I don’t often cover things happening in wider Brazil but I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on the protests of last few weeks.
From comments I’ve received from friends out side of Brazil, its obvious that there is a degree of confusion about why people are protesting, a 20 cent rise in bus fares doesn’t sound like such a big deal after all but the bus fare rise was just the trigger, the protests are about a lot more than just 20 cents.
The protests began in São Paulo, the largest city in Brazil, the largest city proper in the southern hemisphere and the Americas and the world’s seventh largest city by population 11.32 million (2011)
The real effect of a 20 cent rise becomes more obvious when you take into account that in a city of that size, many people take two, three or more busses into work and then home again, (my own daughter who lives in São Paulo, was until recently taking several busses each way over a journey of at least 2 hours duration) and even a journey involving only 2 busses each way, amounts to a rise of over R$200 a year, unacceptable for people who are often low-income earners and traveling on extremely crowded transport. It is normal to see huge queues at the bus stops and packed busses, hard to get on and equally hard to get off.
The protest quickly spread to other cities as people were rightly furious to be told that the rise was necessary and that the local governments could not cover the increase. Oh yeah! Well how come Brazil could afford the world cup then?
And that’s where the anti world cup protesters came in.
The Brazilian government has spent an estimated R$26.5 billion on the world cup and then there is the Olympics. Romário the Brazilian world cup footballer turned Federal Deputy, has been a long time critic of the expense of this world cup, clearly as an ex footballer he was delighted the world cup was coming to Brazil but as he told BBC radio last year “Fifa comes here, and sets up a state within our state, and it will leave with US$2bn-$3bn in profits and then what? What about the white elephants, the stadiums, costing nearly US$2bn? That could have been spent on education and health – much more important for our country.” He complained that Brazil had capitulated to all of FIFA’s demands, “If they (FIFA)went to Germany with 100 demands they would get 30. If they went to the US they would get 10. When they came to Brazil with those 100, they got 90, Brazil just opened her legs”. The protestors agree with him.
There is a chronic shortage of doctors, especially in rural areas (the Brazilian Government intend to “import” foreign doctors to relieve the situation) and the health service, whilst there are pools of excellence, is generally massively underfunded. Public hospitals are in disrepair, lacking equipment and materials and in some areas, as is frequently reported on television and radio, patients die whilst waiting to be seen or are turned away from hospitals closed for lack of doctors. Patients who make it into hospitals may have to sleep in chairs or even on the floor, whilst hospital pharmacies lack basic medicines such as insulin.
I have written about my husband’s illness and the great treatment he has received but he was not, until recently, in the public health system. We were lucky enough to find a socially minded doctor who generously offered his services free of charge and with the generous financial help of family and friends, were able to cover the costs of medication, exams, transport etc, others are not so fortunate.
In our village (a typical rural area) there is one doctor, one morning a week to treat a population of over 1000. If you need to see the doctor, it is necessary to go to the health centre at 4 in the morning to queue for an appointment, as the current doctor arrives around 8 and is gone by 11, many people simply don’t get seen, become sicker and end up in the hospital which places a further burden on resources. We have been told repeatedly by medical professionals that had my husband been in the public system from the start, his prognosis would have been very different and he would quite possibly be dead by now. He is now treated at a public clinic and receives excellent care but this clinic is a partnership between the Brazilian government and a German company who supply the dialysis material and they dictate the running of the clinic, it does not represent the Brazilian public health care system as a whole.
Those who can afford it pay for a private health care policy, they are expensive and there are huge problems with some of these policies failing to provide. The government stepped in to force the companies to guarantee doctors appointments or exams within a time frame dictated by the seriousness of the condition but many companies still fail to comply.
The education system which has made great strides in the time I have been living here, still a long way to go and is also massively underfunded. There is a lack of respect for teachers who are very badly paid and not as highly trained as they should be. There is a shortage of materials and school buildings are left in an unacceptably poor condition.
In our local school the director, who had been in the position for at least 12 years, was removed, not for a misdemeanour or incompetence on her part but because there was a new Mayor, she had been appointed by his opposition and was seen as the enemy. By law she had to be given another job so was demoted to a teaching position, she was grateful for the work but it was a harsh castigation and did nothing to foster respect from the children or parents for any teaching professional. The Directors position was given to a young man who only relatively recently received his basic teaching diploma, my children said he was a good teacher but he has had relatively little teaching experience and no experience of running a school. It seems absurd to me that local politics can interfere in schools to this degree. To cut expenditure on education, many good teachers and other school staff were removed and not replaced, so there is now no one to run the school library, or the computer room, both of these facilities were hard fought for and the lack of them is sorely felt by the children and teachers alike.
Class sizes are often high, there are no support staff and children with special needs are frequently left to their own devises, their learning difficulties left unaddressed. As children only progress to the next year if they pass a certain level, children with learning difficulties can end up repeating and repeating a year, a child of 14 stuck in a class of 8 year olds, this is extremely damaging to the child and can result in behavioural problems which then have a knock on detrimental effect on the rest of the class.
President Dilma has proposed that 100% of the royalties from oil (which could reach R$50bn by 2020) be given to the education budget, though many feel it should be divided between health and education. Congress was debating this yesterday but the vote was delayed to allow for a vote on PEC 37, see below.
While health and education are struggling to provide a service, corruption according to Fiesp (Federation of Industries, São Paulo) costs the country between R$41.5 and R$69.1 billion every year (£12.1bn & £20.17 bn). Corruption affects every level of politics and public services, we hear of this politician or that, hospital managers, public works officials etc who are suspected of corruption but even if their cases come to court, the punishments are often minimal.
And that brings us to PEC 37.
PEC 37 a proposed law to remove all investigative power from the Public Ministry (Ministério Público or MP) and government institutions such as IBAMA, Social Security, IRS etc and leave all criminal investigations in the hands of the federal and civil police (The MP is the Brazilian body of independent public prosecutors, working both at the federal and state level. It is independent of the three branches of government and has played an important role in corruption investigations involving politicians and public offices such as tax evasion, drug trafficking, money laundering etc).
PEC 37 enraged its opponents who refer to it as “PEC impunidade” (PEC impunity), they say it would simplify the life of corrupt officials and facilitate illegality. Various organisations have come together to campaign against PEC 37 with the slogan “Brasil contra a impunidade” (Brazil against impunity). Using data from the CNJ (National Justice Council) the group allege that only 11% of common crimes are investigated by the police and in the case of murders only 8%, whilst in 2012/13 the MP put forward 15,000 penal actions. If these cases were in the hands of the police, they might never reach court as the case becomes void if the investigation is not concluded in time.
The bill’s proponent Lourival Mendes, justifies PEC 37 saying many cases currently investigated by the MP are questioned in the high court as the investigation of crimes is not part of the MP’s legal powers.
The final vote on the bill was scheduled for the 26th June but as I was writing this on the 25th, congress moved the vote forward and PEC 37 was rejected, 430 against, 9 in favour, 2 abstained.
As the protests role on, more voices are coming into the mix, I can’t cover them all or we would be here forever but in brief:
Those against the proposed “Cura Gay” (Gay cure) law which opponents say will lead to homosexuality being treated as an illness.
Violent crime is, as every one knows, a problem in Brazil.
Anti racism protestors.
Brazil is a melting pot of race and cultures but racism is rampant and the indigenous people are often at the bottom of the heap. As the new Maracanã stadium was being built for the World Cup, the indigenous Indians were evicted from their museum of culture so the area could be transformed into a shopping centre and museum of Olympic history.
Rights for the disabled and those with special needs.
At the same time as the Indians were being evicted from their museum at the Maracanã stadium, a public school which has been on the site for 48 years, Escola Municipal Friedenreich, was threatened with demolition to make “space” ie a car-park. The school is ranked within the top 10 schools in Rio state and is specially adapted to allow ease of access for children with special needs, who account for approximately 10% of the 350 students and includes those with Downs-syndrome, autism and wheel chair users.
The parents, children and staff of the school are fighting the demolition and have won a small victory in that there is now a promise not to demolish until another school has been built, but what they really want is to stay on the site. Ironically the school is named in honour of Artur Friedenreich a famous Brazilian footballer from the 1920’s who was an extremely successful World Cup player, some consider greater than Pelé.
Anti inflation and general disillusionment with politics.
The price of basic food stuffs, beans, rice, tomatoes, potatoes, bananas, meat etc have risen dramatically in the last few years and seems set to continue rising, this disproportionately affects the poor owing to the system of taxes applied to foods.
Residents of two of the largest favelas in Rio, Rochina and Vidigal, took to the streets calling for an improvement in basic sanitation, security, health and education.
There is also a growing number of smaller protests being held outside of the cities, with road blocks on main roads by individual communities who have a grievance specific to their area, as well as all the main others listed above.
Perhaps the fishermen should join in and protest against the illegal fishing!
The protests look set to continue with organisers calling for a general strike on the 1st of July.
All of the organisers are keen to distance themselves from the disgraceful behaviour of the few who have really blackened the image of the protests. There have been some dreadful scenes of vandalism, which the world media has concentrated on. Shops have been stripped of their stock and security camera footage shows cases of groups of up to 30 men invading individual shops and working in a coordinated manner, systematically clearing the shelves, they clearly were not opportunistic thieves.
The damage that has been done, particularly in the city centres, will in each case cost thousands to put right and is absolutely unforgivable, that behaviour had nothing to do with the real protesters.
News reports state that police have identified some of those responsible as drug traffickers from some of the favelas that were “taken back” by the police in actions last year. Many of those arrested were minors (under 16) which is no surprise as there is a general feeling that many young people, knowing the law can’t touch them, can and do what they like, or it could just be that they were too stupid and got caught.
There is also the smattering of groups well-known for their violence, neo-Nazi’s and Skin heads amongst others. Some of the violence was triggered by fighting between political groups or between groups trying to remove those waving party banners, the main body of protestors were apolitical and wished to keep party politics out of the protest.
As is my sceptical way on things of this nature I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there were agents provocateurs within all of these groups, put there by whom and for what motives is anyones guess but if their aim was to draw the world’s attention away from the real issues, they succeeded.
There were certainly cases where the protest was peaceful until a fight between individual protestors broke out, the fight grew and was drawn towards the police lines. When the fighting reached the police, or in some cases before then, the police reacted with tear gas, shock bombs and pepper spray, the majority of protestors moved away, some tried to calm things but others stayed and fought with the police. In some instances small groups of police were isolated and were in danger of being lynched by the mob but for the brave actions of some of the legitimate protestors who literally held the mob at bay until they could get the police to safety, considering the mob were heavily armed with sticks, bricks, anything they could find, those protestors who acted to save lives were very brave indeed.
Police brutality is a serious problem in Brazil and on many occasions during the protests in a virtually all the locations, police have been filmed behaving in an appalling manner, their extremely violent reactions to events, individually or on mass, often provoked what had been a peaceful protest, to erupt into violence and many people exercising their legitimate right to peaceful protest were seriously injured and some have lost their lives (though not all who’ve died did so as a result of police action). Many of the police officers involved in the protests have clearly not been trained to deal with such situations and in some footage it is obvious that, highly nervous and unsure how to behave, they’ve panicked and reacted with extreme force.
Police commanders in some areas have dealt with the protests better than others and a friend of mine who took part in the protests in Sao Paulo said “ In the first week they (the police) were repressive, aggressive, you could say irresponsible but I know they were ordered to behave in that manner…. with the international reaction, the orders were to be peaceful and polite with the protestors the following week.”
Brazil cares a great deal about her international appearance.
Some critics of the protests say they do not reflect the opinions of the lower social classes, claiming the protesters are mostly middle class students. If this was true, judging from the numbers on the streets, Brazil must have an incredible amount of students and it is the lower classes who have the most to gain, they also have the most to fear from the police, so perhaps this explains why their presence has been less evident. A survey by Globo television found that the protestors were evenly divided between low and high income brackets and what ever their social class, this cannot be used as a means of invalidating the justified grievances of the protests.
I get the impression that most people are wholly behind the protests, seeing them as a necessary inconvenience and protestors are aware of the difficulties they are causing to ordinary people, many placards say things like “Desculpe o transtorno, estamos mudando o país” Sorry for the inconvenience, we are changing the country.
And I’m sorry this post has been so long but like I said,
It’s about a lot more than just 20 cents!
Vem pra rua http://youtu.be/lLNqQbqEY1c
For a short video on one Brazilian’s view of the world cup see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZApBgN…
©Claire Pattison Valente 2013