Brazil government cancels transport fare hikes

Climbdown follows large, disruptive protests across the country

Demonstrators run during clashes with riot police near the Estadio Castelao in Fortaleza this week.  Photograph: Davi Pinheiro/Reuters

Demonstrators run during clashes with riot police near the Estadio Castelao in Fortaleza this week. Photograph: Davi Pinheiro/Reuters

Fri, Jun 21, 2013, 20:13

Authorities in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro have caved in to the demands of protesters and rescinded the hikes in fares on public transport that provoked the largest outpouring of political discontent in Brazil in more than two decades.

The mayors of the country’s two biggest cities announced the climbdown on Wednesday night following similar moves in smaller state capitals, marking the biggest victory yet for the demonstrators, who used social media to organise increasingly large and disruptive marches across the country.

But it is unclear whether the moves will be enough quell the protests at which the initial anger at the fare increases morphed into general outrage at the poor state of public services, political corruption and the cost of staging next year’s soccer World Cup.

Despite the victory, organisers said a large demonstration in São Paulo planned for last night would go ahead to celebrate a “popular victory” and show support with protesters in other parts of the country.

“People organised themselves, went out into the street, didn’t bow their heads to any government, any business, any politician, just the people on their own, with their own might managed to lower the fare,” said student Caio Martins of the Free Pass Movement, the radical collective which called for the protests in São Paulo, when speaking to journalists after the about-turn was announced.

The rally in São Paulo – the epicentre of the protests – will be the third of its kind this week after two marches brought South America’s largest city to a standstill on Monday and Tuesday.

The Workers’ Party of President Dilma Rousseff and São Paulo mayor Fernando Haddad called on its militants to join the protesters, even though its leaders have been the target of marchers’ ire during previous demonstrations at which crowds chanted “no parties” when smaller left-wing groups sought to join the marches with their party banners.

President Dilma forced Mr Haddad to give into protesters’ demands lest the demonstrations gather further force and put at risk her re-election bid next year.

The Free Pass Movement criticised as “a provocation” the Workers’ Party decision to try to join the rally. Thousands of Brazilians took to social media to denounce it as a cynical manoeuvre to co-opt a nonpolitical movement which opposed the policies of the party’s mayor in the city.

It also sowed fears of clashes between supporters of the president and groups of anarchists that sought to provoke trouble on the fringes of previous demonstrations in the city. On Tuesday night anarchists attempted to storm Mayor Haddad’s office.