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During the last week of October, activists campaigning for free public transport organised their yearly event, “National Week for Public Transport”, in commemoration of a bill passed on 26 October 2004. This bill, approved in Florianópolis in the state of Santa Catarina in southern Brazil, made public transport free for students, and it led to the birth of Movimento Passe Livre (Free Pass Movement), a movement geared to making public transport free for everyone throughout the country. It sprang into national prominence in June of this year, when the São Paulo branch of MPL was the main group behind the city’s first large mobilisation. It was the spark that led to protests throughout the country, one of the largest mobilisations in Brazilian history.
Starting on 21 October, the MPL’s mobilisation involved marches in more than 12 localities throughout Brazil. Four events took place in São Paulo alone, mostly in poor neighbourhoods on the outskirts of the city. The military police reacted to them with considerable hostility, making a number of illegal arrests. Only in Grajaú, in the extreme south of São Paulo, 22 adults and 6 children and teenagers were arrested, but then released for lack of evidence that they had committed crimes.
The most serious episodes, however, took place in the city centre during the final events. On 25 October turnstiles at “Terminal Don Pedro II”, the largest bus terminal in Latin America, were destroyed. According to the mainstream media, most of the protest was peaceful but a small group of violent protestors attacked other state-owned and private property, such as banks, public buildings and buses. As a result, 96 people were arrested. Although MPL claims that dozens of people got free bus transport home, SPTrans, the company responsible for the transport in São Paulo, says that 100,000 people were left stranded.
In the middle of the action, military police colonel Reynaldo Simões Rossi unexpectedly approached a group that was using Black Bloc tactics1 in what, he says, was an attempt to negotiate an end to the confrontations. Rossi was attacked and is now recovering from a fracture of his shoulder blade. The incident provoked a fierce reaction against the protesters from the mainstream media. President Dilma Rousseff also repudiated the violence and condemned all those using Black Bloc tactics.
Several participants challenged Rossi’s claim that he was trying to negotiate peace in the middle of the conflict. The Black Bloc São Paulo facebook page says:
“What was he [colonel Rossi] going to negotiate about? Can one really believe that this was why he went towards the group? Is this believable when he had already acted with violence against other people in the same protest?”
Many other were highly critical of the President for expressing her solidarity with colonel Rossi while saying nothing to the hundreds of protesters who have been attacked by the military police since the protests began in June.
Despite the general disagreement on Brazilian protesters using Black Bloc tactics, many activists peacefully protesting on different acts during the past months have expressed their support, specially those rescued from truculent attacks of the military police. Among them are the ‘Education Professionals Labour Union’ from the state of Rio de Janeiro (Sepe), focussing their official support on actions against the police brutality rather than the property damage aspect of the tactics. Check this video by community filmmakers in Rio exposing some of these views (click captions for English subtitles): http://www.youtube.com/embed/VAoSy07-dwk
On 28 October, Francisco Carlos Teixeira da Silva, a historian specialised in contemporary issues at UFRJ (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro) and IUPERJ (Universitarian Institute of Research of Rio de Janeiro), resigned as commentator on Globo news channel. He said to ‘Causa Operaria TV’:
“I can’t accept and I can’t be part of an attempt to criminalise a social movement. […] This is not a journalist’s job … Journalism has forgotten that its job is to talk about everyday violence in trains, government offices, schools and hospitals.”
MPL clearly opposes the aggression shown to the São Paulo military police colonel by those using Black Bloc tactics, but says that the violent repression shown by the police against protesters should also be criticized with the same vehemence. Read here their letter published two days after the event:
Note about a week of fight and the Friday protest
The 2013 national week of fighting for public transport ended with burnt turnstiles, destroyed ticket turnstiles, and millions of people on the street demanding zero tariffs in the whole country. In São Paulo, the revolt against the local government’s policy of transport links cut and the multiplication of turnstiles placed in front of the population reached its peak. The fire, which began in M’Boi Mirim, reached the biggest main roads and streets in Grajaú and Estrada do Campo Limpo. Soon after, the sparks reached the city’s east and northwest regions, where the ‘rationalisation’ of bus companies’ profits advances rapidly.
Unfortunately, these demonstrations ended up featuring in the police pages of newspapers. We do not condone what happened to the colonel of São Paulo’s PM (Military Police), but we condemn the actions of one of the police chiefs of Grajaú, who ran over protesters last Wednesday; the severe police beatings suffered by Cristian in 2006, Vinícius in 2011 and Pedro in 2013, amongst many others, who found themselves kettled by the police in protests organised by the MPL (Free Pass Movement). We condemn the mistreating of teenagers and homeless people inside and out of police stations this last Friday; the harassment against women, as seen in the last protest, who were forced to take off all their clothes in police searches; the hundreds of arbitrary arrests; the injuries caused by rubber bullets and shrapnel bombs yesterday; the shock troops blockading the entrance of police stations, stopping solicitors from going in; the breaking of instruments and instrumentalists of Fanfarra do M.A.L by the police.
We entered the biggest bus terminal in Latin America so we could effectively make real the zero tariff. Dozens of people returned home without paying fares, challenging the exclusion generated by a public transport system that is managed as a business venture. The revolt that saw the destruction of the turnstiles last Friday was sparked off by the daily violence of the public transport. And we will continue to fight for the destruction of all turnstiles.
São Paulo Free Pass Movement
26th October 2013
* Letter translated for LAB by Marianne Arake
1 “Black Bloc is a tactic, not a group. It is a tactic where activists do masks and black clothing (originally leather jackets in Germany, later, hoodies in America), as a gesture of anonymity, solidarity, and to indicate to others that they are prepared, if the situation calls for it, for militant action. The very nature of the tactic belies the accusation that they are trying to hijack a movement and endanger others. One of the ideas of having a Black Bloc is that everyone who comes to a protest should know where the people likely to engage in militant action are, and thus easily be able to avoid it if that’s what they wish to do.” By David Graeber, anthropologist and Black Bloc veteran who took part in planning the initial strategy for Occupy Wall Street. (“Concerning the Violent Peace-Police: An Open Letter to Chris Hedges“)