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Pedreira, July 1
Even Brazil beating the champion Spanish team by a resounding three-nil to win the Confederations Cup has not weakened the wave of protests and demonstrations. The morning after, instead of enjoying pleasant soccer-triumph-fuelled hangovers, lorry drivers were blocking roads, residents were blockading tolls and people were occupying, marching and demanding all over the country.
Polls show that political leaders of all parties have seen their ratings plunge, from Dilma, whose government’s approval dropped from 57 percent down to 30, to the governors and mayors of Rio and SP.
Pundits, analysts and commentators continue their frenzy of analysis of what one of them is calling `the Monster` – the demonstrators on the streets and what they want, who they are. Is the Monster the sign of a new horizontal democracy or is it being manipulated by hidden forces? Can the political parties control the Monster or will the Monster gobble them up? Are we looking at the Brazilian version of the Arab spring or at a rerun of 1968 in France? Where will it all end? When will it end?
While the experts argue and debate in the TV studios and newspaper columns, on the ground people power continues to get results. In Juazeiro do Norte, a small town in Ceará, angry teachers marched through the streets and trapped the mayor inside a bank. Why were they angry? Because the Town Hall had reduced teachers’ salaries by 40 percent, at the same time that they were preparing to pay R$600,000 (almost £200,000) to performers at a music festival. The mayor was only allowed to leave after he agreed to reverse the decisions.
Over in the state of Pará, protestors blocked the railway line that carries the iron ore from Carajás to the port of Itajai. This time they were protesting at job losses. On highways all over the country, lorry drivers have set up blockades in protest at higher tolls. In Belo Horizonte, protesters occupied the municipal council chambers demanding that the ‘black box’ of the bus companies’ balance sheets and profits be opened up to the public.
Reacting to the whirlwind of protests, Dilma has held more meetings with social movements, protestors and trade unionists in a week than she probably held in her previous three years of government. She has admitted to errors – not easy for someone who until very recently, basked in approval ratings of over 80 percent…
During a meeting with leaders of the parties allied to the PT, she recognised that the crisis has three causes: a crisis of representation, with the country’s political representatives not being seen as legitimate; a crisis of values, because the public do not believe that public money is being spent with probity; and a crisis in the quality of public services. Dilma admitted that urban transport system had not improved, that children under eight were not learning to read and write, and that the health system was not properly equipped and that too few doctors were being trained.
Now everyone, from Dilma down, is talking about change. The question is how to achieve it. Another poll showed that a large majority of the population – 68 percent – liked the idea of a plebiscite, but there is no clear consensus on what questions should be asked. And, as a plebiscite would have to be authorised by Congress, would it include questions that, if approved by a majority of the population, would mean a drastic shakeup in the composition of Congress? That’s hard to imagine, as many members of Congress have occupied seats for decades.
Meanwhile, as the tsunami of demands and protests continues in Brazil, Paraguayans have followed suit, taking to the streets to demand improvements in their public services. Some 3,000 marched in Asunción in protest over a bill which would have allowed members of Congress to be given a pension after paying in for only ten years; the bill has now been shelved. What the protesters in Paraguay want, said one analyst, is for Congress to stop putting its own interests above those of the citizens. “They have been contaminated by the protests in Brazil.”
For once, it seems, Brazil’s influence over its neighbour has been positive.