Brazil: tensions had been growing before protests

Although commentators expressed surprise at the size and spontaneity of the protests that swept Brazil in the third week of June, leftist and grassroots organizations had been focusing on some of the issues for some time. In May groups in Rio de Janeiro issued a report highlighting the displacement of thousands of families to make way for facilities to be used in the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. Impacted communities in Rio were planning to hold a “People’s Cup Against the Removals” on June 15, the day that the Confederations Cup soccer matches were to start in Brazil in the lead-up to the World Cup next year. The grassroots event, which included amateur soccer matches, an exhibit of photos and videos, political discussions and cultural events, was intended to build ties among the affected communities. (Adital, Brazil, June 13)

Another issue has been the influence of social conservatives in the National Congress. In March the Chamber of Deputies appointed Marcos Feliciano, a Social Christian Party (PSC) deputy from São Paulo who is also an evangelical minister, to head the body’s Commission for Human Rights and Minorities. Feminists, LGBT rights activists and human rights activists fought against his appointment. Feliciano opposes abortion even when the mother’s health is in danger, and he has made homophobic slurs—for example, a reference in a tweet to AIDS as “gay cancer.”

On June 18, when the protests were near their height, Feliciano’s commission approved a bill that would allow psychologists to treat homosexuality as a disorder or pathology, despite a 1999 decision by the Federal Psychology Council banning such treatments. Feliciano’s “gay cure” law isn’t expected to win approval from the full Congress, but it quickly became an issue in the protests. During the June 20 march in Brasilia, demonstrators chanted “I’m a Brazilian with much pride” at the Congress building and “Even the Pope resigned; Feliciano, your time has come,” a reference to Pope Benedict XVI, who left the papacy in February. (Miami Herald, June 18, from AP; Clarín, Argentina, June 20, from correspondent; La Jornada, Mexico, June 23, from correspondent)

Tensions had also been increasing among indigenous groups over what they consider threats to their way of life. On June 6 indigenous Terena seeking to regain ancestral territory in the southern state of Mato Grosso do Sul held a joint demonstration in Brasilia with indigenous Munduruku who were protesting the construction of the giant Belo Monte dam in the northern state of Pará. Violence against indigenous people may be on the rise in Mato Grosso, where cattle ranches and sugarcane and soy plantations have been spreading, generating land disputes with local communities. An indigenous Guaraní, Celso Rodrigues, was shot dead on June 12 while walking with his father near the city of Sete Quedas; a masked man shot Rodrigues with a handgun and then again with a rifle, according to Rodrigues’ father, who wasn’t harmed. However, a police investigator, Rinaldo Moreira, told Agência Brasil that the murder might not be connected to a land conflict. (BBC News, June 13)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, June 23.