Sam Hagan, Observations on the Brazil Protests, Part One
Passe Livre Movimento - The Bus Ride to a Popular Revolt
Posted: August 9, 2013
Editor's note: Part two of this ongoing series can be found under the Features section.
Beginning with the protest that started in São Paulo on June 18, 2013, the people of Brazil have been making plenty of noise that has nothing to do with soccer or samba. The protestors filled the streets like never before. For many it was a chance to peacefully demonstrate their frustration with the system. For a much smaller number it afforded an opportunity for violence and looting. But for all of Brazil, it sparked a fire.
Organized by the Passe Livre Movimento (Free Fare Movement), this massive protest began as a show of opposition to a proposed bus fare increase. However, since that Tuesday, a popular revolt against the greatest wrongs in Brazilian society has been awakened by a seemingly mild bus fare increase, and is taking aim at corruption, police brutality, and a public education and healthcare system in shambles despite lavish. As protestors have chanted in São Paulo, and now in other cities like Rio de Janeiro, Recife, and many other cities, "The people are awake..."
To understand the deep polemic roots and public dissatisfaction that led to a movement that has been likened to the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street, it is important to look at the international perception that existed before these protests: we thought Brazil was winning! Not only were they selected as host for the upcoming World Cup and Summer Olympiad, in 2010, Brazil was one of the first countries to rise out of the 2008 global economic crisis. They even have a lower unemployment rate than the US.
So were we wrong? Is Brazil not the paradise that we believe it to be? In many ways, yes.
A highly unequal level of income distribution and reemergence of high inflation vex the poor and the very poor of brazil today. While unemployment is low, so is the minimum wage, and taxes in Brazil have never been higher, especially with its recent public expenditures on stadiums and facilities for its two largest upcoming events.
Also, even after the end of the military dictatorship, corruption and scandal have not been strangers to the Federative Republic of Brazil. Just recently, the Federal Court, the highest judicial power of the nation, condemned party officials of the Worker's Party, which has been the majority party in power for the last decade, for a massive money for votes scandal known as "Mensalão." Bare in mind that while this is a step in the right, ethical direction, none of the people involved and convicted have yet served any prison sentence.
It's important to look past the profile one usually expects when they think of Brazil; Soccer Crazy, Devout Catholics, living the life in paradise. Although it is safe to say that brazilians nearly unanimously adore soccer and have been attended mass now and again, they are far from paradise, despite the deceiving view of pristine beaches and lush jungles. The government levies one of the highest tax rates in the world, which those who attended these protests view as only going towards extravagant stadiums no one needs and lining political wallets, leaving the people with inferior infrastructure, shoddy schools, and a poor public healthcare system.