Peaceful demonstrations against the increase of bus fares in São Paulo have been transformed in a few days into the largest riots in Brazil since the dictatorship. The first demonstration took place near Avenida Paulista on Monday 10th June.
Although the largely conservative, national media has played down the use of violence by the police, social media have given a very different account. A large number of videos and images containing clear evidence of excessive use of force by the military police against the protesters have been shared over the internet.
This video, recorded on the 13th June and published the day after on youtube, shows hundreds of protesters pleading for “no violence” as the riot police approach. Even so, the police attacked the crowd, even targeting people who were standing by buildings in an attempt to protect themselves by leaving the demonstration:
After a few days, state governor Geraldo Alckmin branded the rioters as ‘vandals’ and promised to act to prevent a repetition of the violence which, he claimed, the protesters were using. Mr Alckmin rejected claims that the police had used excessive force, saying that they had to act professionally. Brazil’s Minister of Justice, José Eduardo Cardozo, said the demonstrations were legitimate but that resorting to violence and vandalism were unacceptable.
The human rights organisation, Amnesty International, has published a statement, asking the Brazilian authorities to take measures to stop the police from using excessive force: “The increasing level of violence in these protests is deeply troubling”, said Atila Roque, director of the organisation’s Brazil Office.
Described by the mainstream media as ‘teenage rebels’, the protesters, who are mostly young middle class Paulistas, have been using the word ‘awaken’ to describe what is happening to them.
“It’s about much more than those 10 cents. It’s about a society that is sick of corrupt politicians not making good on their promises to make improvements,” said Bruno Bisaglia, 24, to the Guardian, which was gathering video testimony about the protests. “We want decent education, healthcare and transportation. That’s what this fight is all about.”
By the end of fourth day of protests, hundreds of people had been injured by the riot police, who were using pepper spray, rubber bullets and tear gas (made by Condor, which is the Brazilian brand leader in so-called non-lethal weapons, and is exporting the same brand of tear gas to Turkey, where it is currently being used against the demonstrators there.) According to the latest reports, over 230 people have been arrested during the protests and much of the violence has been indiscriminate, with those injured including two journalists, who were shot in the eye.
During the same period, people in other cities in Brazil have gone on to the streets to protest about other issues. In the capital, Brasilia, about 1,000 people gathered in front of the National Stadium, where Brazil was playing Japan in the Confederations Cup, to protest about the amount of money being spent on building new venues for next year’s World Cap and about the exorbitant price of tickets, which means that ordinary Brazilians will not be able to attend the events. Costing about R$600m (£382m), the stadium in Brasilia is one of the most expensive of the six being built ahead of the World Cup warm-up tournament.
In a similar way, the police used tear gas bombs and pepper spray to try to control the protesters and local media reported officers firing rubber bullets in an attempt to clear the crowds. Similar protests are also taking place in other parts of the country, including Rio de Janeiro, Porte Alegre in the south of the country and Acre in the Amazon region.
Brazilian protesters are aware that they form part of an international wave of protests and during some of the demonstrations in São Paulo the crowds have been chanting “Acabou o amor, isso aqui vai virar uma Turquia” (The love is over – Turkey is right here).