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Has a South American Spring Come to Brazil?

The protests there don't show any sign of slowing down.

The governor of Sao Paulo is in Paris. Last night, close to 65,000 people brought his city to a standstill. It lasted six hours and caused 250 kilometres of tailbacks. They shouted, "The people have awoken!" They marched all the way to his offices, and while police barricaded themselves inside behind tall, iron gates, the crowd shouted, "Governor Alckmin, don’t worry, there’ll be more when you get back!" (Presumably it rhymes in Portuguese.)


What’s currently happening in Brazil erupted when the government decided to increase public transport across the whole country by 20 centavos (five pence). It might not seem like a huge amount of money, but for those on low wages who commute to work, that rise could mean as much as a 16 percent reduction in what they take home every month.

On the day of the increase, 500 students marched down Avenida Paulista in Sao Paulo and were chased by police with tear gas and rubber bullets. The media called them vandals – spoilt, middle-class kids. They seemed as deft at courting popularity as Nick Griffin endorsing a bunny cull. But that was June the 6th.

In the days since, anti-government feeling has spread through Brazil and last night, the rest of the country joined the protest. In Salvador, 3,000 people took to the streets. In Belém, 10,000. In Porto Alegre, another 10,000. In Brasilia, the country’s capital, they marched to Parliament and danced on the rooftop. In Rio de Janeiro, 100,000 people marched. A small group attacked the assembly offices and set them on fire. The rest of the march tried to stop them and couldn’t. Apart from that little hiccup, the march was mostly peaceful.

Overall, just under a quarter of a million people took to the streets of Brazil yesterday for peaceful protests.

In Sao Paulo, where it all began, the most popular chant is "No violence!" And after four previous marches were spoiled by tear gas and rubber bullets, the police seem to have finally understood that this uprising won’t be quashed by their authority.


"It’s no coincidence," they chanted in Sao Paulo, "no cops, no violence!"

Other chants ringing out included, "How can a teacher earn less money than Neymar?" and, "Globo News, go take it in the ass!"

But much like Gezi Park isn’t just about some trees being uprooted, the protests in Brazil aren’t only about pocket change.

It was the idealists in Brazil who voted in the left-wing Workers' Party (PT). Many of those voters fell in love with former president Lula da Silva, the poor kid who managed to make something of himself. But the stench of corruption emanating from him and his successor, Dilma Rousseff, has got people comparing them to the dictatorships that butchered the country for 20 years. Right now, they’re rushing through a constitutional amendment to forbid the formation of new opposition parties, which certainly makes you shiver a little.

Playing out in the background of all this, the Confederations Cup is currently in its fourth day. At the opening match, Brazilians finally fell in love with the current Seleção (their national football team) but they booed Rousseff. They booed Sepp Blatter, too. You would, though, wouldn't you?

The World Cup is set to hit Brazil next year, and so far it’s cost more money than the competitions in South Africa, China and Germany put together. They’re building stadiums out in the middle of the country, where there's never even been a football culture. And the renovations to the Mané Garrincha stadium in Brasilia make it the most expensive football stadium in the world.


Unsurprisingly, that's prompted another common chant at the protests: "Take your World Cup back! We want health care and education!"

Brazil is predicted to become one of the top five economies in the world within the next two decades. They’re rich down here, but it’s a wealth that touches very few people. Tomatoes recently got so expensive in Sao Paulo that a magazine article came out advising people what they could use as alternatives. (Not much, apparently.)

So until this somehow changes – a greater share of the country seeing a greater share of the wealth – the protests will continue. And so long as the police stay in the background, they should remain peaceful. "You have to take the buses, too," was another chant directed at them last night.

The protesters are meeting again at 5PM in Sao Paulo today. But the word "protester" seems too marginal for the scale of what’s happening here; it’s more accurate to call them "the people".

Some are calling it the Vinegar Revolution (after a journalist was arrested for carrying vinegar to ward off the effects of tear gas), some are calling it the Free Travel Movement, some want to call it a Brazilian Spring and others are going as far to dub it a civil war between the people and the politicians.

As the protests in Brazil continue, it seems likely that the movement will find a name for itself soon.

More coverage of the protests in Brazil:


Sao Paulo Is Burning

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Istanbul Rising

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