Thursday, June 20, 2013
CHANGE BRAZIL III
Protests continue to gain impulse in Brazil. Sources in the Brazilian media estimate that over a million people took part in demonstrations take took place in 80 Brazilian city. Although the government of some cities--Rio and Sao Paulo, for example--agreed to forego the increase in bus and boat fares, the gesture was too little too late, especially in view of many reasons that prompted Brazilians to take to the streets. Today, these reasons-- against corruption, excessive expenditures for World Cup facilities, police brutality, the proposed PEC37 law, high crime, an infrastructure that has not kept pace with population growth, coalesced into a single cause, quality of life.
As popular dissatisfaction with the status quo finds expression in marches that were initially pacific, police violence increases with shock troops of the Military Police firing rubber bullets, detonation tear gas canisters and flash-bang bombs at demonstrators and members of the press. There has been an increase in vandalism. According to police reports a high percentage of vandals had a prior criminal record. Today, a popular Brazilian cartoonist implied that the movement has been infiltrated by the political Right but so far there is no hard evidence to support his claim. As it is usually the case, the Left blames the Right and vice-versa. The Vinegar Revolution--a reference to the bottles of vinegar protesters carry to neutralise the effect of tear gas--is not a cohesive movement. It rejects a central leadership and participants fear that it will be hijacked by the very political parties that caused Brazil's problems in the first place.
Amid the uproar, President Dilma Rousseff cancelled her scheduled trip to Japan. Rousseff, a protegee of former President Lula da Silva, has yet to condemn police brutality though she has said that peaceful protests are part of the democratic process. Lula voiced a similar sentiment, but members of the presidential Cabinet insist that the demonstrations took them by surprise.That seems to indicate a major disconnect between Brasilia and the masses. The same disconnect is evident in pronouncement by former World Cup stars Pele and Ronaldo. The former appealed to the public asking that it "forget this confusion. Let us think about the national soccer team as our country and our blood." The latter said, in response to comments about the billions of dollars spent on World Cup facilities when the entire country desperately needs more hospitals, "World Cups are not held in hospitals." This so enrage protesters they made a poster featuring photos of both footballers under the caption, "Once they were heroes."
According to the latest news, 300 thousand people gathered in downtown Rio where protesters invaded the National Congress. Figures on gatherings across the country are not yet in. I will update as they become available. My take is this, things are going to get worse before they get better. The dollar is up--2,22 to the Real and the effect this will have on inflation will not make life easier for Brazilians. It is possible that the Vinegar Revolution will fizzle as the Occupy movement in the USA did. It is a movement fueled by social media, it has no leaders to negotiate with the government--it does not wish to negotiate with the government--and it has no system in place to keep out infiltrators. Repression by the police will be a factor to consider. There are rumors that yesterday the government blocked cell phone signals in Fortaleza, in northeast Brazil. Cell phones and the internet are the life lines of the Vinegar Revolution. Armed with a cell phone and a laptop, the average citizen becomes an e-journalist and the last thing the Brazilian government wants right now is a global image tarnished by images and film clips of patients lying in the hallways of overcrowded hospitals, of multitudes of commuters awaiting broken down buses, and worse yet for a Leftist regime, the picture of police beating up members of the citizenry and the press.