In the latest protest against what activists say is the Brazilian government's diversion of funds from social services to sports events, more than 1,000 people marched in downtown São Paulo from the Praça da República to the Anhangabaú subway station on the evening of Feb. 22. The protest ended with some 1,000 agents of the militarized police using stun grenades and tear gas to disperse the marchers and making a total of 230 arrests. Among those arrested were five journalists, two photographers and three reporters; the reporters were from the newspapers O Globo and Folha de São Paulo and from the news website G1. Bruno Santos, a photographer for the Terra Brasil website, received an injury in his leg.
More than 15,000 Brazilian campesinos marched some 9 km from a meeting at the Nilson Nelson Gymnasium stadium in Brasilia to the Plaza of the Three Powers on Feb. 12 to protest the slow pace at which the center-left government of President Dilma Rousseff is implementing agrarian reform. The protesters had been attending the Sixth Congress of the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST), the largest of the Brazilian groups organizing landless campesinos. Kelli Marfort, from the MST's Gender sector, called the government's policy an "embarrassment." "Last year 7,000 families were settled," she charged, saying that the MST alone has 90,000 families living in encampments and waiting for land. "A total of 150,000 families are in encampments in Brazil, many of them for more than 10 years. We're here to announce that we're not satisfied, and we're asking for a people's agrarian reform."
As many as 2,000 Brazilians demonstrated in Rio de Janeiro during evening rush hour on Feb. 6 to protest an increase in local bus fares from 2.75 reais (about US$1.15) to 3 reais (about $1.26); the fare hike, imposed by Rio mayor Eduardo Paes, took effect Feb. 8. The protesters marched about a mile from the Candelária area without incident, but as the demonstration approached the Estacião Central do Brasil, the city's main transit hub, dozens of youths reportedly from the Black Bloc charged into the station, jumping over turnstiles and inviting commuters to join them. Some protesters vandalized ticket booths, while others set fires in garbage cans outside the station, blocking cars and tying up traffic. The militarized police attacked the youths with tear-gas and concussion grenades, creating panic among crowds of commuters, and protesters responded with rocks and clubs. SuperVia Trens Urbanos, the company that runs the city's trains, decided to let passengers ride for free as the chaos continued. Police escorted thousands of commuters, some choking on tear gas, to the trains.
Brazilians demonstrated in 36 cities on Jan. 25 to protest the underfunding of health, education, transportation and infrastructure at the same time that the government is pouring money into preparations for the 2016 Olympic Games and the World Cup soccer championship, which is to be held June 12-July 13 this year in 12 Brazilian cities. The protests, reportedly called by the clandestine internet activist group Anonymous, were a continuation of massive demonstrations targeting these issues last June, but only a few thousand people turned out on Jan. 25, in contrast to the million or more who marched in 2013.
The ongoing prison crisis in Brazil's impoverished northeastern state of Maranhão again made brief headlines this month after newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo released a gruesome video of gang warfare victims inside the violence-plagued and dangerously overcrowded Pedrinhas facility. The video was recorded on Dec. 17, the newspaper reported, describing how "other prisoners pose with the bodies, showing them off like trophies." The footage was turned over to the paper by a prison workers' union to raise awareness of the depth of the crisis. But Maranhão residents had sure been aware of it. There were more than 60 deaths at the facility last year—a higher murder rate than the outside world. Gang control of the prison was so complete that there were reports of inmates' wives being raped in conjugal visits. This finally prompted federal authorities to launch a crackdown over the new year. Military police took over the facility, and found 300 improvised weapons, as well as cell phones by which ranking inmates presumably controlled their outside drug networks. In response to the crackdown, gang leaders called for their supporters on the outside to launch an uprising. That's when the trouble really began...
The Guaraní community of Ñandeva in Japora municipality of Brazil's Mato Grosso do Sul state, are pledging to resist a court-ordered eviction, and to defend their land to the death. The community made their announcement in an open letter to federal presidency and Justice Ministry on Dec. 18, a week after a federal judge in the nearby town of Naviraí issued a decision finding that Ñandeva is not a part of the traditional Guaraní territory or tekoha known as Yvy Katu, and that the community is therefore occupying the lands illegally. The community is demanding that Ñandeva, whose lands are now formally held by local haciendas, be incorporated in the pending official demarcation of Yvy Katu. The statement demanded an audeince with President Dilma Rousseff and asserted that the Guaraní of Ñandeva are prepared for "collective death." (Adital, Adital, Dec. 19; Campo Grande News, Dec. 14)
The Tenharim indigenous reserve at Manicore in Brazil's Amazonas state was attacked Dec. 27, with several houses set afire by local farmers and loggers. Townspeople in the region say members of the indigenous group abducted three contractors on Dec. 16. The men were all in employ of business interests seeking to develop the region, including Eletrobrás Amazonas Energia. The popular theory is that the three were seized in retaliation for the death of a Tenharim cacique, or traditional leader, Ivan Tenharim, who was found mortally wounded on a roadside Dec. 3. On Dec. 25, some 3,000 residents rallied in the town of Humaitá to demand that police enter the reserve to hunt for the missing men. The march turned violent, with protesters attacking and torching the local offices of the government's indigenous agency FUNAI, as well as a health clinic established for Tenharim residents, a boat used to ferry the Tenharim from their reserve to the town, and several vehicles. The riot was finally put down when a detachment of some 150 federal police were mobilized to the town. Several Tenharim families sought refuge at the nearby base of the army's 54th Jungle Infantry Battalion, fearing attack. On Dec. 28, Brazil's Justice Ministry ordered a 200-strong special federal police task-force to search the Tenharim reserve. (HispanTV, BBC Mundo, Dec. 29; G1, Brazil, Radio New Zealand, Dec. 28; BBC News, Acritica, Manaus, Lingua Ferina blog, Brazil, Dec. 27; AP, Rondoniagora, Acritica, Combate Racismo Ambiental blog, Brazil, Dec. 26)
Some 1,200 Brazilian indigenous activists encircled the Palácio do Panalto, which houses the president's offices, in Brasilia on Dec. 4 in a continuation of protests against proposals to change the way land is demarcated for indigenous groups. Currently the demarcations are worked out by the government's National Indigenous Foundation (FUNAI), but Congress is considering a measure, Proposed Constitutional Amendment (PEC) 215, which would give other government agencies a role in the process. During the Dec. 4 march a confrontation broke about between some protesters and the Palácio do Panalto security force, which used pepper spray to disperse the group. "Some participants were hospitalized," an indigenous leader, Marcos Xukuru, told the Brazilian news agency Adital. The marchers then moved on to the Justice Ministry and requested an interview with the minister; they were told he was out of the office. (Adital, Dec. 4)