While the world’s attention is focused on protests in Turkey and Syria’s civil war, a growing wave of nationwide protests in Brazil has been met by a violent police crackdown.
For the better part of the past two weeks, Brazilians have taken to the streets to display their discontent and despair over a host of social, economic and political ills. It all started in the nation’s two largest cities, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, where residents angry about a 10-cent bus and subway fare increase turned out in the thousands to voice their indignation.
The Rio Times reports that 20,000 people demonstrated in São Paulo and as many as 10,000 took to Rio’s streets for Thursday’s protests.
“O Rio pra quem?–” Rio for who? That was the question many of the protesters wanted answered. Many Cariocas, as residents of the famous seaside city are called, believe the government’s priorities are seriously flawed, with tourism development, promotion of the city’s international image and enriching connected business interests taking precedent over serving the needs of the people of a nation in which tens of millions live in poverty while a tiny elite enjoy stupendous– and growing– wealth.
ABC News reports that the protests quickly spread from the nation’s two largest cities to towns and cities across the country, from Natal in the north to Florianópolis and Porto Alegre in the south.
In Brasília, the capital, as many as 1,000 demonstrators rallied and marched against what they see as the government’s lavish spending on staging next year’s FIFA World Cup. The Brasília protest took place outside the Estádio Nacional Mané Garrincha, which was hosting a Confederations Cup match between Brazil and Japan. Holding placards with slogans like “We don’t need the World Cup” and “We need money for hospitals and education,” the protesters were met by riot police who fired rubber-coated steel bullets and chemical agents at them.
The police response to the protests in Rio and São Paulo were reportedly more violent. Rubber-coated steel bullets and chemical weapons such as pepper spray and tear gas were used against protesters. Hundreds were arrested. Many were injured, including journalists covering the events. In some places, police fired ‘less lethal’ projectiles and chemical agents at journalists who clearly identified themselves as such. Multiple journalists were shot in their eyes. Photographs and videos of journalists during and after police attacks were posted on the microblogging site Tumblr.
João Cardozo, Brazil’s defense minister, condemned the “arbitrary and violent” police crackdown, ABC News reports.
Despite the presence of troublemaking elements, the majority of the protesters have been overwhelmingly peaceful. University students, progressive politicians and their supporters, and Brazilians from many walks of life frustrated by continuing social, economic and political problems– including corruption, crime and rising living costs– have joined the demonstrations. A group calling itself the Free Fare Movement has been at the forefront of the protests, but observers claim that the public transport fare increase is but the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
“The problem has never been the increase of 10 cents at the turnstiles,” Correio do Brasil editor Gilberto de Souza told ABC News. “The issue is more serious.”
Although the Brazilian government, led for the past decade by leftists Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and, since 2011 by the former Marxist guerrilla Dilma Rousseff, has made great strides against poverty, inequality and corruption remain endemic in the nation of 197 million. Lately, the economy has been in the midst of a mini-crisis, with rising inflation and rising costs of basic services taking a heavy toll on the poor in a country where the minimum wage is a paltry R$675 ($314) a month.
RT reports that solidarity demonstrations in support of the Brazilian protests are planned throughout the world. Rallies are planned in Dublin, Paris, Madrid, London, Berlin, Brussels, Boston, Chicago, New York, Toronto, Montréal, Mexico City and Buenos Aires.
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