Brazilians have been protesting a hike in the bus fare for weeks. Things came to a head a couple of days ago when angry straphangers set fire to city buses.
I decided to join the movement taking place (again) in Teresina, in the Brazilian state of Piauí against the increase of bus fares from R$1.90 to R$2.10, which the mayor excused with a pseudo-integration of bus lines. It’s a fake integration, though, as you have to pay the first fare and then half of the second one on the next bus—that is, if you’re lucky enough to take the next bus within one hour. If you can’t, you have to pay the full price again.
When I got to Frei Serafim Avenue—known by demonstrators as “Fire Serafim” because it’s where the whole mess started to heat up—the situation was already tense.
The riot police were literally marching over demonstrators, who were peacefully blocking the street in the intersection with Pires de Castro Avenue. Things got violently and unnecessarily ugly, with protesters getting beaten up and showing no resistance, laying down, and holding on to one another on the asphalt. The get-along gang didn’t back down. They stayed there taking courage from who knows where, eating pepper spray, snorting tear gas, and eventually going home with rubber-bullet bruises.
As most of these protestors got beaten up, the political-party-scavenger-hunt teams played the obvious, utopian speech game at the next intersection. It took them some time to figure out their intellectual ideology was being practiced right down the street, and they eventually ran down to help. The anarcho-punks following the protest and some other people outraged with the unnecessary actions taken by the riot police were already throwing rocks against the officials when the political party people arrived.
Riot and military police had to back down in the midst of rock throwing and loads of people running towards them.
It looked like it was going to be a nice day, and it really was (in Teresina demonstrations usually start at 10 AM and go on until 6 PM). The anarchists/independent/non-partisan protesters are the majority in #contraOaumento (the name of this movement, which basically means #nobusfarehike) and while I was around they were shouting chants telling the United Socialist Workers Party and the Communist Party of Brazil to fuck off. The political-flag loving gang was not very pleased with that, but they gave their interviews to local TV channels and followed their routine on trucks with loudspeakers, trying to gain attention for their movement and pretending to be the leaders of something that is obviously impossible to control. This river also had a third bank: Loads–looooaaaads–of policemen. Riot police, RONE (a special police unit), military police, and even some undercover narcs among protesters (not so well disguised though, all using the same t-shirt model and a little spy pen in their hands, emanating a “hey, I’m spying on you” look). But not even with that large contingent were they able to stop demonstrators from blocking all of Frei Serafim Avenue’s intersections.
Just before dusk, while protesters were having bright and lively fun and the punks were moshing, some dark smoke appeared in the sky. It was a bus set on fire. Everyone ran toward the smoke, and that’s when the second part of the madness started.
(Photo by Gigi Leal)
Political party members ran off when they saw the toasting vehicle, but the people didn’t leave with them—they stayed at Frei, even though it was past 6 PM at this point.
The riot police were redeployed to intercede at a moment's notice. “No one’s afraid of the pigs anymore,” I heard some crazy, masked, black-clad anarcho-punk dude shouting. Earlier, I saw the same guy writing “2.10 is LARCENY” on the wall.
He was at least right about the no fear part. The resistance demonstrators showed to the riot police during the afternoon conflict had turned the military police into uniformed chickens and bags of cement. Also, the burning bus gave everyone a real thrill. From that point on it would take a lot of beating and rubber bullets to get those young Teresinenses out of the streets, and the riot police were very much willing to do so. Check out their ammunition.
People tore apart signs advocating for the integration at bus stops and threw them into the middle of Frei. Things were set on fire, and the chaos started to take shape.
It was then that a group bowled down this ridiculous Christmas tree known as the “Big Ghost,” which was just a giant white sheet on the outside with a hard metal structure on the inside. After the Big Ghost went down the area had a power outage because the “tree” was connected to high voltage power lines. There’s even a video.
The police, who were totally up for kicking demonstrators’ asses took advantage of the blackout situation and beat people up as much as they could. It was a complete battle, with rubber bullets flying everywhere and stun grenades being thrown even in front of a children’s hospital where some demonstrators were hiding. Protestors were hunted down like animals through the dark streets. This time anarchists had to run.
It was with unnecessary blood and police brutality that the fourth day of protests began and ended at Frei Serafim Avenue. Demonstrators said, “There’s more for tomorrow,” which proved true. When we checked in yesterday, they were back on the streets stopping the city’s traffic.