In the Picture: Brazil’s ‘bus fare’ protests

A demonstrator holds a Brazilian flag in front of a burning barricade during a protest in Rio de Janeiro on Monday

The protests sweeping Brazil began in São Paulo, the country’s commerical capital, last week as a demonstration by students against an increase in bus fares from R$3 to R$3.20 ($1.47) per journey. They have swelled into an outpouring of popular discontent over everything from the billions of dollars the 2014 football World Cup will cost the taxpayer to the police’s heavy-handed reaction to last week’s protests. Commentators say they are probably the country’s largest since the end of the 1964-1985 dictatorship.

Here’s a reading list to help assess whether they are likely to escalate further or fizzle.

  • The FT’s Brazil correspondent Joseph Leahy writes there’s widespread belief the anger “reflects the rise of a larger, richer and more sophisticated middle class, which in turn is demanding better public services, lower prices and cleaner politicians”.
  • Vincent Bevins in the LA Times reaches a similar conclusion, arguing that the anger “has to do as much with economic growth in the last decade as it does with stagnation in the last year”. “Sociologists have argued that the new ‘middle class,’ long excluded from economic or political participation, have been becoming consumers over the last decade, and that a realisation of consumer rights may lead to demanding their full rights as citizens.”
  • The protesters’ disparate demands are illustrated in this graphic showing the myriad hashtags they are using on Twitter.
  • Helping the protests gain international attention is the fact they’re coinciding with the Confederations Cup, an international football tournament that Brazil is using as a rehearsal for next year’s World Cup. Sports writers cannot ignore what’s happening outside the stadiums: Greg Stobart and Kris Voakes, writing for www.goal.com quote Raquel Rolink, a UN special rapporteur for adequate housing, when discussing the trampled rights of many of the 170,000 people likely to be evicted from their homes to build facilities for the tournament and the 2016 Olympics.
  • Roger Blitz argues in the FT that part of the football-related anger is because Fifa, world football’s governing body, “has never been unduly troubled about how much stadium work costs host countries, nor what happens to them beyond the World Cup, only that the venues are ready on time”.
  • Jonathan Watts in the Guardian wrote that even before the protests, public opinion in Brazil was sharply divided over whether the cost of the infrastructure to host the two sporting mega-events was worth it. He has also reported on the People’s Cup, a football tournament coinciding with the Confederations Cup that is being staged in Rio de Janeiro by community groups ” who feel the 2014 finals and 2016 Olympics are being used to push them further down the social lower divisions.”
  • Kenneth Rapoza wrote for Forbes.com – admittedly before Monday’s protests – that the demonstrations are unlikely to morph into a “Brazilian Spring”. But he’s still keeping at least one buttock on the fence. Why? “Brazilians see what’s happened in north Africa and now Turkey. They get it. They know they have reason to gripe. They see that something can be done, even in dictatorial countries like Egypt, and that there is popular, global support for those actions. So in one sense, Brazilians think it is their turn.”
  • Dilma Rousseff, the Brazilian president, was booed at the opening game of the Confederations Cup on Saturday But the fact that the protesters’ targets are so varied is helping reduce the number of brickbats aimed at her, argues Mac Margolis in the Daily Beast. However he concludes that her handlers will still be “watching closely” since she is up for re-election next year.
  • Rachel Glickhouse blogs for the Christian Science Monitor that even if they don’t achieve anything else: “The one thing the protests are accomplishing in the short term is starting a dialogue. It’s not only in the traditional media and on social media, but it’s also getting people talking – even strangers on the bus, said a friend in Rio.
  • Many commentators initially dismissed the protests as the unjustified grumbles of left-wing students. But as the demonstrations have escalated, some have changed their mind. Folha de São Paulo,a newspaper, on Thursday published an editorial opposed to the protests but radically changed its coverage after witnessing scenes of police action, in which seven of its reporters were injured. Arnaldo Jabor, a film director and columnist, has confessed that he “messed up” and that the protests are about “much more” than a bus fare price rise.
  • And in a video that has been viewed more than half a million times on YouTube and attracted almost 4,000 comments, Carla Dauden, a Brazilian living in the US, explains why she’s not going to the 2014 World Cup.