We Need to Talk About Brazil
Posted: 18/06/2013 00:00
Brazilian journalist, writer and activist
Last week the governments of Rio and São Paulo, Brazil's two biggest cities raised the cost of the bus fare by R$0.20 (£0.06). It might sound like a negligible amount of money, but it was enough to trigger the biggest public uprisings the country has seen in over two decades.
Of course the fare rise is merely the straw the broke the camel's back. The last drop that made the cup run over. Insert favoured cliché here.
Brazilians have been portrayed internationally as laid back and fun-loving, perpetually inebriated by a cocktail of sunshine, cold beer and football. And while we might be happy to go along with the stereotype for the most part, there comes a time when we need to challenge the shackles holding us back.
Brazil might be the world's sixth biggest economy but it is also a chronically corrupt and bureaucratic giant state. Decisions made at the top, hardly impact favourably those at the bottom. The country is plagued by endemic social inequality.
Billions of dollars have been spent on preparing for next year's World Cup, R$27bn according to the federal government. Projects are already vastly over-budget and we are a year away. Meanwhile Brazil continues to invest below the OECD average in education. Public health expenditure is even lower.
Rio de Janeiro might be portrayed abroad as this hedonistic paradise of sunshine and beauty, but it is a city divided. It already consistently ranks amongst the most expensive cities in the world, while minimum wage remains low - R$678 (£200). São Paulo, the country's financial centre is even worse. It is home to the highest concentration of private jets in the world, but the lower and middle classes have no access to decent schools and hospitals. At least in Rio we have the beach; in São Paulo, leisure for the poor is but a dream. The R$0.20 increase is significant because once again the financial burden is being shoved into the pockets of the poor. Rich people in Brazil have cars, big expensive imported cars.
When residents of the two cities took to the streets last week bearing placards and chanting slogans demanding answers, regional police responded by firing rubber bullets and tear gas. Many were arrested, included a reporter found to be carrying vinegar, a supposed antidote to tear gas. Another reporter was shot in the eye by a rubber bullet; he is thought to have lost his sight. Protests are on-going, with more manifestations planned for Monday evening; it is thought that 40 thousand people will take to the streets in Rio and many more in São Paulo.
The protests coincided with the opening ceremony of the Confederations Cup, the first of a series of pre-World Cup events the country will host before the big shebang next July. Protesters surrounded the Mané Garrincha stadium in the capital, Brasilia, before the opening game and demanded a fair return for their years of investment in the big showy stadiums. While ticket-holders booed the president Dilma Roussef inside, the police shot at protestors outside with rubber bullets and tear gas. A reporter for BBC Brasil told of a Japanese family there to attend the game being forced to run from a shower of tear gas, that the police was throwing indiscriminately at protesters and tourists alike.
Despite this unprecedented level of violence, media coverage has been patchy to say the least. Globo, the biggest national media conglomerate has been very reserved on the topic and there are reports of radio stations being force to shut down their coverage of the manifestations. As in any recent popular uprising around the world in recent years, the bulk of the communication has been carried out online on Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr.
The international media has also been peculiarly disinterested on the subject, even if coverage of the protests in Turkey, similar in nature to Brazil's, has been extensive and detailed. Spain's El Pais suggested the Brazilian protests have left the international community perplexed, as the country is consistently painted as a model for growth and development; Brazilians have nothing to complain about.
El Pais has unwittingly hit the nail right on the head. The popular uprisings in the country come from a deep sense of frustration of a population consistently misrepresented.
Follow Rita Lobo on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/SomeLikeItRita
Published on Huffington Post today
(Rita Lobo: We Need to Talk About Brazil)