Brazilian Spring? Transport, World Cup cost protests gather momentum

June 18th, 2013

Protestors occupy the rooftops of Congress in Brasilia. Photos: Agencia Brasil

A wave of protests sweeping across Brazil over increased transport fares and the cost of the Confederations Cup and next year’s World Cup tournaments has reached the rooftops of Congress in the capital Brasilia.

On Monday, police reportedly fired tear gas as they tried to disperse protestors in the south east city of Belo Horizonte. Demonstrations also took place in Brasilia, Rio de Janeiro and Belem.

While police pledged to refrain from using tear gas and rubber bullets in a protest involving a reported 65,000 people in São Paulo, unless property was being threatened, social media sites have been full of images and cartoons critical of their use by police in previous demonstrations.

Some images have even depicted calls for a general strike.

Though football is close to a religion in Brazil - a country that has won the World Cup five times - many people are unhappy that billions of dollars have been spent on building or modernising new stadiums, while swathes of the population go without infrastructure, access to medical treatment or basic sanitation.

Protestors express their anger in English in Brasilia

Protestors express their anger in English.

One municipality close to Belem in northern Brazil saw a record 1,210 admissions per 100,000 people for diarrhea in 2012,  figures from an NGO that monitors basic sanitation in Brazil show. It compares with a low of 1.4 cases per 100,000 people in Taubaté, São Paulo state a year earlier.

For some people the fare increases appear to be the last straw.

One taxi driver in Salvador, northeast Brazil previously took me by surprise, saying that he wouldn’t go to matches at next year’s World Cup even if he were able to get tickets in disgust at the amount of money that should be used to help the public being diverted to fund the tournament.

Though previously said quietly by people through gritted teeth it’s an attitude that now appears to be being expressed more openly and vociferously. Protesters are just as angry about grinding inequality and rampant corruption among officials.

Judges and politicians frequently vote to award themselves enormous pay increases on top of salaries already beyond the wildest dreams of most poor and even well-paid middle class people in Brazil.

At the weekend, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and FIFA boss Sepp Blatter were both booed by the crowd at the Mané Garrincha stadium in Brasilia as they declared the dress rehearsal tournament for next year’s World Cup open.

A protestor is dragged away in Brasilia

On Monday, President Dilma, who herself was imprisoned and tortured during Brazil’s dictatorship, said peaceful protest is a legitimate part of democracy.

Demonstrations started last week after the price of a single journey ticket in São Paulo was increased on June 2 from R$3 ($1.38) to R$3.20 ($1.47).

The protests, which turned violent, started to take in the cost of the Confederations Cup currently taking place in Brazil and the World Cup tournament, which kicks off in just under a year from now.

A number of journalists were among those injured. Earlier pictures showed one young woman reporter, after being hit around the eye by a rubber bullet and another a TV cameraman being sprayed with police pepper gas.

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