Brazilian students are getting restless. Classes have barely started for the
year and they are already on the streets protesting against the government's
economic policy. Two thousand college and high-school students went on a four-hour
demonstration throughout downtown Belo Horizonte, state of Minas Gerais, this
March 30. They marched through several central streets of Minas's capital
city, stopping for a while in front of the Central Bank building.
The protesters used the
occasion to recall and lambast the 1964 military coup that started a dictatorship
that lasted until 1985. This March 31, is the 40th anniversary
of that coup d'état. Besides demanding changes in Lula's economic model,
the students called attention to the need of more vacancies in the free state
universities. They also want to get free subway and bus passes from the Belo
Horizonte city hall.
Leaders of UNE (União
Nacional dos EstudantesStudents National Federation) and UBES (União
Brasileira dos Estudantes SecundaristasBrazilian Federation of Secondary
School Students) announced that this was just the beginning of a series of
street protests. Next in line are protest marches planned for Recife, Fortaleza,
Aracaju and Salvador, all capital cities in the country's Northeast.
UNE's president, Gustavo
Petta, said that Brazilian social movements should "set fire to the country."
He vowed to make April a "red" month and promised that the students
will "give hell" to the President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
"That's what UNE, the Landless Movement and the Workers Unified Federation
will do to the country. I believe we have to ignite the manifestations in
the country in order to pressure the Lula government."
Jaime Amorim, the coordinator
of the MST (Landless Movement) in Pernambuco state, on the other hand, announced
that his people intend to increase the number of property invasions in the
coming days and weeks and he threatened those farm owners who might react
violently: "If they kill one of ours, we will kill 10 of theirs."
Amorim's tough talk was
in response to Luiz Antonio Nabhan Garcia, the president of UDR (Rural Democratic
Federation) who has encouraged farm owners to hire private security to protect
Amorim and the student
leader were both echoing the national coordinator of the MST, João
Pedro Stédile, who, one week ago had already announced that April would
be a red month in Brazil, in a reference to the movement's red banner, inspired
by the communist flag. The Landless are participating now in what they call
"struggle journey," a fresh wave of land invasions through the country
to commemorate the massacre of Eldorado do Carajás, on April 17, 1996,
when 19 landless workers were killed by the Brazilian military police.
For the Minister of Agrarian
Development, Miguel Rossetto, the MST action was to be expected. He referred
to April 17 as "a kind of May Day" for the Landless Movement. On
March 30, Rossetto announced the release of an additional US$ 600,000 to finance
programs of agrarian reform. He dismissed, however, the idea that this money
was found in a hurry just to appease the MST.
According to the Minister,
the government will be able to settle 115,000 families until the end of the
year. Only 11,093 families were granted land, this first quarter, though,
according to numbers released by the government. Another 197,000 families
would be receiving electricity through a program known as Light for Everybody.
It was left to Vice President,
José Alencar, the task to condemn the MST and its plan to disrupt the
country in the coming weeks. Alencar, known for his off-the-cuff comments
that sometimes embarrass President Lula, classified Stédile's threats
as bravado: "This is the kind of bluster that we should expect from the
Landless. Today, we are already suffering the effects of their threats. The
government is democratic, but it has authority and it will not allow any act
that violates the law."
The President himself
appeared during a ceremony in Brasília to guarantee that Brazil is
going to grow again and that there will enough money for the important programs
of his administration. At the launching of a program encouraging the use of
alternatives sources of energy, at Palácio do Planalto, Lula was upbeat:
"We are not kidding when we say that the Brazilian economy will have
a sustainable growth. And this growth will increase every year from now on."
The theme sustained growth
was also emphasized by Brazilian Finance Minister, Antonio Palocci, who came
in defense of Lula's current economic policies. During a senate hearing, Pallocci
called for politicians to unite around the government's goals: "We are
always open to debate on the instruments of economic policy, but for the good
of the country the pillars of economic policy cannot be changed."
While some critics are
calling for lower interest rates and higher public spending, the government's
policy has been of tight spending in order to avoid inflation. This policy
however has produced in Brazil a shrinking economy, which had a contraction
of 0.2 percent in 2003. Now, even Lula's allies in the government are joining
the opposition to decry this penny-pinching strategy.
Palocci, however, shows
no signs that he will alter the government's economic policy: "If we
jump and burn key stages," he says, "we will have to pay the bill
and who will end up paying it is the population."