In May, local news stations aired scenes of violent clashes between Brazil’s heavily armoured police and a handful of peaceful demonstrators who opposed the Brazilian government’s planned twenty centavo (six pence) price rise in city bus fares to 3.10 Reais (ninety pence).
At first glance, six pence may not seem much, particularly in Brazil, which ranks in the top ten largest world economies and is seen as a growing global superpower; reinforced by the awarding of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics. However, for millions of urban Brazilians, many of whom live in impoverished conditions, six pence per journey may equate to around £10 per month, potentially affecting the nutritional, health and educational needs of those most disadvantaged.
The overzealous response from the authorities to legal demonstration, which also saw numerous innocent passersby caught up in the melee, provoked widespread condemnation from the Brazilian people, who appeared to have simply had enough of, well, pretty much everything!
Cries of “VEM, VEM, VEM pra rua VEM!” (Come, Come, Come to the Streets, Come!) echoed across the country and, as if some collective consciousness had awoken the nation, millions of disgruntled Brazilians took to the streets in protest within most major urban hubs in just a matter of days.
The global media were soon to drive home the bus price hike as the underlining cause of the sudden uprising; however, this was merely the straw that had broken the Brazilian back. The revolts brought to the surface far deeper grievances. Brasileiros feel the achievement of the ‘Order and Progress’, so broadly adorned on the flag, has been hampered a great deal: corruption within the political and judicial systems, lack of universal healthcare and education, the price of petrol, gender inequality, inflation, gay rights, tax rates – and so on. One of the most prominently voiced gripes was the misuse of government finances, with Brazilians mystified over where the billions of dollars being spent to host the World Cup and Olympic Games is actually going, and whether it is the most effective use of the public purse given the problematic social situation.
As clashes between the Brazilian authorities and protesters intensified, images of disruption, violence and anarchy flashed upon Western websites and television screens. However, these clashes were often instigated by the police letting off gas bombs and spraying rubber bullets as they tried to disperse the mostly well-mannered crowds. The reop witnessed such scenes first-hand as I accompanied some Brazilian friends to one of the largest demos in Rio. After being forced to retreat from tear gas, we sought refuge in a popular nightspot littered with bars and restaurants. As we sat, recounting the night’s events, the military police arrived, firing further gas bombs as they marched through the streets – much to the dismay of all those present, now forced behind the locked doors of the restaurants and bars.
Two months on and the protests are yet to cease, although their magnitude seems to be slowly dwindling. The Brazilian government has responded to the political angst with a number of new reforms, including an agreement to invest all royalties raised from its expanding oil exports towards healthcare and education.
However, trust in the Brazilian political system is far from widespread. Although next year’s World Cup may appear to be a form of ‘progress’ for Brazil, it is not yet known if the country will see ‘order’ restored.