The Brazilian protests: no longer just a commuter movement

Brazil’s President, Dilma Rousseff, and key government ministers are due to hold an emergency meeting later today, following large scale protests across the nation.

The protests, estimated to be the largest Brazil has seen for over two decades, were sparked last week by opposition to rising bus and metro fares, but they have rapidly gained momentum to encompass a range of issues; from opposition to high rates of government taxation to perceived large scale corruption and the poor performance of public services.

A vast crowd – official estimates put it at 300,000 while participants claim over one million – filled Rio de Janeiro yesterday. Simultaneous demonstrations were reported in at least eighty cities, with a total estimated turnout of around two million. An estimated 110,000 marched in São Paulo, 80,000 in Manaus, 50,000 in Recife and 20,000 in Belo Horizonte and Salvador. Clashes were reported as far away as the Amazonian jungle city of Belem and Porto Alegre in the south of the country.

The vast majority of protesters were peaceful. Many wore Guy Fawkes masks aping the global “Occupy” movement. Others donned red noses to symbolise that they, according to one protester, where “tired of being treated like clowns by our own government.”

The profile of the average protester is also unusually uniform. According to a Datafolha poll on the 18th of June, 53% of protesters polled in São Paulo are aged under 25. Moreover, 71% are first time protesters and 77% are educated at, or beyond, BA level.  “There are no politicians who speak for us,” said Jamaime Schmitt, a young engineer. “This is not just about bus fares any more. We pay high taxes and we are a rich country, but we can’t see this in our schools, hospitals and roads.” Indeed, for the most part, the São Paulo crowd reflected Jamaime. They were largely urban, young and middle class.

Matheus Bizarria, an employee of the NGO “Action Aid”, said people had reached the limit of their tolerance about longstanding problems that the Confederations Cup and World Cup have brought into focus. According to Matheus, young people are angry that billions of reals have been spent on new stadiums rather than public services. Rio is also due to host a papal visit to World Youth Day next month, and the Olympics in 2016. “It’s totally connected to the mega-events,” Matheus said. “People have had enough, but last year only 100 people marched against a bus price rise. There were 1,000 last week and 100,000 on Monday. Now we hope for a million.”

Indeed, it would seem that the priorities of the protest movement have changed. Sao Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad, announced that the plans to raise bus and metro fares had been dropped. Rio, Cuiaba, Recife and Joao Pessoa have all announced similar plans. Although this move had been welcomed by many, it has so far failed to quell the ever increasing protests.

Sources include BBC and The Guardian

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