Socrates Fabiano writes from Brazil on how a protest over transport fares has developed into a mass confrontation with the state involving forces from the left and the right
It all started with a claim against the raising of public transportation fares. Then came brutal police repression, which put fire in the powder keg – bringing thereby millions of Brazilians to the streets who are now protesting against ‘everything’.
The story begins early this year, when protests were held in two big cities in Brazil (Porto Alegre and Goiania) after the local administrations had raised public transportation fares. The movements were successful, and the fares went back to their original price.
It was then São Paulo’s turn, as underground, train and bus fares were also raised at the beginning of June – from 3 reais to 3,20 reais (£0.87 to £0.92). The Free Fare Movement in São Paulo – a social movement which advocates that public transportation should be free and financed by taxes from the rich – called for a protest in the week the fare was raised.
The first protest was big, it suffered police repression, which turned it more violent, leaving a trail of destruction in São Paulo. A lot of bank windows were broken, bus windows were smashed, litter was thrown all over the streets and barricades were set on fire. This made headlines in the main Brazilian newspapers.
The second protest happened the next day, but this time nothing serious happened. On the third day, though, after police denied the rally to occupy a bus station, using for this stun grenades and tear gas bombs, the protest got violent again. Streets from the central area from São Paulo were completely destroyed, and police made several arrests.
All the main media vehicles started to demand that São Paulo State’s Government use an iron fist to stop the protests, and the governor Geraldo Alckmin promised to do it. On the fourth protest, this happened. Close to 15,000 people took to the streets and were brutally attacked by police in the middle of the rally out of the blue. The thousands of people were then scattered in the streets of the central area, while the riot police chased them using indiscriminate violent. A lot of people were injured, even those who weren’t on the protest. Journalists were severely attacked and wounded, and images of the brutal repression ran through the social media.
Because São Paulo is the economic heart of Brazil, and also where all the main media companies are settled, the result of this was a national commotion. Four days after this brutal police repression, São Paulo saw its largest protest in the last 20 years. Hundreds of thousands took to the streets, not only to protest for the reduction of the fare, but against the violence of the police, which stayed off the streets on this day.
Protests were then held in other big cities in the country as well, many of them in solidarity with São Paulo, but also for their own local demands.
As thousands took the streets in Brazil, a strange thing was then detected – the conservative discourse. People from the middle class, with a conservative mind, were also in the streets, chanting a lot against corruption, which in Brazil is a discourse promoted by the media in order to take aim at Brazil’s government. Surprisingly for many, the media then started to support the protests, seeing this as an opportunity to wear out Dilma Roussef’s government – which although a government that has forgotten leftist historical flags a long time ago, offering a safe place for international capital and the Brazilian elite, still suffers opposition from the media because of the history of the Worker’s Party.
On last Tuesday a new protest was held in São Paulo, a very violent one. Angry people tried to occupy the city hall, stores were looted, a lot of public and private property was destroyed, as police were off the streets. This meant on Wednesday, São Paulo’s governor and mayor announced the reduction of train, underground and buses fares. Cities across the country also announced the reduction, but now this is just about the public transportation fares.
Big cities in Brazil are still staging big protests, and the chants in the streets vary from being against corruption, politicians, and law projects that promote homophobia. The Confederation Cup is being played in Brazil, and on the days and in the cities that the matches happen, violent clashes are taking place. One of the main targets of the popular anger is the amount of public money used in an indiscriminate way to build useless stadiums for the World Cup that Brazil will host next year, while the country faces a lot of problems in health, education, lack of homes and so on.
On Friday, President Dilma Rousseff, aiming to calm down the anger, made a national wide statement, promising, among other things, to receive leaders from the demonstrations and to discuss a national plan on urban mobility, prioritizing collective transportation.
Among this process, there is fear from sectors of the left. One worrying point is that people identified as linked to the parties are being harassed and even being physical attacked on the demonstrations all over Brazil, as an anti-party sentiment has become hegemonic. Because of this, there’s a fear of the rise of fascism on the streets, even though it doesn’t seem anything serious at the moment.
Another worrying point is that the conservative discourse that has now taken to the streets with the middle class can become something strong, captured by rightwing forces, in order to take Brazil’s government back to its hard neoliberal times in the nineties. Brazil will host national elections next year.
Other sectors from the left, although, see that it’s a new moment in Brazilian history, an opportunity to gather forces towards progressive directions. However, only time will tell what it will happen.