I got back to Brazil last Wednesday (12th) and in the car on the way home my wife asked me if I had seen anything about the protests in Sao Paulo. I hadn’t heard a thing and to be honest I wasn’t that interested. There are always small protests going on in Brazil that never get anywhere due to aggressive policing, apathy and a general distrust of protesters.
Obviously I was wrong because these protests have continued and mushroomed so that there is barely a city in the country that hasn’t been affected. Why? What was so different about these protests?
It isn’t about 20 cents
The protests started because of a proposed raise in the bus fare of 20 centavos. While this might be a lot to somebody on minimum wage it doesn’t account for why the whole country has suddenly erupted.
It has been claimed that Facebook and Twitter have been responsible for a number of uprisings around the world. Other people have poured scorn on these claims and I wasn’t absolutely convinced. I am now totally convinced at the potential power of social media.
Brazil is a very connected society. There is a huge Brazilian population on Facebook and Twitter and whatever else you care to mention. With rising incomes we are also seeing more and more smartphones around the country. They are still nowhere near ubiquitous, but it is no longer unusual to see an iPhone or a Samsung Galaxy on the bus. Social media outlets were flooded with videos shot on phones of the behaviour of the police. The media, police and authorities were no longer controlling the message.
Everybody knew that the police could not be trusted, but now we had first hand evidence.
One of the things that galls Brazilians is the amount of money that has been spent on the FIFA World Cup. Depending on who you talk to the cost is anything between R$59 billion and R$80 billion (about $25 billion and $35 billion). This is apparently more than the last three World Cups put together. What ever way you look at it, it’s a lot of money. The authorities say that a lot of this money has also been spent on infrastructure projects like airports, roads and hotels. There have been some projects but from where I am sitting it doesn’t feel like it has been worth the money. And we still have crap schools and hospitals.
At the same time, it can be no coincidence that the demonstrations started just before the Confederations Cup. This is a dress rehearsal for the World Cup next year and has meant that a lot of the world’s media are focussed on Brazil and looking for background stories. What makes a better story than a lot of riots and protests going on?
Enough is Enough
Corruption is endemic in Brazil. One of the first words I learned when I came here was jeitinho, which basically means ‘a way to get around things’. The things that you want to get around are usually rules, laws and obstinate/incompetent officials. You want to get your bank account sorted out today without that extra document you didn’t know you needed? Talk nicely, plead or offer a little sweetener and it might be possible.
This idea runs from the bottom to the top of society. Some Brazilians are even proud of it as they think it shows an ability to think outside the box and overcome obstacles. This may be true, but it also leads to huge corruption at the top of society. For as long as I have been in Brazil there has been scandal after scandal as politicians and businessmen are shown to bo on the take. And nothing ever happens to them. And now Brazilians are finally fed up with it. They have had enough and they want something to change.
The politicians had the idea of changing things. There is a bill being debated at the moment called PEC 37 that will make it harder for them to be prosecuted. This isn’t the kind of change that most Brazilians had envisaged.
A New Generation
Brazil is a relatively young democracy. The military government slowly relaxed its stranglehold over the country from 1980 with the first elections for state governor and senators. It wasn’t until 1989 that Brazil held its first direct elections for President.
This means that the current generation of 20-somethings is the first to be born in a democratic country (whatever that might mean) and the 30-somethings will have no real memory of living under a dictatorship. This, to my mind, is important as they have grown up thinking they have the right to be heard and represented by their politicians, unlike, perhaps, their parents’ generation.
These seem to me be important reasons why these protests have been successful when others haven’t. There might well be others and if you know of any I would love to hear about them in the comments below.
I don’t know what is going to happen next. I don’t think anybody does, really. This will be the topic of my next post once I have had a bit more time to think about it.
Brazil Awakened: It’s not about 20 cents: rachelsranting.com – This thoughtful piece is written by an American living in Rio.
Brazilian Protests Explained: It’s not the economy, Stupid: abrazilainoperatinginthisarea.wordpress.com – This detailed piece is written by a Brazilian journalist living in London. It contains a lot of links to other videos and is well worth a read.
The Salad Uprising: saladuprising.tumblr.com – A great collection of photos and videos documenting the protests since they started.
#changebrazil: youtube.com – This 5-minute video gives some brilliant context to the protests.
Revolta da Salada com Bee Gees (The Salad Revolt with the Bee Gees): youtube.com – My favourite video so far. it is funny but also gives a brief insight into how out of control the police are (No words, just a Bee Gees song.)
Sepp Blatter urges Brazil protesters not to link grievances to football: guardian.co.uk – I hated Sepp Blatter even before he came out with such vacuous comments. Grrrrrrrr!