Protests in Brazil

Although it is impossible to foresee which will be the end of the street movements started in Brazil at the beginning of the month, it is undeniable that the protests have become one of the biggest street demonstrations since Brazilians took the streets in 1992 to demand the impeachment of president Fernando Collor de Mello due to corruption charges. The first protest started on June 6th and consisted of just 150 people from the “Free Pass Movement” (MPL – Movimento Passe Livre) and individuals affiliated with PSOL and PSTU, small left-wing parties, in front of the City Hall of Sao Paulo over a BRL 0.20 increase in bus fare (i.e. approximately USD 0.09). At that point, local conservative newspapers were against the protests, which were considered unrealistic and troublesome. The movement would have been unnoticed if it was not for the brutal reaction of the police on the protests of June 13th, the fourth day of protests.

Protests like these happen in Brazil every time local and state governments raise public transportation’s prices. However, this time the disproportional reaction of the police of Sao Paulo, who fired rubber bullets indiscriminately at peaceful protesters and arrested people with vinegar (i.e. which lessens the effect of tear gas) shocked Brazilian society. Motorists and pedestrians that had nothing whatsoever to do with the movement ended up breathing pepper sprays and tear gas. Indeed, 15 journalists covering the protests were also severely injured and more than 100 students were wounded.

These events led even the most conservative newspapers and editorials to change their point of view concerning the protests. The images showed in television, Internet, and Social Medias revealed the excess and cowardice of the police. The movements gather momentum as people came out to the streets in support of the right to gather peacefully, without weapons, in public spaces, as long as they do not disturb another meeting, pursuant to article 5, section XVI, of the Brazilian Constitution.  It should be noted that in the report of 21 May-4 June 2012 released by the Human Rights Council of the United Nation, some countries, such as Namibia, Denmark, and Germany, recommended several measures to combat acts of violence from the police, particularly extra-judicial killings.

On June 17th, using Social Medias, such as Facebook, to organize the protests, approximately 100 thousand people went to the streets in Sao Paulo to support the right of protest. The protests spread over Brazil, with people going to streets throughout state capitals. At this point, the agenda of the protests became much broader, with people asking for better education, public transportation, health, and against corruption. Many banners also protested against the exorbitant costs of World Cup stadiums, which gained more international visibility due to the Confederations Cup that is taking place in Brazil. In fact, Brazilians have several reasons to complaint about the provision of public services. According to the study concluded by the Brazilian Institute for Tax Planning (IBT – Instituto Brasileiro de Planejamento Tributário) of March 2013, taxes in Brazil represent 36.27% of the GDP, while the citizens receive terrible public services in return.

Although there was a violent minority of demonstrators, by and large, the movements were pacific and people from all different ideologies joined the movement, representing no particular political wing. On June 19th, after the wave of protests, the mayor of Sao Paulo, Fernando Haddad, and the state governor, Geraldo Alckimin, announced the reduction of the fare to its original amount (BRL 3.00), which will lead to the reduction of investments in other sectors.

On June 20th, in at least 75 cities of Brazil protests were organized, gathering about 900 thousand all over the country. The largest concentration happened in Rio de Janeiro, where 300 thousand people were at Rio Branco Avenue. Likewise, in Sao Paulo more than 100 thousand people gathered on Paulista Avenue.

On June 21st, President Dilma Rousseff broke the silence and proposed in a televised address to the nation a pact with the country’s mayor and governors to improve public services in an effort to calm the wave of protests. President Rousseff defended the right of protesters, but stressed that authorities cannot permit a violent minority to damage public and private property. She also emphasized (1) the development of a plan for urban mobility focused on public transportation, (2) that 100% of oil royalties would be dedicated to education, and (3) that the federal government will bring foreigner doctors to help improve the country’s health-care system. The latter was not so well received by the population.

The protests continue and include a range of different issues, but most signs of the demonstration are against the proposed constitutional amendment 37, which removes the power of criminal investigation from public prosecutors and puts it exclusively in the hands of the police. Other groups also protest against the controversial bill 234/2011 known as “gay cure” supported by the president of the Brazilian Congressional Commission for Human Rights, Marco Feliciano. If sanctioned, the legislation would remove articles 3rd and 4th of the resolution of the Federal Psychology Council, which currently condemns psychologists that attempt to “cure” homosexuals.

The fact is that the protests do not have an organized leadership and reveals a nationwide discontent of Brazilian with their political representatives. As mentioned at the beginning of this post, it is impossible to predict right now the outcomes of these protests, but they represent an important wake-up call to politicians and their parties. Indeed, President Dilma Rousseff proposed on June 24th a national plebiscite to reform Brazil’s political system. According to President Rousseff, the idea is to call a popular plebiscite to authorize a specific constituent process to carry out the political reform. She also announced support for a new legislation that would assign harsher penalties for corruption.

About Barbara Marchiori de Assis

CLASS Co-founder and former President (2012-2013 term). Master of Public Administration Candidate at Cornell University
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