SÃO PAULO – Damage of over US$1 million was wrought by acts of vandalism by Black Bloc elements during an anniversary march led by the MPL (Free Fare Movement) in the streets of São Paulo on Thursday evening.
As a major World Cup tie between England and Uruguay got underway on the other side of the city, the MPL-coordinated march gathered around 1,300 people in the city centre, according to military police figures.
Although it began peacefully, it ended in a major damage to at least 10 bank branches and a luxury car showroom.
An MPL protest coordinator, Hélcio Beuclair, told the Anadolu Agency that the Black Blocs’ behaviour was not consistent with the march’s goals:
“This violence is completely out of proportion with what we’re trying to achieve as part of the “Movimento Passe Livre” (Free Fare Movement). But what we’ve seen isn’t even true Black Bloc tactics, which is suppsoed to protect protesters from police aggression. This is just vandalism.”
UPDATE 11:30pm: São Paulo police have since said they blame the MPL for Thursday’s million-dollar vandalism and feel “betrayed” after the movement asked officers to maintain their distance during the event to reduce likelihood of hostilities. The MPL has since rebuffed the claims, saying it is an attempt by the police to “criminalise social movements”.
The march was marking a year since the authorities of Brazil’s biggest city backed down on a 10-cent hike in transit fares in the city, increases which sparked mass protests seen last June.
This time protesters demanded free public transport for the city and the reversal of a number of sackings which came in the wake of public transport strikes two weeks ago.
The march began peacefully on Avenida Paulista, the city’s main business street. However, at least 50 masked protesters identifying themselves as Black Bloc members hurled rocks at the glass façades of a number of banks as the march descending Avenida Rebouças, graffitiing anti-capitalist slogans.
US$1 million of damage
As the rally arrived at its official end point, a major thoroughfare running along the River Pinheiros, the mainstay of the rally torched cardboard turnstiles in a controlled, symbolic act to end the march and most people dispersed.
However, Black Bloc members sought tyres to burn, and metal poles and wooden panels to build barricades to block the major road.
The group then broke into two luxury car showrooms next to the road, hurling rocks at the glass front to the building and continuing to smash eight luxury and two Smart cars with stones and fire extinguishers.
Mercedes Benz later said the vandals had caused damage totalling about R$2 million (nearly $1 million).
Officers, armed with stun grenades and tear gas canisters, began to move in at this point, sending the anarchists in all directions and many into the narrow tangle of streets in that part of the city.
Police and riot troops had been keeping their distance noticeably throughout the event.
Sources told AA that this was because of the response to protesters at a small demonstration last Thursday, ahead of the opening match of the World Cup. The police crackdown was widely seen as excessively harsh: a number of protesters and journalists were injured.
At the time of writing there was no information from police as to whether anyone was detained or injured as a result of the incident.