Brazil Protests Kick Ball in Government’s Court

Brazil may have weathered the storm surrounding preparations for the Confederations Cup, and even emerged buoyed after being crowned champions for the fourth time, but nearly a month of countrywide mass protests has left the country reeling.

Protesters near the Maracanã stadium during Confederations Cup final. Photo by Ben Tavener.

Protesters at a stand-off with police near the Maracanã stadium during Confederations Cup final. Photo by Ben Tavener.

Many of the protests have been aimed at those responsible for spending billions of reais of public money on stadiums rather than sorely-needed public services.

However, the crowds at the protests have reduced in size significantly, and the “mega protest” predicted to coincide with the Confederations Cup final at Rio’s Maracanã stadium failed to materialise, with the 6,000 police drafted in to defend the venue outnumbering the protesters.

Some have attributed the current lull in demonstrations to “protest fatigue” and the fact that some of the protesters’ grievances have been heard, addressed and even resolved in the case of the initial spark for the protests, the rise in public transport fares at the beginning of June now revoked by many cities.

The end of the tournament will also deprive protesters of a high-profile, international soapbox on which to voice their grievances, with the next chance – the Pope’s visit for World Youth Day – weeks away.

However, others believe the protesters have spelled out their demands and, having kicked the ball into the government’s court, are merely waiting to see if pledges made by the government actually come to fruition.

Protesters speaking to me outside the Maracanã on Sunday said an end to the protests was not in their plans now the government had given their demands such urgent attention:

“This is not over. The government is spending billions on stadiums when we need investment to improve our appalling health and education systems,” vowed 27-year-old São Paulo banker Cátia Almeida.

Jefferson Santos, a 21-year-old student from São Gonçalo, was equally clear: “The people have woken up; that scares the government. We have seen that we can get change by coming to the streets and we will keep protesting until we get what we want.”

President Dilma Rousseff has attempted to placate protesters by setting out a five-pact plan for greater transparency, wide-ranging improvements to public education, health and transport, and a referendum on political reforms, which she has rushed to Congress for further action, at pains to show she is listening to protesters’ grievances:

“I would like, taking into account this energy that we’ve seen at the protests, it to be possible [to have the plebiscite in 2014],” adding that this was contingent on a number of questions and ultimately depended on the Superior Electoral Court (TSE).

All sides seem to agree that political reform is needed, and for the politicians the quicker the better, given next year’s crucial elections.

Although that wave of mass demonstrations has peaked for now, Brazil’s tinderbox may not need much of a spark to reignite.

Read the full article on The Rio Times website

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