The latest on Brazilian protests

São Paulo

São Paulo (Photo credit: Jeff Belmonte)

1) Public transportation fare in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Porto Alegre are not going to raise. Fernando Haddad, mayor of São Paulo, and Geraldo Alckmin, governor of São Paulo State, addressed the public together to break the news on wednesday, June 19th. But they did mention that they couldn’t count on federal funding, so they would have to relocate some investments, which could potentially affect the population in other public services, such as education or healthcare. The Passe Livre movement celebrated the decision, it was a big victory for them. The one’s that are concerned with the readjustments on the investments claim that both city and state should open their accounts and show the public where are they taking the money from to pay for the debt the decision will generate, some say they should negotiate with bus companies so they would be responsible by the onus. The main argument is that bus companies are a big mafia, they manipulate their books to get more money from the government and, at the same time, make huge campaign contributions for politicians. To sum it up, the good victory generates bigger potential problems and social participation is now, maybe more than ever, key to maintain the transparency on governmental investments. Let’s hope the media does a better job informing the people about what goes on behind the curtains.

sao paulo skyline

sao paulo skyline (Photo credit: Fernando Stankuns)

2) Since there were all kinds of people taking the streets, including those who were protesting against corruption, social movements are trying to organize themselves and figure out the next step. What should be the next claim? Are they going to march against the evangelist pastor, Marco Feliciano, who took over the Human Rights Commission of the House of Representatives (or Chamber of Deputies) and decided to start a witch hunt against gays? Or are they going to protest the proposal of PEC 37, an  addition to the Brazilian Constitution that would take away from Public Ministery the prerogative to investigate criminal activities, leaving this task for Federal and Civil Police? Some people argue that this would make corruption investigations even harder, but I have to say I have no opinion on the matter since I haven’t read much about it yet.

3) Protests yesterday were nothing like the ones we saw before. Supposedly a celebration of the back down on bus fare raise, it became a violent ideological fight. It is true that PT, the workers party (party of former president Lula and president Dilma Roussef) scheduled their own protest on Avenida Paulista in São Paulo to happen yesterday, same day that Passe Livre movement was celebrating their political victory, with the naive perception they would show people they were by their side. That was taken as a provocation by some of the conservatives, especially because in the last protests they were emphasizing the non-partidarism and, since corruption was one of the issues on the table, it would be odd sharing the streets with the party responsible for the latest big scandal in Brazilian politics, what we call the mensalão. Basically, a scheme for the government to buy deputies and senators votes so they would support the president (Lula, at the time) and his party, the PT. Conservatives attacked the liberals, the participants of social movements and other left wing representatives, arguing they had no place in the streets. Many were hurt, flags were burned. Journalists on main stream media were still celebrating the change on Brazilian politics, portraying the movement as an important step on our democracy, while the left started to complain the conservatives attack was actually an assault on democracy and a stir in the course of events they would not support.

Let’s wait for what comes up next, because the way it is going nothing is clear yet. While conservatives still fight corruption and keep asking for Dilma’s impeachment, latest polls show she would be reelected next year, when president elections take place, with 53% of votes. Now that the bus fare fight is won in some of Brazil’s biggest cities, the joy of seeing people on the streets might be shadowed by the worries of the consequences of government decisions. It will be interesting to see what other causes will be discussed and protested for. The dissatisfaction that consumed the protesters is still there, and their big causes (like, corruption) are still there, but if the people don’t start organizing an agenda, making real propositions, talking about real actions (and not just yell “end corruption now”), it will be hard to see the benefits of it all.

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An analysis of the Brazilian protests

I feel compelled to write about the Brazilian protests today, something that I was restraining myself to comment on the last few days mainly because I was astonished by the proportions the protests had taken and oddly surprised by the heterogeneous crowds that has taken the streets, and at the same time I was here in the US, a mere observer.

It all began with the a protest called by the popular movement Passe Livre in São Paulo, concerned with the bus fare raise on R$ 0,20 or $0,09 cents of dollar, and the imminent possibility that trains and subways fares might be raised too. Some articles argued that poor people would have to struggle to make ends meet, and probably would end up skipping meals in order to be able to go to work. What some people don’t understand is: São Paulo is a big, crowded, unplanned city with serious traffic issues. It can take hours to drive 6 miles during peak times, even more time if you are on a bus. One day a week, depending on which is the last number on your license plate, your car is not allowed on the streets from 7am to 10am and  5pm to 8pm, and that still doesn’t help much.

The movement was trying to problematize the raise of the fare considering, also, the quality of the service provided. Public transportation in São Paulo is one of the most expensive in the world and yet the population sees nothing but crowded, uncomfortable, slow, and almost inefficient buses, trains and subways. In  2010, 37 million people didn’t had access to public transportation because they couldn’t afford it, according to the movement this figures would only go higher.

images brasilwiki

What happened after the first, second and third protests were, to say the very least, unexpected. Police brutality against the protesters, the population, photographers and journalists, even the one’s covering the event, started to change the public reaction. While mainstream media was talking about protesters as bums, vandals and criminals, public opinion began to shift. Photos, videos, comments shared on facebook brought new light into the discussion, people started debating online what was happening in the protests. When mainstream journalists were arrested for carrying vinegar on their backpacks, something they would use to diminish effects of the gas bombs police was throwing on the protesters, and even shot with rubber bullets, my timeline filled with more and more videos. Now, mainstream media was shifting too, aligning themselves with protesters.

The first and second protests were brutal, but the third one started everything. After June 11th, every person I know, not only the journalists, were talking about bus fare, protests and police violence. Everybody expressed a deep dissatisfaction towards the government and how it handled the protests, and the catch phrase “it is not about 20 cents” started to spread. It involved civil rights, a bigger cause, and its relation to people’s mobility all over the city. I started to read about other cities and what they were also doing. Some of sort of organization came arose from social networks, and we could see it online, live. Belo Horizonte, Porto Alegre, Rio de Janeiro, Brasília, Fortaleza, and many others places were having protests too. Hackers started to get into governmental websites and spread the word on the protests.

In São Paulo, people started saying they would show up at the next protest, on a thursday, and even more people took the streets yesterday night. Even conservatives were calling people to participate, because “it is not about 20 cents”, it was about corruption, all the resources invested in the World Cup that we would never get back, the stadiums that we built and we would never use again after 2014, the politicians salaries and its discrepancy in relation to a normal citizen’s paycheck. It became a protest about education, health, public transportation and more.

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The fairest account I’ve seen said 250 thousand gathered all over the city, although some biased newspapers said it were only 60 thousand and the police claims it were 30 . I saw beautiful pictures and displays of communion, kindness and strength. I saw signs of hope, flashes of dreams and utopias. It was bigger, louder and more colorful than anything I have ever seen or imagined to see in Brazil. And, I must say, I saw it online, from the US. I tried to accompany the march and keep up with everything that was happening in every city of Brazil, but it was an insane task. I saw Rio’s congregation of 100 thousand ending in much more violence than the protests in São Paulo. It was historic, and you could see how excited people were online. It was so new, such a strong statement: the giant awakens.

Yesterday night, after coming home, a few protesters started to express their deep concern with what could happen. A pandora box appeared to be opened, and different sectors were using the protest to discuss their own agendas. A petition for the impeachment of Dilma Roussef, Brazilian president, started to appear on my timeline, something that wasn’t even part of the original cause. People that marched on the protest organized by the Passe Livre was now claiming the movement didn’t represent them, especially after some of its representatives were interviewed in public tv saying that they were fighting for 20 cents, but their main cause was always free public transportation, a decent service provided by the government. The lack of organization was palpable. Dissonant voices appeared everywhere, and politicly active journalists are now concerned with how the conservative majority will spin it around to yet another regression.

Now that we have learned we can take the streets and make ourselves be heard, let’s use our voices for the right causes. It is time to be coherent and protest for the causes you believe in, being aware which flags are walking with you and which organizations are organizing the protest you choose to be in. Don’t give politicians, newspapers and media stations the opportunity to dismantle or discredit a fight for a good cause such as the bus fare and public transportation just because we need to fight for other things as well. Social transformation won’t come in a day, after one pacific protest. Many more protests will come, hopefully.

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