As protests in Brazil grow, I find it increasingly important to listen to the people involved. Before it all kicked off on Monday, June 17th 2013, I interviewed protesters & organizers of the movement. The report might be a little late, but it’s still important to pay attention to what they have to say. Thanks for reading.
“Sorry for the inconvenience, I’m changing the country”, read a sign held up by a protester in São Paulo, in the midst of chants, shots, tear gas and outrage. In five other cities, people followed suit and took to the streets.
For two decades, Brazil has been infested with corruption, violence and despicable public services. Until last week the fury was repressed, locked somewhere inside Brazilian chests all over the nation waiting for a trigger to explode.
There are many things Brazilians should be angry about. The construction of expensive stadiums in a country where the wealth and social gap is so huge the UN has declared it the fourth most unequal country in Latin America. The miserable monthly salary of public school teachers (around R$800 or £240) in comparison to that of congressmen (around R$17,000 or the £5,050). The war zone like scenes in public hospitals and the government’s failure to invest in health care. The decaying state of streets, historical buildings, public transport and sewage systems when the value of taxes are exorbitant.
But the last drop was a rise of 20 cents in bus fares in several cities. And though the protests started as a movement for better and fairer public transport soon became a call for political change and a decent society.
Raphael Godoi, 16, is the founder of the Fórum de Lutas Contra o Aumento (Fight Against the Increase Forum) in Rio de Janeiro. Godoi is still in high school but his voice is strong and angry. He explains that the 20 cents are symbolic of deeper political problems and only one of the reasons why he and his colleagues organized the unified protest on June 13th.
He said: “I think everyone is already tired and outraged at the public policies our governments have enforced. Our outrage isn’t just over 20 cents but for a change in transport and public policies. The government has only been thinking about the economy, the money and has forgotten about the population. I think people are tired and want improvements, which is why so many people participated in the protests.”
Lilian Campadello, 27, says Brazil’s public transport is one of the most expensive in the world. A round trip commute would cost a worker around £35 a month, an extortionate amount for someone whose monthly salary is £193 – and this is assuming said worker would only need to catch one bus each way, which is often not the case.
“The public transport is, in a way, a reflection of how a city treats its citizens,” she said. “It’s inadmissible that there is corruption and the enrichment of the few at the cost of the right to dignified transport.”
Only in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro there were 50,000 people who took to the streets. The atmosphere in Rio de Janeiro was peaceful, and protesters were happy and eager to be doing something they believed in. The city centre traffic was stalled, but it was a small price to pay for a possible revolution and yells for a better, cleaner, fairer society reverberated on the old colonial buildings of the centre of Rio.
In São Paulo the protest turned into chaos as police and protesters clashed violently. Julia Kaffka, 19, says she was chanting peacefully in the crowd when the police started throwing tear gas bombs in their direction.
“The streets were brightly lit, buildings had banners that supported us, people were yelling and clapping. It was when we got to Consolação that we had our first encounter with the police. We yelled to them not to use any violence and they started marching towards us.” She said. “We recanted into a gas station, thinking they wouldn’t bomb us in there. We were wrong.”
Claims of police brutality filled social media websites this weekend and newspapers reported seven journalists were hit by flash bombs, two hit in the eye. The police violence that ensued in the protests is another concern for Brazilian citizens. Godoi said he only felt in danger once he reached the police.
“The police is like the personal guard of the government. Its role to protect the citizen has been forgotten and the police defend the government and its dictatorships. They are always the ones who start the violence, and then there’s no other way, no one is meek and mild. And then we are called troublemakers and vandals. The police, the shock battalion, they are a disgrace.”
The protests are scheduled to continue all over the country in the coming weeks. The objective is to attract international attention through the events being hosted in Brazil in the next four years so that other countries pressure the government into helping its own people.