Edited by Mable Ivory
Six months ago, if someone were to ask any Brazilian about the possibility of a massive protest happening in 100 cities in Brazil, the idea would most certainly have been met with laughter.
After all, the country—set to host two major sporting events in the coming years and profiled internationally because of its economic growth—has not seen mass demonstrations on its streets since the 1990s, when citizens forced the impeachment of then-President Fernando Collor. President Dilma Rousseff, already prepared for her re-election campaign in 2014, certainly didn’t expect these demonstrations.
However, Brazil has reached a turning point. The 20 centavos increase in bus fare in São Paulo was the catalyst for a series of demonstrations that soon spread throughout the nation—a clear indication that Brazil’s economic boom has not reached all the people and that citizens feel that they deserve more from their government. The demonstrations reached a climax on June 20, with more than 1 million people protesting in all of Brazil’s major cities.
Thus far, analysts, journalists and even activists are trying to define the nature of these protests, their true agenda and how long they will continue. There are still many undecided factors. However, several things remain clear: the so called “Brazilian Autumn” is a movement that has its main base in social media and it is a movement of mostly young and middle-class people, with a broad agenda. However, many Afro-Brazilians and working poor people are also joining the protests because their economic situation is even worse.
Unlike the Arab Spring and protests in Turkey, which have a very specific agenda, the protests in Brazil encompass many issues—a risk for their long-term sustainability—much like the Occupy Movement.
But one factor unites all the Brazilian protesters—the international media focus on Brazil. With the global media fixated on Brazil due to the upcoming 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics, Brazilians are seizing the opportunity to denounce inequality and the government’s inability to provide basic services to the population as it builds stadiums and hotels for the international community. Protesters are also targeting corruption and police violence, and calling for improved public transportation and infrastructure.
Protests in Salvador, Bahia (in Portuguese):
Due to the complexity of the problems and the broad list of demands, the government is concerned that it cannot pinpoint and effectively address the desires of the protesters.
Leftist groups are also concerned because of the growing infiltration of the protests by right-wing extremist groups that want to impeach President Rousseff and even revert back to a military regime. In their view, the progressive agenda of these rallies could be at risk if more conservative groups take control of the popular discourse.
On June 24, President Rousseff had a meeting with all the state governors and announced a series of actions aimed at placating the demonstrators. In her speech, which divided public opinion, Dilma announced five agreements: a fiscal pact for the protection of public funds; a plebiscite for the creation of a constitutional assembly to initiate political reform; the allocation of 100 percent of state oil royalties for education; improvement in the health care system with the arrival of doctors from overseas; and a plan for improved urban transport. Despite being very progressive agendas, protests have not abated. Instead, there is a pent-up demand for much larger social change and accountability on the part of the government.
*Paulo Rogério is the co-founder of Instituto Mídia Étnica in Salvador, Brazil. His Twitter account is @PauloRogerio81.