This article was published on the Neon Tommy website in June 2013.
Brazil has once again disappointed, not its spectators from afar, but its citizens who daily breathe the corrupted air. After a couple of weeks of protests against an increase in bus fares and other suffocating and intolerable conditions, the government prefers to call its citizens “vandals” and “hooligans.”
The demonstrations began on June 6 and have continued up to Sunday. São Paulo has been the focus but other marches have taken places in Rio de Janeiro, Goiânia, Porto Alegre and other cities.
These protests have mostly been led by university students, workers who depend on public transportation and members of an organization called Free Fare Movement, which advocates for lowering bus fares.
The municipal and state governments declare that these citizens are just “vandals” and “hooligans” and that their complaints won’t be heard. São Paulo Governor Geraldo Alckmin requested that police troops be reinforced, while São Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad said that violence would not be tolerated.
Meanwhile, policemen have relied on nothing but violence to suppress the protest. Citizens find themselves having to either live with the pain of taking unreliable and expensive public transit every day, or being attacked by policemen.
Rather than take this corrupt government at its word, I suggest that we look into the facts, so that we can clearly identify the reasons for these marches.
The bus fare has increased from R$3 reais to R$3.20 reais (approximately US$1.40 to US$1.50). Although the increase may seem insignificant, the monthly minimum wage in Brazil is R$678, which converts to a meager US$316.5. (US$3,800 annually). In a country where the inflation rate has oscillated between 5.8 and 6.5 percent in the past couple of years, every penny counts.
The quality of bus services only adds insult to injury. Public transportation in São Paulo, like in many other Brazilian cities, is not only inefficient but also unsafe.
In April, a bus driver was beaten and robbed while driving a route that connected to cities near Greater São Paulo. The driver complained in an interview, “It’s tough to work like this. You leave for work and don’t know if you’ll come back alive.” None of the criminals who attacked him were arrested.
Government officials and upper-middle class citizens who oppose these protests have also complained that protesters only destroy public buildings and promote violence.
But in fact, the real destruction seems to have been provoked by policemen. You can look at apicture of a woman being beaten by the police and a man who held flowers as a symbol of peace during confrontations.
Several videos prove that soldiers attacked protesters while the latter peacefully stood and shouted “no violence.”
Journalists and other professionals not involved in the protest were also injured. Seven journalists representing Folha, a reputable Brazilian newspaper, were hit; two of them injured by a rubber bullet in the head, and one was beaten by the police. A photographer was also shot and is at risk of becoming blind.
Elio Gaspari and Rita Lisauskas, both journalists, witnessed the protest yesterday and both stated that the police began confrontations and vandalism, throwing bombs and shooting at people despite no aggression from protesters.
Several students have written testimonies about confrontations with the police. João Victor, a journalism student at the Anhembi Morumbi University, recounted on Facebook, “After protests and confrontations, we left for the subway station. More police arrived. Workers, college students, children and women were entering the station, but still the police threw a bomb inside, in our subway station. They didn’t want us to go home; they wanted to injure and arrest us. Inside the station, safety guards cried and people fainted on the stairs. I cried as well.”
Personally, I find it revolting that the police suddenly appeared when citizens decided to express their disgust over the government. Brazilian police are famous for their lack of efficiency, always arriving late to protect common citizens and constantly ignoring political corruption. I can’t help but wonder, where were these policemen when shootings, robberies, and kidnappings were taking place?
These protests bring attention to more than public transportation. They also serve as a challenge to a mercenary government that misspends its citizens’ tax money.
Food prices go up every day while corrupt politicians act with impunity. A congressman has been accused of stealing money from government funds to build a castle for his family, several politicians closed a deal of monthly payments in exchange for political support for years, a businessman got involved in government corruption and organized crime. None of these leaders have been punished.
But for the common citizens, who are afraid of being robbed after leaving work, and having their children kidnapped on the way home from school, all they get is a label calling them “vandals” and “hooligans.”
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly listed the previous cost of bus fare in São Paulo as US$1.20 instead of US$1.40. The story has been updated with the correct number.