on the level that Argentina has recently. No, the point is corruption. The point is that it doesn’t seem to matter who the president is because nothing ever gets done.

There are two long-term problems here that are inspiring most of this.

The first is that despite being the world’s sixth largest economy, and having higher tax rates than most of the developed world, the money simply seems to disappear. Brazil has famously received tons of money to build stadiums and infrastructure for the World Cup next year. The Brazilian government proudly announced renovations of Maracanã stadium in Rio de Janeiro – the largest stadium in the world – as well as plans to build state-of-the-art new stadiums for the event. It’s since been announced that most of these projects will be NOT ready in time. And not only will they not even be ready on time, but the metro line extensions, the highway expansions, and all of the other promised infrastructure to relieve up to four hours of commuting some Brazilians suffer through each day – none of it is getting done any time soon.

Some Brazilian publications have dug into these projects and found – you guessed it – insanely errant spending. Invoices for 500 new gates for a stadium that only needs ten. Paying tens of thousands of Reais for bathroom mirrors that should only cost a few hundred. Somewhere along the way, a lot of money is ending up in someone’s pocket.

The second ongoing issue here is the cash-for-votes corruption that went on under the previous administration, or as it’s called here, mensalão. Back in December, 25 high-ranking politicians and government officials were found guilty by the supreme court of money-laundering, fraud, and using government funds inappropriately.

Well, of course, these 25 officials aren’t actually serving any time. In fact, the government is pushing through PEC 37, a notorious bill that basically removes all investigative powers of the district attorneys and puts it in the hands of the Federal Policia, who are famously corrupt here. This is akin to Nixon getting caught for Watergate and instead of resigning, pushing through a constitutional amendment to remove the impeaching powers of Congress.

As for Bolsa Familia, yes, it has raised many people out of poverty here. But it’s by no means universally celebrated. In fact, in my time here it’s the most contentious and divisive political issue I’ve heard Brazilians speak of. As a gringo, I don’t pretend to come down on one side or the other. Some say it saved millions of lives. Other say that it’s free money to poor people for not working and is pulling the economy down. From what I can tell, it’s probably done a lot of good but it’s not sustainable and is causing as many economic problems as it solves.

Look, I’m no economist, but tell me if this makes any sense. You have a country with a massive poor and unemployed population. You also have a country with a terrible lack of infrastructure. What is the OBVIOUS SOLUTION HERE? Pay the poor people to build the infrastructure. Ta-da! You now have a thriving and functioning economy. Yet, the government gives money to the poor people whether they work or not, they tax the middle class to high heaven and pocket tons of the money while providing no new infrastructure. You would be pissed too.

And finally, for the record, let’s not all trip over each other talking about how important football/the World Cup is for Brazilian pride. Brazilians have known this was going to be a disaster since Day One. I arrived here a year and a half ago, have been all over the country, and everywhere I go, every Brazilian has told me this was a disaster waiting to happen. I’ve honestly met more Brazilians who are considering leaving the country for the World Cup than ones who are going to try to go. They knew this was coming. All of them. From my girlfriend’s CEO all the way down to the janitor at my gym, they all knew this was going to happen, just perhaps not this soon or not on such a scale.

There were more protests in Rio and São Paulo [on Tuesday] night. Monday’s was very peaceful here in São Paulo, but last night the police came out and started exploding tear gas to disperse everyone. There’s another big protest scheduled for Saturday that looks to draw 100k+ here in SP again. I imagine there will be a lot more between now and then as well.

By the way, here is a beautiful video a professional photographer made of the events in Rio:

What The Hell Is Happening In Brazil? Ctd

A reader writes:

I think the readers who wrote in about the protests in Brazil are somewhat biased. These protests are not like Turkey’s: President Dilma Rousseff has not restricted any liberties or tried to impose a moral code on her people. More importantly, they are not really about inequality or corruption; the GINI coefficient in Brazil has declined every single year since 2001.

Not to sound too much like Paul Krugman, but these protests are about simple economics. Over the past 10 years, Rousseff and her predecessor Lula Da Silva have presided over an amazing feat, engineering both rapid economic growth and a decisive narrowing of inequality. They did this by creating huge and revolutionary social welfare programs, like the Bolsa Familia. All of this has done amazing things in Brazil, but now the bills are coming due. The high budget deficits run by the governments and the low interest rates making credit available to poor entrepreneurs have led to scarily high inflation. As a result, the government has had to raise some revenue and decrease the availability of credit. Thus, the hike in bus fares.

I don’t blame the Brazilian protesters for being angry; economic stagnation is not very fun, especially after years of boom times. But Brazil remains a remarkably liberal country which continues to make amazing progress improving on inequality. The other choice for Brazil, to refuse to change any of its spending habits or raise revenue or interest rates, is to become like Argentina.

What The Hell Is Happening In Brazil? Ctd


Dish readers supplied the initial context for the massive protests in Brasilia, Rio, and Sao Paulo. David Lavin zooms out:

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.


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)