200,000 Take To Brazil's Streets In Largest Protest In Two Decades
It started off a simple protest in Sao Paulo as a demonstration by students against an increase in bus fares from R$3 to R$3.20, and then quickly morphed into general demonstration of discontent with the nation’s political classes on both sides of the spectrum involving over 200,000 across the country, with those marching on Monday holding placards decrying everything from the enormous sums spent on the World Cup to the treatment by police of protesters last week. It got to the point where protesters invaded and occupied, peacefully, the roof of the national Congress complex in Brasilia. Then things turned less peaceful when a breakaway group from the main rally in Rio de Janeiro attacked the state legislative assembly building and attempted to set it on fire.
As many as 200,000 demonstrators marched through the streets of Brazil's biggest cities on Monday in a swelling wave of protest tapping into widespread anger at poor public services, police violence and government corruption.
The marches, organized mostly through snowballing social media campaigns, blocked streets and halted traffic in more than a half-dozen cities, including Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte and Brasilia, where demonstrators climbed onto the roof of Brazil's Congress building and then stormed it.
Monday's demonstrations were the latest in a flurry of protests in the past two weeks that have added to growing unease over Brazil's sluggish economy, high inflation and a spurt in violent crime.
While most of the protests unfolded as a festive display of dissent, some demonstrators in Rio threw rocks at police, set fire to a parked car and vandalized the state assembly building. Vandals also destroyed property in the southern city of Porto Alegre.
Around the country, protesters waved Brazilian flags, dancing and chanting slogans such as "The people have awakened" and "Pardon the inconvenience, Brazil is changing."
The epicenter of Monday's march shifted from Sao Paulo, where some 65,000 people took to the streets late in the afternoon, to Rio. There, as protesters gathered throughout the evening, crowds ballooned to 100,000 people, local police said. At least 20,000 more gathered in Belo Horizonte.
The demonstrations are the first time that Brazilians, since a recent decade of steady economic growth, are collectively questioning the status quo.
Bloomberg added a geopolitical and economic twist to events:
Francisco Soares, a 32-year-old Brasilia electrician, felt good about life two years ago when he started commuting in his first car, blasting the music and passing packed buses. Since then, bills started piling up, the cost of living jumped and last week he had to sell his wheels.
After a decade that saw 40 million people rise from poverty, Brazil’s middle class finds itself squeezed by faster inflation, rising debt and a weaker currency. Consumers are spending less at supermarkets and hairdressers as the classic weekend event, a prime cut barbecue, becomes a stretch for some. Continuing a wave of protests sparked by an increase in bus fares, demonstrators surrounded Congress in Brasilia yesterday and set a car on fire in Rio de Janeiro as tens of thousands marched in major cities.
The emerging middle class was the engine of economic growth and made the developing nation one of the world’s top five markets for cars and mobile phones. It also helped the Workers’ Party win its third straight presidential election in 2010. Now, as the dream of a new car and a trip to Disney World fades for some, so does support for President Dilma Rousseff, who was jeered at a packed soccer stadium on June 15. Asked whether he would vote for her again, as he did in 2010, Soares said: “No way.”
“The golden days are over, the feel-good factor is lost,” said Renato Fragelli, economics professor at the Fundacao Getulio Vargas, a business think tank in Rio de Janeiro. “It’s not that the middle class is disappearing but there’s been a setback, people feel they’re getting less for their money.”
Is Brazil be returning to a time of political instability driven by a relapse in the wealth effect:
After Latin America’s biggest economy expanded less than economists forecast for the past five quarters and inflation accelerated, the approval rating of Rousseff’s government fell eight percentage points in June from March, the first drop since she took office in January 2011, according to a Datafolha opinion survey published June 9. The poll interviewed 3,758 people June 6-7 and had a margin of error of plus or minus two percentage points.
Still, at 57 percent, Rousseff’s government support is 10 percentage points higher than in March 2011, according to Datafolha. The 65-year-old Rousseff remains the favorite to win the October 2014 presidential race, commanding 49 percent of voter intention, according to Datafolha. Marina Silva, a former environment minister who finished third in the 2010 presidential race, ranked second with 14 percent, while Aecio Neves, the candidate of the main opposition party, ranked third with 12 percent of voter intention.
And without the marginal pull from China, whose growth trajectory is now aggressively tapering, which in turn is wreaking havoc on emerging markets (one look at their stock market performance YTD should explain it), are photos such as the ones below from Brazil overnight set to become a daily staple, and to be added to the roster of civilian disobedience from such developed world countries as Greece and Turkey.
Photos: Reuters, AFP