Monthly Archives: June 2013

It was an apparently innocuous twenty-centavo rise in the cost of a bus or metro ticket in São Paulo at the beginning of June that initially sparked mass protests that have since swept through at least twelve Brazilian states. On Monday 17 June, an estimated 200,000 people took to the streets in São Paulo and Rio alone, in protests larger than any since those against President Fernando Collor in 1992.

São Paulo protest on Monday 17 June. Photo by Ben Tavener.

The good-natured atmosphere seen at the São Paulo protest on 17 June turned was replaced by violence at other protests, with police accused of brutality towards protesters and journalists. Photo by Ben Tavener.

The Movimento Passe Livre (Free Fare Movement) demanded the increase to be reversed – which they achieved in a number of cities, including São Paulo and Rio – but their call for both free and better-quality public transport has yet to be met – meaning the wave of protests are likely to continue.

The protests, which many protesters said are “not just about 20 centavos!”, have taken a much wider form and now represent a general platform for Brazilians to vent their frustration and show their displeasure at the state of the country, whether it be the country’s multi-billion-dollar hosting of the World Cup and Olympics, poor public services, particularly health and education, or rampant political corruption.

But despite the diversity of the slogans chanted, many have been united by a concern for Brazil’s economy: the rising cost of living, particularly food and services, have hit Brazilians hard.

Even though incomes have gone up, Brazil’s new middle class has been demanding more from public services, and with billions of reais of public money being spent on World Cup preparations with public services remain poor, the 20-centavo rise in bus fares appears to have been the final straw.

A survey of families by O Globo newspaper also reported many seeing expenses go up forty percent in the last year, despite the government’s official annual inflation figure of 6.5%.

Even though the rise in bus and metro fares has been reversed in most cities, the Free Fare Movement (MPL) says it will continue its fight until quality public transport is delivered. Photo by Ben Tavener.

Even though the rise in bus and metro fares has been reversed in most cities, the Free Fare Movement (MPL) says it will continue its fight until quality public transport is delivered. Photo by Ben Tavener.

Given Brazil’s economic track record in the 1980s and early 1990s, some have pointed to concerns over inflation as the main problem to be debated.

Alexandre Macchione Saes, Professor of Economics at USP, says that those using the inflation argument are generally politicians: “Yes, the economy in general has not grown much lately, but unemployment is low and people’s spending capabilities have generally increased – people can now buy things they couldn’t buy before.”

“The only real objective argument that can be carried at these protests is about public services – education, health, public transport – things objectively of poor quality.”

For Tabiner Domingues Marques, an economics student at the University of São Paulo (USP) who has been to every one of the São Paulo protests to date, it is all about the quality of public services and galvanizing a new generation to become politically active to change the face of Brazilian politics: “People are coming to the streets because victories won over the last decade in terms of income growth and distribution have not been accompanied by an increase in quality in public services.”

The government has certainly been caught out by the number of people taking part in the mass demonstrations: President Dilma has tried to get protesters back on side by praising the protest spirit and even mimicking the protest’s “People have woken up!” slogan, and other politicians are likely to try to score personal goals from the protests, analysts say.

The big question now for the protesters is, with almost daily protests planned and no central leader yet assuming control, do the disparate movements marching together have enough steam to carry on galvanizing the population into demanding a change in Brazil, and if they do want to see real change – what their next move is.

Read the full article on The Rio Times website.

As many as 100,000 people took to the streets of both São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro on 17 June – and marches were held in at least 10 other major cities across Brazil – to protest again a range of issues, from the World Cup to government corruption – all of which were sparked originally by a 20-centavo increase in bus fares.

I accompanied the first half of the São Paulo protests around the Faria Lima area of Pinheiros.

There’s just a year to go until the 2014 FIFA World Cup kicks off, and Brazil is in overdrive to get everything ready, including reassuring Brazilians that their side stands a chance of at least reaching the final.

Rio’s Christ the Redeemer statue towers above the Maracanã stadium, which cost over R$1 billion (US$500 million) to renovate. Photo: The Telegraph

Twelve stadiums in twelve host cities – stretching from Amazon jungle capital Manaus to the southern cowboy lands of Porto Alegre – must all be ready for kick-off on 12 June 2014 for the half a million tourists due to descend on the country.

If you’re in one of the host cities, it is pretty much impossible to miss the fact that the world’s biggest football event is headed that way, and unknown smaller cities are relishing having a global audience. Shopping centres have had emblazoned with sponsors’ slogans, such as “Tô preparado” (I’m ready).

One year out, Brazilians are, by and large, quietly excited about the World Cup’s arrival, seen as the sport’s greatest tournament coming home. But I was personally expecting more in terms of passion from the “Land of Football” – more pride, more “Go, Brazil!”.

Instead I hear many people talking about damage limitation: hopes that the country’s natural beauty, sizzling sunshine, vivid culture and infectious positivity will distract onlookers from any logistical problems that might affect the tournament.

There’s been a lot of speculation over whether the stadiums will be ready: at least one stadium (Curitiba‘s Arena da Baixada) is reportedly on course for completion in 2015 – after the World Cup has been and gone. But in truth, we can be pretty sure that Brazil will have the stadiums ready, whatever the cost and whoever gets it done.

However, less certain are the extra benefits that Brazilians were promised in exchange for multi-billion-dollar layouts on the events – the legacy of new infrastructure, security, and anti-poverty social programs – used to justify hosting the event, which many Brazilians feel “isn’t for us, it’s for the gringos (Western foreigners).”

Some 101 projects were promised, but at least 14 aren’t happening at all: the fabled World Cup “legacy” has yet to materialise in many places and has been severely or completely cut in others, with accusations of embezzled funds and other associated scandals (although this is something Brazilians are pretty much used to).

All this has conspired to create a growing proportion of the population questioning whether, at R$31 billion and rising, Brazil can really afford to host the World Cup, particularly given the state of its economy, which has sunk from the dizzy heights of 7.5% GDP growth in 2010 to just 0.9% in 2012.

“I’m against it being here,” says one of my Brazilians friends. “They’ve promised a lot but who knows whether it’ll be positive for Brazil or not. If it helps tourism, then fine, but imagine if things go wrong… and are we really benefiting from it?”

A less sceptical friend says, “I can’t wait for it to come here and I’ll be proud to be Brazilians when it does. Whatever happens, it’ll be great.”

Are Brazilians losing both patience and interest with their national side, the Seleção? Photo by Matt Niner (

Are Brazilians losing both patience and interest with their national side, the Seleção? Photo by Matt Niner (

Sentiment towards the Cup would probably be rosier if Brazilians thought they were going to be led to a stunning victory.

But despite being a land of football fanatics and historical World Cup champions, with five wins to their name and the most goals scored, Brazilians don’t appear to be holding their breath for a Brazil win.

Although spirits were raised slightly after Brazil recently thrashed France 3:0 in a friendly ahead of the Confederations Games – the prelude competition to the World Cup, which starts this weekend (with Brazil as reigning champions), the national side, the Seleção, has disappointed in recent times and, despite many promising individual talents on the field, Brazilians are losing interest in their squad.

This turns up the heat on Brazil coach Luiz “Felipão” Scolari, who will certainly be looking to put on a good show in the run-up to the big event next year, otherwise the current lacklustre feeling among Brazilians for their home side might well last all the way to the World Cup.

And of course, Brazilians are also desperate not to see a repeat of the last time the tournament was held here, in 1950, when they were defeated by neighbours Uruguay in a bitterly-fought final. The pain of that day, even for young Brazilians who weren’t there, is still raw.

The final point we should probably consider is this: however Brazil performs at the World Cup will also determine expectations for the next big event on the country’s calendar, the Olympics in 2016.

This is the full, unedited English version of a blog written for the BBC Russian Service

An opinion poll carried out by Datafolha has shown an eight-point drop in approval for Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, the first major fall in popularity suffered by the president since taking office.

President Rousseff drops 8 points in a Datafolha opinion poll of over 3,750 Brazilians.

President Rousseff drops 8 points in a Datafolha opinion poll of over 3,750 Brazilians.

The proportion of people answering “good” or “excellent” slumped from 65% in March this year – the highest so far recorded for Rousseff – to 57% at the beginning of June.

Some 3,758 people from across Brazil took part in the survey, and the president fell in the estimation of every group – among both men and women and all areas of the country, age brackets, income levels and education backgrounds.

The biggest change in opinion was reflected among top-earners (24 points down), as well as those with further education (16 pts), from the President’s native South region (13 pts) and 25- to 34-year-olds (13 pts).

The survey also showed growing pessimism for the country’s economy, rising concern over inflation, and more people worrying about unemployment in the future.

However, despite the reported drop in popularity for Rousseff, whose popularity has at times even rivalled that of her much-admired predecessor, she remains favourite to win a second term in office at the presidential elections next year, with the results pointing to the president getting around 51 percent of the vote if it were held today.

President Rousseff’s close allies in government were quick to play down its significance, labelling it a “blip” and something that would be corrected when the economy was back on track.

However, those in opposition tried to capitalize on the results, particularly rival presidential candidate Aécio Neves (PSDB), who said the figures showed the current government’s “growing fragility due to various wrong decisions, especially on the economy.”

Read the full article in The Rio Times

Brazil will not achieve targets set for the eradication of the “worst forms” of child labour in the country by 2015, according to a range of experts, including government figures responsible for its reduction.

Brazil's Northeast region has worked hard to combat child labour. Photo by Leonardo Sakamoto.

Brazil’s Northeast region has worked hard to combat child labour. Photo by Leonardo Sakamoto.

The project, titled the National Plan for the Prevention and Eradication of Child Labour and Protection of Working Teens, also sets out to eradicate child labour altogether by 2020.

Child labour has fallen from 19.6% of five- to 17-year-olds in 1992 to 8.3% in 2011, O Globo newspaper reports. However, despite undeniable progress being made over the past twenty years, Brazil still has around 3.7 million working minors, according to the 2011 National Survey of Households (PNAD) conducted by the IBGE (Brazilian Institute for Geography and Statistics).

More worryingly, some believe as many as 1.97 million children continue to work in “dangerous or insalubrious activities,” from agriculture and domestic activities to working in the sex trade. The government’s estimate is more conservative, at 1.5 million.

Data from the 2000 and 2010 Censuses shows that all states in Brazil’s Northeast region – an area historically associated with child labour – saw a reduction in child labour in ten- to 17-year-olds, with the biggest decrease in Piauí state where child labour was reduced by 30%, meaning 36,000 fewer children in work.

But while some states continue to make strides against the practice, the reduction in the number of children working in other states has gone into reverse, particularly in Brazil’s North and Centre-West regions: Amapá state recorded an increase of 67%.

Some officials say that the true number of children working is difficult to calculate but that the government is making real progress and can achieve the targets; they cite social help centres, better schools and programs such as Brasil Carinhoso, which provides extra care for children living below the poverty threshold, as having been proved effective against child labour.

But Minister Lélio Bentes, from the Superior Labour Court and Commission for the Eradication of Child Labour, says that while the number of minors working in Brazil and Latin America has roughly halved since 1992, Brazil will fail to reach the targets set for the eradication of child labour.

“New strategies are needed. The Bolsa Família (family benefit) has been an effective tool but, alone, it is not working,” Bentes told O Globo newspaper, arguing that informal work activities on family farms and domestic labour are part of the reason the problem persists.

Brazilian NGO Repórter Brasil says data from the 2010 Census shows that there were 1.5% more children from the most vulnerable group – those aged ten to thirteen years old.

Experts say that all too often children are not allowed to complete their basic cycle of education, with parents justifying their actions by saying that children need to start work early to get on in life. It is estimated that over five million children in Brazil of compulsory schooling age fail to attend classes.

Charities say children are also often sent to landfill sites to pick through the refuse to salvage items that can be fixed and sold, as well as being exploited by drug traffickers and in the sex trade.

Jonathan Hannay, Secretary General of ACER Brasil – an NGO working with 5,000 children in Diadema, São Paulo state – says that the reality for most minors involved in child labour, those in urban areas, is extremely lowly-paid piece work – such as gluing novelty shopping bags at a rate of R$7 (US$3.26) per thousand – and being forced to clean the house and look after siblings.

Read the full published article on The Rio Times website

São Paulo’s 17th Annual Parada Gay sent seventeen Carnival-style floats down the city’s central Avenida Paulista with the slogan “Para o armário, nunca mais!” – a defiant message warning that the LGBT community would “never go back in the closet”.

The show provided a reliably friendly atmosphere, with dance music, colourful costumes and plenty of glitter, feather boas and flesh on show.

Politicians attending the event included LGBT campaigner Deputy Jean Wyllys, Minister of Culture Marta Suplicy, and São Paulo mayor Fernando Haddad.

Protesters made a fresh appeal for controversial government figure Marco Feliciano to quit his human rights role.

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