Brazil: protests continue despite concessions

The massive protests that have shaken Brazil for more than a week continued on June 22, although on a smaller scale than during the previous two days. The largest actions of the day focused on the protesters’ objection to the allocation of money to preparations for the 2014 World Cup soccer championship and the 2016 Olympic Games while health, education, transportation and infrastructure remain underfunded. Some 70,000 people marched on the soccer stadium in the country’s third largest city, Belo Horizonte in the eastern state of Minas Gerais, where the Mexican and Japanese teams were playing. “World Cup for whom?” and “FIFA out!” the marchers chanted, referring to the International Federation of Association Football, which sponsors the championship. Police agents used tear gas to keep the protesters from approaching the stadium. In Salvador de Bahia, in the impoverished northeastern state of Bahia, about 12,000 protesters marched on the Fonte Nova stadium, site of a soccer match between Brazil and Italy. Some protesters carried signs with cartoons of business owners and sports association directors sitting on big bags of money.

The protests come after two years of slow economic growth under President Dilma Rousseff, who took office in January 2010. She is a member of the center-left Workers Party (PT), which has governed Brazil since 2003. An opinion poll published on June 22 by the magazine Epoca showed 75% of respondents supporting the demonstrations. Some 6% said they had taken part in the marches, and 35% said they were willing to demonstrate publicly. Brazil’s population is about 197 million. (La Jornada, Mexico, June 23, from AFP, Reuters, DPA)

The wave of marches started earlier in June with protests in São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, over an increase of 20 centavos (a little less than nine US cents) in bus, subway and train fares, raising the cost of a ticket to about $1.70. Some 2,000 people marched down Paulista Avenue on June 6 to protest the increase; 50 people were injured and 15 were detained in clashes with the police. There were also small demonstrations in Rio de Janeiro, the second largest city; in Salvador de Bahia; in Natal in the northeastern state of Rio Grande do Norte; and in Goiania, capital of the central state of Goiás.

One week later, on June 13, more than 50,000 people marched in São Paulo, and there were protests in many other state capitals. The militarized police in São Paulo responded to the march with rubber bullets, tear gas and violent beatings—with the result that photos and videos of police brutality circulated through the internet and triggered still more demonstrations.

By June 17 a largely spontaneous nationwide protest movement had developed, expanding its focus from the fare increases to include poor services in general, the heavy investment in the World Cup and the Olympics, government corruption and police repression. At least 100,000 people marched that night; there were also demonstrations in Rio de Janeiro; São Paulo; Belo Horizonte; Salvador de Bahia; Brasilia, the national capital; Belém in the northern state of Pará; and many other cities.

On June 19 Rio de Janeiro mayor Eduardo Paes, São Paulo mayor Fernando Haddad and São Paulo state governor Geraldo Alckmin announced a rollback in the fare increase. Apparently this decision resulted largely from a meeting the night before that President Rousseff and former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011) held with Mayor Haddad. Lula and Rousseff reportedly accused Haddad, a rising star in the PT, of incompetence and lack of vision in relying on police repression rather than negotiations to deal with the demonstrators.

But the fare rollback wasn’t enough to slow the protests’ momentum. The night of June 20 brought 1.25 million people to the streets in 460 cities and towns. With 100,000 protesters marching in Recife in the northeastern state of Pernambuco, more than 100,000 in São Paulo and 300,000 in Rio, Brazil was said to have experienced its largest day of demonstrations at least since the marches 29 years earlier that helped end the 1964-1985 military dictatorship. Acts of vandalism were reported in Rio and in Brasilia. Two deaths were also reported: an 18-year-old was killed by a car in the city of Ribeirão Preto, in São Paulo state, and a street sweeper died in Pará, possibly of a heart attack.

More huge demonstrations followed on June 21, despite a call from Rousseff for dialogue. (AFP, June 7, via Global Post; The Guardian, UK, June 18, from correspondent; LJ, June 20, June 21, June 23 from correspondent; Adital, Brazil, June 21, some from unidentified wire services)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, June 23.