When protests first started in Brazil a week ago, the first response by the police and army was to fire rubber bullets and tear gas. Arrests were made. Journalists were shot at.
But what a difference a day makes.
Monday night saw over 200,000 Brazilians in Rio, São Paulo, Brasilia and other smaller cities, rise up and resist the repression they faced last week. Over 200,000 citizens, standing together, willing to take the bullets and make their voices heard.
And this time there were no rubber bullets, no tear gas.
Protests were allowed to carry on in the city centres without violence and abuse by authorities. It was a momentous occasion in a country that does not have the best track record in dealing with popular uprisings peacefully. There were minor incidences of vandalism and violence, but they only detracted from the power of a vast majority, marching peacefully.
Though the original R$0.20 bus fare price hike has not been forgotten, the manifestations have taken a much broader scope. As one particular national newspaper succinctly put it: Brazilians are protesting everything.
Like a sleeping giant, snapping awake from its slumber, the Brazilian population are raising their voices against everything they are unsatisfied about. The common thread, of course, is the sense of injustice.
Brazil has an extremely high tax regime, the average citizen pays similar tax to European countries, but the level of services Brazilians have access to is way more limited. The government has pledged to invest R$1.9bn in public health before 2014; but the federal government collected R$1trn in taxes in 2012 and will likely collect the same agin this year. That is a smaller than one percent investment in public healthcare.
Indignation is compounded when investments in the upcoming World Cup and Olympic Games are taken into account. It has been widely reported that the 2014 World Cup cost in excess of $30bn, more than the previous three World Cups combined. Not to mention that China (2008 Olympics) and South Africa (2010 World Cup) have been stuck with a number of unusable sports facilities, unfit for any other purpose beyond mega-events, and huge bill, to boot.
Brazil has also struggled with endemic corruption. The president of the aupreme court, Joaquim Barbosa, and the man who achieved convictions for a gang of powerful corrupt politicians associated with former president Lula (some of which are still in office, despite their jail sentences), recently declared: "Brazil is the only case of a democracy in the world where those convicted for corruption legislate against those that convicted them. We are the only democracy where decisions made by he Supreme Court may be changed by convicts. We are the only democracy in which parliamentarians take up political positions and confront the judiciary. We are the only country in the world where where those convicted make their habeas corpus or legislate to change the law and free themselves."
The proposal of the constitutional amendment number 37 (PEC 37) is a recurring cause for complaint among protesters. If approved it will in affect limit the powers of the Public Ministry to investigate corruption and abuse. On Thursday, 20 June, more demonstrations are scheduled, this time to protest against the chronic misadministration of the state by an unfit government, elected in a flawed system, into a corrupt one.
Not to mention lacking funds for public education.
Not to mention the lack of investment in public transport.
Not to mention the rising cost of living.
Not to mention the R$0.20 rise in bus fare. (Though mayors of many major cities are now falling over themselves to reverse the increase.)
There is plenty to complain about in Brazil. And the protests are certainly drawing attention from the top to the dissatisfaction of those at the bottom. The challenge that those involved in the protests will face now will be to convert this positive movement of public mobilisation and to convert it into significant change. With so much to complain about there is the risk of the uprisings losing focus.
Protesters who attended the Rio and São Paulo demonstrations described a positive atmosphere of solidarity. People were not divided by party of political affiliations, but stood together. Everyone I spoke to used the word 'beautiful'. And it was.
Now we must seize this miracle of public mobilisation and move forward to enact real change. This is a just the start for those wanting to change Brazil.
Photographs used with permission from Emilia Zin
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