Latin America Inside Out Blog

Brazil: Life in a world of protest

Brazil: Life in a world of protest

Sue Branford
Author: Jan Rocha
Published on: Tue Jun 25, 2013

In the first of her blogs from Sao Paulo, veteran reporter Jan Rocha describes life in a world of protest

São Paulo, Monday June 24 2013 

DILMA dressed herself all in yellow (one of the colours of the national flag and the football team) and probably spent hours practising her teleprompted speech to the nation.* But it fell flat. Like everyone short of ideas she set up a committee and meetings.

Dilma's national TV addressThe first meeting on Monday was with the leaders of the MPL, the Free Fare Movement which kicked off the whole wave of protests.  Young students and lecturers, they are lucid and eloquent about what they want- this is no flash in the pan movement, they have been studying the question since 2005. 

Before going to Brasilia, they sent an open letter to Dilma, explaining why they want not just a freeze on fare increases, but zero fares, free fares.  They argue that public transport should be seen as a social right, alongside free healthcare and education, not as just an economic activity to make profits for private companies.  They say that the government invests eleven times more in private transport than in public transport.  

Interestingly, the establishment press has begun to question the structure of public transport – the profits of the companies, the lack of accountability. In São Paulo the buses are run by a cartel of companies, who also fund the elections of a number of city councillors who, guess what, block attempts to hold investigations. Now demands for a CPI are growing.

The internet is buzzing with eyewitness accounts of police violence, of infiltrators, with warnings, analysis and misinformation, like the man who used Facebook to announce a general strike! The unions, who have been very quiet since the demos began, denounced it. Interviewed by a newspaper, the man turned out to be a gun-toting adventurer.

Some of what is being said is more worrying, like the alleged confession of a member of the right-wing  ‘integralista’ or fascist movement, who says he has left the organisation because he did not agree with their activities, such as deliberately  provoking  tumults and disorder during the marches and marginalising members of left-wing parties.  He says they are being helped by the intelligence service of the military police, the PM, and financed by right-wing parties like the PSDB and the DEMs.  

There seems little doubt that agents provocateurs are at work. For example, there is the eyewitness account of a doctor who was at Saturday’s huge protest outside the Mineirão, the soccer stadium in Belo Horizonte.  Giovano Iannotto said military police refused to let him pass the police line to call an ambulance for a man who was seriously injured when he fell from a viaduct. Then a man, with his face hidden by a shirt, came up to him, whispered in his ear that he was a policeman, and got him through the police cordon. Earlier the doctor had seen this same man urging the demonstrators to be violent.   

The death toll from the protests is slowly mounting. On Friday, demonstrators blocked for hours the main highways leading to São Paulo’s international airport, without being troubled by the police. Then a policeman was slightly injured by a bullet which seemed to come from a nearby favela, Funeraria. Hours later, at 2.a.m., the police invaded the favela and killed three people, claiming they were armed with rifles. Nobody knows who they were, if they were really armed, and so on.  

Cristalina protestOn Monday morning, in Cristalina, one of the deprived towns that encircle the capital, Brasilia, residents blocked the highway to demand lower fares.  A car drove into them and killed two women. Some  car owners not only seem to think they own the roads, but they see protesters, especially poor ones,   merely as inconvenient obstacles who can be mown down at will.

But the protesters in Cristalina are an example of how the protests have spread from the white middle class demonstrators of the big cities to poorer communities up and down the country.  

Public transport was the catalyst for the protests, but another big issue that has emerged on the streets is huge dissatisfaction with the politicians, with the political system.  A system that allows representatives and councillors to be re-elected time and again, and sets no limit to campaign funding.  After her meeting today with mayors and governors, Dilma suggested a plebiscite on the issue. But that, of course, would take months to organise and people are in a hurry. So a petition has begun to circulate proposing electoral reform. If they can get 1,600,000 signatures in ten days, the law can be proposed in Congress.   

All this means there is cause for hope, but also cause for concern.  Hope that things will change, concern that there are groups in the shadows who want to stir up trouble. Watch this space.

_________________________________

*  President Dilma Rousseff made a televised speech to the nation on 22 June

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