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BRAZIL
Protests capture the attention of the government
José Pedro Martins
7/19/2013
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President Dilma Rousseff hit hard; announces political reform and health and education improvements.

Although the increase in the price of public transportation in Sao Paulo was the trigger of the mass demonstrations in all of Brazil during June, one of the main motives is a political reform that would modify the popular participation channels for decisions within the public sphere.

“What gets my attention is that for the first time since the end of the dictatorship, I see popular sectors in the streets demanding from the established powers, especially the executive and legislative, greater respect for the public wellbeing. It is the first time I’ve seen such a large mass mobilization without direct direction from the political parties or the church,” said philosopher Roberto Romano, professor at the State University of Campinas, to the university magazine.

At the end of May, the mayor of Sao Paulo, Fernando Haddad, of the ruling Workers’ Party (PT), and the governor of the State of Sao Paulo, Geraldo Alckmin, of the opposing Brazilian Social Democracy Part (PSDB), announced that starting June 2, new bus, train and metro fares would take effect. The increase would be from 3.00 reals (US $1.44) to 3.20 reals ($1.55).

A demonstration against this increase occurred on June 3 with the blocking of one highway in Sao Paulo by members of the Free Fare Movement (MPL), an organization that fights for a free and quality public transportation system. The subsequent week nine demonstrations took place, with large walks in the center of Sao Paulo, the largest city in the nation and seat of a metropolitan region with 20 million inhabitants.

Since then, millions of people have taken to the streets throughout the nation to show their dissatisfaction with the political system, corruption, violence, bad health, education, and public transportation conditions, and even their discontent with the preparations for Brazil’s 2014 FIFA World Cup. The championship will cost at least 29 billion reals (almost  $14 billion), and most of the money will be invested in stadiums and  airport improvements, but the expected urban mobility projects in the large Brazilian cities have not been set.

Millions in the streets
The recent demonstrations are the largest in Brazil since 1992, when a mass campaign led to the impeachment of President Fernando Collor de Mello (1990-92) due to corruption. Already, the social and political scope of the country is transforming, and the demonstrations will likely present great repercussions in the October 2014 elections, when the President, state governors, senators, federal representatives, and state representatives will be elected.

Most of those who took to the streets in 1992 and this year were young students, precisely those who feel least represented by the current institutions and those most affected by unemployment and the wave of violence that has already caused more than one billion murders in the country since 1980.

According to the 2012 Violence Map, designed by the Sangari Institute with official data from the Mortality Information System — a dependant of the Ministry of Health —there were more than 200,000 homicides of those between ages 15 and 24 from 2000 to 2010. The murder rate among young people is more than double the rates observed in other age groups.

Present in the large Brazilian cities but also expanding to smaller cities in the last few years, endemic violence is one of the causes of the popular dissatisfaction with the federal government, but also with the state governments who are responsible for public safety, according to the 1988 Constitution.

On June 17 police halted a gigantic demonstration that injured journalists, leading the media to maintain more comprehensive coverage of the MPL and other groups and organizations that joined the mass mobilizations.

But the height of the mobilization occurred on June 20, when millions of people flooded the streets. The next day, President Rousseff made an announcement in the national radio and television network, pointing  to action in health, education and political reform sectors. On June 24 the President met with all of the state governors and mayors of the main cities to propose a national pact for urban mobility, with improvements in mass transit and other areas.

 “To combine efforts we need to rally the governors and the prefects [mayors] towards a grand pact to elaborate a national transportation plan, an education plan, and immediately bring foreign doctors to increase medical attention in the Unified Health System,” said Rousseff.

Political and social measures
Since then, the fees for buses, metro, and urban trains decreased for 70 percent of people in large Brazilian cities, or about 50 million people. The National Congress, which has been amply criticized for linking  many parliament members to corruption, approved mass measures in record time. On June 26 it approved a project that considers corruption an egregious crime. On July 2 congress approved a project that dedicates 75 percent of petroleum exploration royalties in pre-salt— a layer of rock at the coastal strip that extends underneath an extensive layer of salt— toward education, and 25 percent to healthcare.

Representatives of the National Confederation of Agricultural Workers, the Movement of  Landless Rural Workers (MST),  the Via Campesina (International Peasant`s Movement), the National Federation of Workers and Family Agriculture Workers met with Rousseff on July 5 and demanded less bureaucracy and greater speed in executing agricultural policies. 

 “It is urgent and necessary that the government decrease bureaucracy,” maintained Alexandre Conceição from the MST’s National Coordination. “Dialogue alone is not enough, policies must be executed.” 

On July 8 the government announced the creation of new schools of medicine in 60 cities with currently no medical schools, as well as an extension to the time required to obtain the degree from the current six years to eight years, which could mean the opening of  3,615 jobs in medicine until 2017.

Medical students will have to work for two years for the Unified Health System to be able to graduate. Likewise, doctors, including foreigners interested in filling vacancies not taken by Brazilian doctors, would be paid 10,000 ($4,430) monthly reals to work in the public health system. These measures  stem from the More Doctors Program, one actions of  Rousseff’s government motivated by the large mobilization.

Certainly, two main impending changes will be to political culture and issues related to the 2014 elections. The Brazilian people saw that taking to the streets could cause important  political, social and economic transformation. As for the future of the election, the picture is plagued with uncertainty.

Furthermore, in October 2014, separate elections could call for a National Constituent Assembly that would be exclusively dedicated to discussing broad political reform in the country. That could lead to modifications of the 1988 Constitution, as President Rousseff has suggested.

 “It is our responsibility, male and female citizens, to continue demanding from our government and the established powers a democratic-participatory form of governance, where citizens are not only heard but where they can have the opportunity to participate in the decisions, in what involves their lives, their wellbeing, the public services, and thus, with respect to the political economy, which affects their work, their income, their taxes, their future,” said Ivo Lesbaupin, part of the executive board of the Brazilian Association of Non-Governmental Organizations
.—Latinamerica Press.


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The largest demonstration in the history of the city of Campinas joined the mass mobilizations that shook all of Brazil on June 20. (Photo: Adriano Rosa).
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