Brazilians take to streets over corruption and costs

Widespread anger at poor public services, corruption and police violence takes politicians by surprise

Demonstrators shout anti-government slogans behind a banner, which reads as ‘violence’, during a protest in Sao Paulo yesterday. Photograph: Reuters

Demonstrators shout anti-government slogans behind a banner, which reads as ‘violence’, during a protest in Sao Paulo yesterday. Photograph: Reuters

Tue, Jun 18, 2013, 14:39

Brazil experienced its biggest wave of protests in more than two decades as up to a quarter of a million people took to the streets of a dozen cities on Monday night in a mass outpouring of anger against the country’s political class.

Widespread public disgust at police violence during recent, smaller marches against increases in bus fares and spending on the World Cup helped transform various demonstrations organised online into Brazil’s largest since those calling for the impeachment of former president Fernando Collor de Mello in 1992.

The biggest march took place in Rio de Janeiro where 100,000 people gathered on the city’s main avenue. In São Paulo, the centre of several weeks of protests against bus fare hikes, some 65,000 people brought South America’s biggest city to a standstill.

The focus of protests varied, ranging from the cost of public transport, spending on the World Cup and spiking violence. But across the country the anger of marchers centred on political corruption in a country where, despite high taxes, public services remain precarious. In several cities marchers directed abuse at President Dilma Rousseff and leading opposition figures.


‘Degrading’
In São Paulo, first-time marcher Aline Fraga said the city’s 20 centavo (€0.07) bus fare increase was “the straw that broke the camel’s back”.

“I spend 3½ hours a day on the bus going to and from work and the service is rubbish. It is degrading. But this is about much more than 20 centavos,” said the local council worker. “People are fed up with how we are treated and feel no politician represents us. It took a long time but finally Brazil has woken up.”

The city’s police – whose indiscriminate use of rubber bullets and tear gas against marchers and journalists last week spurred the large attendance at Monday’s protest – largely vacated the streets, leading to chants of: “What a coincidence! Without the police there’s no violence”.

In the capital Brasília thousands of protesters broke through a police cordon and occupied the roof of the national congress building, where they demanded the expulsion of senate president Renan Calheiros, an ally of Ms Rousseff who faces corruption charges.


Politicians perplexed
Politicians were left scrambling for a response to the discontent. One minister said “it would be pretentious to admit we know what is happening”.

There were isolated outbreaks of violence as small groups of radicals confronted police in several cities.

The most serious incidents took place in Rio de Janeiro, where a breakaway group attacked the state assembly building trapping dozens of police inside. Officers responded by firing machine guns over the heads of the crowd and there were reports of three people injured by gunfire.

In many cities, public spending on preparations for next year’s World Cup was the target of anger. In Fortaleza there was a demonstration outside the hotel where the Brazil team was staying ahead of today’s game against Mexico in the Confederations Cup, Fifa’s dress rehearsal for next year’s tournament.

Fifa accused protesters of using the Confederations Cup to garner international attention, with president Joseph Blatter telling reporters “football is stronger than people’s dissatisfaction”.

But more protests have already been organised and there is a growing online campaign calling on foreign fans to boycott the World Cup.