Currently going on in Rio: three hundred thousand (expected to rise to a million) have taken to the streets in Rio in the biggest protests so far sweeping Brazil:
If the Brazilian government thought that caving yesterday to popular demands against a $0.10 bus and subway fare hike would be enough to placate the millions and see a peaceful dissolution to the protests that had gripped the country in the past two weeks, it found out in less than 24 hours that ceding to the angry mob only emboldens the public to demand more (and with a list a grievances including corruption, violence, police repression and failed politicians the list of demands is sure to escalate). Sure enough, the very next day, the public emerged with newfound energy and momentum, as 300,000 people took to the streets of Rio de Janeiro and hundreds of thousands more flooded other cities in the largest protests yet.
Undeterred by the reversal of transport fare hikes that sparked the protests, and promises of better public services, marchers demonstrated around two international soccer matches and in locales as diverse as the Amazon capital of Manaus and the prosperous southern city of Florianopolis.
“Twenty cents was just the start,” read signs held by many converging along the Avenida Paulista, the broad avenue in central Sao Paulo, referring to the bus fare reductions.
In the capital, Brasilia, tens of thousands of protesters by early evening marched around the landmark modernist buildings that house Congress, the Supreme Court and presidential offices.
The swelling tide of protests prompted President Dilma Rousseff to cancel a trip next week to Japan, her office said.
The targets of the protests, now in their second week, have broadened to include high taxes, inflation, corruption and poor public services ranging from hospitals and schools to roads and police forces.
With an international soccer tournament as a backdrop, demonstrators are also denouncing the more than $26 billion of public money that will be spent on the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, two events meant to showcase a modern, developed Brazil. After the concession on transport fares on Wednesday, activist groups differed over what their next priority should be. But the competing demands of demonstrators appeared to add to the intensity of Thursday’s protests.
Is a political crisis next?
The protests have shaken the once solid ground under Rousseff and her ruling Workers’ Party, a bloc that itself grew out of convulsive demonstrations by Brazil’s labor movement 30 years ago. Until inflation and other economic woes began eroding her poll numbers in recent weeks, Rousseff enjoyed some of the highest approval ratings of any elected leader worldwide.
The demonstrations have been largely non-violent and comprised mostly middle-class, well-educated voters who do not form the bulk of Rousseff’s electoral base.
But she and her party have sought to get ahead of the complaints and embrace them as their own – a shift that contrasts sharply with a playbook that long relied on telling Brazilians that they had never had it so good. With little more than a year to go before presidential and gubernatorial elections, the unrest is forcing incumbents and traditional political parties to reconsider their strategies.
The decision to cut transportation fares illustrates what many analysts consider a reactive and contradictory response by a ruling class caught off guard.
“Were they wrong before or are they wrong now?” asked Carlos Melo, a political scientist at Insper, a business school in Sao Paulo, noting what had been a steadfast refusal to reverse a fare hike.
And hence the game theory response to popular unrest: yield to it, and it only demands more. Fight it, and generate even more animosity. Lose – lose, as Brazil is about to learn the hard way. The bigger problem, however, is that Brazil is merely the latest country in what is rapidly becoming the sequel to the Arab spring of 2011 – the Global Summer of 2013, which has so far seen protests in Greece, Turkey, Spain, Brazil, and Indonesia just to start, and all of it driven by that segment long-forgotten in a world hell bent on generating a wealth effect for those already wealthy: the youth, which has rarely had it as bad as it does now.
Going back to Brazil, here are some recent snapshots of what is going on tonight, courtesy of RT:
23:13 GMT: Riot police in the capital Brasilia have prevented a group of protesters from breaking through the police cordon towards the Congress.
Students shout slogans during a protest of what is now called the ‘Tropical Spring’ against corruption and price hikes, at National Congress in Brasilia, on June 20, 2013.(AFP Photo / Evaristo SA)
22:45 GMT: Police fired large rounds of tear gas against protesters in the city of Campinas in Sao Paulo state in a confrontation adjacent to government buildings.
A Globo TV correspondent reported a tense situation as demonstrators faced off against riot gear-clad officer 22:23 GMT:
22:03 GMT: Police in Rio de Janeiro have already resorted to tear gas early Thursday evening to disperse a crowd making its way to city hall. Plumes of smoke could be seen on video broadcast by local TV.
Authorities in Brazil’s cultural capital expect as many as a million protesters to converge on the city, despite recent announcements by state governments to scrap plans to increase public transportation costs. Protesters intended to march on Maracana Stadium just as a Confederations cup football game was to kick off.
21:32 GMT: A huge demonstration is currently taking place in the Candelaria neighborhood of downtown Rio de Janeiro. At least 300,000 people have marched towards town hall, according to estimates by the police, who expect as many as a million protesters to gather later in the day.
19:36 GMT: Rio de Janeiro authorities have ramped up police strength with an estimated 8,000 officers to be deployed to handle the demonstration the city’s center and security for the Spanish and Tahiti football teams. Some 1,200 riot police, armed with teargas and rubber bullets, will remain in barracks unless the protest turns violent. The increase comes after the authorities admitted they underestimated the scale of Monday’s march, when only 150 officers were on duty to withstand a crowd of more than 100,000.
15:00 GMT: Leaders in two of Brazil’s largest cities reversed hikes in bus and subway fares that fueled the protests. Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro both stepped down. “This will represent a big sacrifice and we will have to reduce investments in other areas,” said the Mayor of Sao Paulo, Mayor Fernando Haddad.