You might have read somewhere (or watched on TV) about the protests in Brazil. I’m here to tell you a little bit about it. Not as a journalist but as a Brazilian citizen who’s been caught in the middle of this.
A bit of geography: Brazil is the 5th largest country in the world with 3,288,000 sqr miles. Brasilia is the capital, a planned city by Oscar Niemeyer (it used to be Rio de Janeiro since the colony era but during the 50’s it was changed to Brasilia, which is positioned in the middle of the country as a way to populate the center and the north regions since the vast majority of the population lived through the shore line). It has a population of around 193 million people with its largest cities being São Paulo (with 11 million followed by Rio de Janeiro with 6 million). It’s the 7th (sometimes the 6th) bigger economy in the world and is the B in the term BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). For those who don’t know, BRICS are the biggest developing economies. Brazil is said to have more influence and power than it is given credit for, yet not as much as it thinks it has.
Now let’s talk a little bit about history. Brazil was colonized by Portugal (that’s why we speak Portuguese and not Spanish as our Spanish colonized neighbours). It was “discovered” in 1500. When Napoleon invaded the Iberic Peninsula (Portugal and Spain), Portugal’s king fled to Brazil turning Rio de Janeiro into the center of the kingdom. Brazil became independent in 1822 and had an emperor, Pedro. His son, Dom Pedro II was ruling the country when it became a republic in 1889. A year before, in 1888 slavery was abolished.
During the early 60’s, a military coup threw down the president and guest what… the militaries had help from the US! During the 60’s, 70’s and early 80’s most of the South American countries had military government that had help from the US in a – not so secret – operation called Condor Operation (there are some documentaries about that, look it up).
During the 80’s, Brazil had democracy back and even thought the first elected president, Fernando Collor was impeached (because of corruption), the democratic process is well established.
During the 80’s, Brazil’s economy had a decline, and inflation skyrocketed. It was only controlled in ’94, and that was the point when Brazilian economy started to grow. So, if the economy is better, inflation is more or less controlled (compared to the 80’s), what is the problem? Why are people protesting?
People started to complain even though the economy is growing (the last few years, slower than before), a lot of families are now part of a new middle class (when years ago they were considered poor). The economic quality of life was rising. Yet, socially things weren’t rising at the same level, if at all. The public health system and the public education is at the verge of collapsing. Public services are far from good. You pay a lot of taxes and get poor service in return. One is always stuck in traffic. The subway system and busses have fares with annual increased, but there are few investments in its quality. A lot of bureaucracy, and especially in Rio, prices are rising (maybe because of the World Cup and Olympic Games). Rents in places like Leblon are higher than Paris, London, Tokyo and even Manhattan. Restaurants prices are also going up and the quality of service isn’t following.
With the bus fares from Rio and São Paulo recently increased (other cities also had fare increase) it seems to have had an effect on the last drop, and been inspired by the Arab spring – Greace, Turkey and a lot of other countries that used social media to protest. Brazilians decided to go to the streets.
The peculiar thing about this is that we have always complained that we don’t protest enough. Brazilians were too accommodated. We complained to each other, but never did anything about it. The last big protests occurred to impeach Fernando Collor and even then it had political parties backing it up. And now, there are no parties involved. It is just the people. People who aren’t happy with the ways things have being going, mainly the corruption in government. There is a joke that says that in Europe and America, a politician accused of corruption steps down (and gets jail time). In Japan he kills himself. In China they kill him. And in Brazil he is reelected.
It is especially important to take note that World Cup is next year and the Summer Olympics in 2016. There were a lot of promises made, that the stadiums would be built with few public funding. It would be mostly private and the government (federal, state and municipal) would invest heavily in transport and infrastructures.
And one year from the world cup, the stadiums are ready, mostly funded with public money. With budgets that are way higher than the original, and all those infrastructure investments, that would indeed benefit the people… are not ready and far from it.
So, people are unhappy and decided to take the streets. On the first days of protesting, the main demand was about the bus fares. And we got “lucky”, because the State is so incompetent, and the police so unprepared. In São Paulo the policed clashed with the protesters (in a supposed-to-be- peaceful-protest), and the public opinion was more and more on the side of the protesters because of the police brutality.
With that, the protests spread around other cities, and every city had a police brutality incident (as I said, our police is not trained to deal with this situation of middle class, educated people protesting). Every day there is some protest going on in some city. Last week (Thursday) there were almost 2 million people in 80 cities protesting (the pictures featured in this piece are from Rio’s protest). Most of them started out peacefully, but some at the end got violent, with police and some more… intense protesters. Let’s put it this way, there was a lot of vandalizing and the police, as I said, were totally unprepared, and went after the peaceful ones!
Of course, there are some violent people on the side of the protesters. But the vast majority were there for the first time, with a feeling that “the giant woke up” (the giant being Brazil), and we had enough.
Different from the Arab Spring, we don’t want to overthrow the government. We want to stop corruption. We want to see our money (taxes) invested in health, education, safety, infrastructure, and not disappear in the pockets of politicians and companies. We want a political reform, the way campaigns are funded with public money, along with other demands. Things we have always complained about, but never really did anything about it to promote change. Now we are not only complaining, but demanding politics to actually get the job done!