Corruption and Violence: Fed Up with Status Quo Brazilians Finally Do Something About It

Washing Brazilian flag in Brasília In Brazil, the leaders behind the March against corruption, after catalyzing popular dissatisfaction with corruption and impunity into an enormous Independence Day event, say they intend to continue at the forefront of popular pressure for changes.

“We hope to take advantage of the popularity of the movement and promote demonstrations in an attempt to change the country’s laws. The march on Independence Day was a generic movement against corruption. We will now move forward to make effective changes,” declared Luciana Kalil, one of the organizers of the March Against Corruption.

According to Kalil, the group intends to collect signatures in order to present petitions for new laws. One of the principal aims will be to put an end to secret votes in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate.

José Jance Marques, another organizer, says the group is waiting to see the reaction of politicians who “should have got the message.” Then the March Against Corruption will plan additional events that will be small but focused on changing laws.

“We have to apply pressure and not let the moment escape. The idea is to hold other demonstrations in the future, that is for sure,” he said. Jance pointed out that the march had a homepage and that the site was still active on Facebook.

Brazilian Independence Day commemorations are a civic-military event that has become more and more civic and less military since the end of the military dictatorship (1985).

One of the changes in Brasília was moving the parade out of Army Headquarters in the Military Sector, which was distant from the city center and, well, very military.

The parade now takes place on the Mall (Esplanada) in the very heart of the capital. The Mall is a little more than one kilometer long and lies at the eastern end of the 16-kilometer long Monumental Axis-Avenue (Eixo Monumental) that runs like a spear (or airplane fuselage) through the city center from west to east.

At one end of the Mall is the central city bus station and at the other end the seats of executive, legislative and judicial power at the Plaza of the Three Powers where the Palácio do Planalto (where the president works), the Congress and the Supreme Court are all located.

According to the Guinness Record book, the Mall in Brasilia is one of the world’s biggest. It is some 250 meters wide, with broad open grassy spaces in the center bordered by two six-lane avenues on each side. On the other side of the wide avenues are rows of buildings that house the executive branch ministries.

On Wednesday, September 7, the official Independence Day parade took place on the left side of the Mall (looking down from the central bus station toward the Congress building) and was presided over by president Dilma Rousseff.

After she arrived in an open car, she passed the troop in review and officially authorized the parade, as is customary. Then she sat in a grandstand with her daughter and grandson, along with other authorities (including most of her cabinet) and watched the parade.

It is estimated that there were over 20,000 people at the official parade. A temporary wall isolated the area of the official parade from the other side of the Mall.

On the other side of the Mall, at the same time as the official parade, another “parade” was taking place: the March Against Corruption. According to the police, it began shortly after 9:00 am with less than 2,000 people. Around noon, the March Against Corruption spilled over onto the grass in front of the Congress and police estimated it had grown to between 25,000 and 30,000.

A lot of people, many of them from the official parade, had joined the protest. The march, which also took place in other Brazilian cities, was planned through Internet social networking. According to the organizers in Brasilia, some 25,000 people logged in.

“The result was positive and surprised us. After people from the Independence parade joined us, we had more than the 25,000 that we enrolled on Facebook,” said Luciana Kalil. She added that the march was such a big success that she had given interviews to reporters from Germany, the United States and Argentina.

She said the turnout showed that people are really fed up with traditional forms of political organization. She explained that was the reason the march did not attack anyone in particular.

“People from political parties came to us, but they have their own agenda. We never accepted that. This was an apolitical march, no political parties allowed, ” she declared.

“We refused to let any political party take over the movement. No political party banners or flags were allowed, the only flag was the Brazilian flag.”

Luciano Dias, a professor of political science, says that the apolitical nature of Wednesday’s Independence Day March Against Corruption is a challenge for the group as they try to turn popular discontent into something capable of creating real political transformations.

Dias says that although the March Against Corruption is an important initiative, such a vague, broad attack on corruption is not very efficient.

“The march was important, no doubt about that. The question is whether or not the protest can become a political movement. That will require clear objectives such as new anticorruption legislation,” said Dias.

Dias went on to point out the difference between the march and other initiatives that did not stir up similar popular support, such as attempts by opposition parties in Congress to install parliamentary investigative committees (CPIs).

“The fact is that the opposition does not have legitimacy. It is simply not a legitimate leader of any movement against corruption for the simple reason that its members also have their own problems with corruption,” declared Dias.

As for the support of the March Against Corruption by important civic-social organizations such as the Federal Bar Association (OAB), the Catholic Bishop’s Conference (CNBB) and the Brazilian Press Association (ABI), Dias makes a point of explaining that they were all Johnny-come-latelies and did not provide any material aid.

According to Dias, the protesters themselves paid for some 20,000 pamphlets and made their own anti-corruption banners (with their own paint and cloth).

According to one protester, “At all times we emphasized the responsibility of each person. It was understood that the only way to make changes was to unite the people. Anybody could see that everybody was unhappy with the situation and there was an enormous desire for some big changes.”

Due to the success of the march and the attention from the media, even international news outlets, Luciana Kalil, one of the organizers, says people have been saying she should get into politics, maybe run for office.

“I think it is easier for me to help us get one million signatures on a petition for a new law than to be elected to the Chamber of Deputies and drum up a majority there. It is easier to mobilize the people,” she declared.

Broken Peace

A conflict between inhabitants of the Complexo do Alemão slum in Rio and the police turned into a riot.

The Complexo do Alemão, a huge slum, was invaded by heavily armed police and army soldiers, known as Pacification Police Units (UPPs or Força de Pacificação), at the end of last year.

The UPPs drove drug lords out of the slum without firing a shot and since then have been replaced by regular police and social assistance units.

The UPP program is slowly “pacifying” Rio slums (more than a dozen so far) and then making government services available to the inhabitants. However, the program has not been completely without problems.

On Sunday, in the Complexo do Alemão slum, police asked a large, unruly group of people watching a soccer match to reduce the noise, which they refused to do. Bottles, rocks and other objects were thrown at UPP members who fired rubber bullets and used pepper spray. A number of people were injured.

On Monday, September 5, there was another conflict between police and inhabitants; this time, motorcycle taxi drivers (their vehicles are the only ones that can navigate many of the winding narrow alleys in the upper parts of the slum) refused to obey the police.

Shortly after the second confrontation, some inhabitants demonstrated in favor of the UPP leaving the slum. Government attorneys were sent into the area to investigate the incidents.

On September 6, Tuesday, for the first time since the end of last year when the area was occupied by the UPP, shots were fired into the Complexo do Alemão slum (they seemed to come from other slums, known as Favela da Grota, Morro do Baiana and Morro do Adeus).

Immediately, some 50 UPP soldiers, armed with rifles, were mobilized and closed off the Complexo do Alemão, setting up barriers and checkpoints at entrances to the slum. The shooting started around 7:30 pm near a cable car station, known as Itararé Estação.

It seems that drug lords, expelled from Complexo do Alemão but still in the general area, now emboldened by repeated conflicts between inhabitants and the UPPs, were firing from hillsides outside the slum. There was rifle fire and pistol fire. Some grenades also exploded.

According to military spokespersons, a total of 1,700 military personnel are in the Complexo do Alemão slum and at least another 200 are in reserve. The UPP also has armored vehicles that can drive up into the slum if necessary.

Inhabitants report that there have not been a lot of changes since the UPP arrived. There is less gunfire, they say, but their daily lives are pretty much the same. One woman said she had more hope that her young son would not get involved in drugs. “We try to keep our kids away from drugs but it is not easy. Now I do have more hope that he can have a good life,” she said.



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