How the Collapse of Good Urban Transport Sparked Brazil's Rebellion
Protesters take to the streets in Brazil.
Photo Credit: Agencia Brasil/Wikimedia Commons
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A group of young people touched a nerve in Brazil’s large cities, triggering an outpouring of urban outrage at the deterioration of transportation conditions and of the quality of life.
This is one possible interpretation of the torrent of protests on Thursday Jun. 20, involving close to a million demonstrators in a hundred cities, including Brasilia and nearly all the 26 state capitals. Bus fare increases announced in early June detonated a rebellion by young people, mostly students, which spread to wide sectors of society.
The unrest that has shaken the nation continued all last week and over the weekend to Monday Jun. 24, the day leftwing President Dilma Rousseff planned to meet with delegates of the movement that started the demonstrations. Protest organisers and social media are calling for a general strike on Jul. 1.
The often poor quality of public transport passenger services epitomises what the protesters see as a lack of respect by those responsible for public services for the rights and dignity of Brazilians, who must pay disproportionately high prices for them.
Mario Miranda Gouveia retired at age 61 because he could no longer stand the four to six hour daily commute by bus to cover barely 50 kilometres from Campo Grande, the neighbourhood on the west side of Rio de Janeiro where he has lived for the past 15 years, to his job in the city centre.
Although he wanted to carry on as a mid-level official at the state foundation for fomenting scientific research, Gouveia packed it in two months ago. “It was terrible, I would leave at six in the morning and sometimes I only arrived (at the office) at half past nine,” he said. Added to the length of the journey was the discomfort of travelling standing up, sometimes in buses whose seats had been destroyed by vandals.
Mauriceia de Sousa Silva, a young physiotherapist, sometimes arrives home in tears after two hours on a crowded bus travelling from Ipanema to Tijuca, two residential neighbourhoods in Rio 15 kilometres apart.
A fortnight ago, no one could have predicted that such a specific grievance would trigger spontaneous protests that have spread like wildfire from the south to the north of the country, with demands diversifying from more spending on health and education, the decriminalisation of marihuana, rejection of corruption and protests over the immense costs of preparing for international sports events.
Comparisons were instantly made with the wave of popular uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa known as the Arab Spring, with the “Indignados” movement in Spain and with the protests raging in Turkey since May 28. But the situation in Brazil is very different to the reality of these other countries.
Brazil is a strong democracy, and there is no economic or political crisis. But there are urban problems. Unemployment is only 5.8 percent, in spite of weakened growth, and President Rousseff still enjoys high popularity, although it is declining.
It all began with four marches convened on Jun. 6 by the Movimento Passe Livre (MPL – Free Fare Movement) in São Paulo, four days after the announcement of a bus fare hike from 3.00 to 3.20 reals (1.40 to 1.50 dollars). A few thousand people took part.
Although smaller demonstrations were held in three other state capitals, the epicentre of the protests was São Paulo, where a police crackdown on Thursday Jun. 13 left dozens of protesters, and some journalists, injured by rubber bullets.
The violent clashes contributed to the proliferation of the protests, now driven by solidarity and the defence of the right to peaceful demonstration.