Protests, Broken Subway, Security Lapses: It’s Brazil Welcoming the Pope

Pope FrancisOn Tuesday, Rio’s subway broke down, causing chaos for throngs of pilgrims in town for a huge Catholic gathering and a papal visit already marked by security lapses. Crowds of people crammed into buses, scrambled to find taxis or began walking toward Copacabana beach for an evening mass to officially kick off World Youth Day.

The city’s two subway lines were down for two hours after a power cable broke, a Rio Metro statement said. The underground system was the main way for people to get from downtown to the beach, where tens of thousands gathered for a mass to be led by the archbishop of Rio.

The metro breakdown came as local authorities grappled with security lapses during the pope’s arrival on Monday, when crowds were able to approach his car and touch the 76-year-old Argentine pontiff despite massive security.

Rio’s organization of World Youth Day and the visit of Pope Francis are seen as a test for its ability to host World Cup games next year and the Olympic Games in 2016.

Last month’s Confederations Cup, an international soccer tournament seen as a dry run for the World Cup, was marked by massive protests over the country’s poor public services, corruption and the billions spent on hosting sporting events.

Despite the metro’s stoppage, people remained upbeat near a downtown station, with many singing and smiling as they looked for alternative ways to the beach. Some chanted “This is the pope’s youth!”

Local radio, however, said police had to block a group of angry passengers from trying to rush into the Botafogo Metro station. At another station, commuters demanded explanations from metro employees.

Some 1.5 million people from 170 nations are expected to be in Rio for the week-long event.

The pope took the day off on Tuesday, but resumed his hectic schedule on Wednesday with a visit to a shrine in São Paulo state followed by more contact with big crowds on Copacabana on Thursday and Friday.

Francis sent a Twitter message to the faithful before World Youth Day, saying: “Dear young friends, Christ has confidence in you and he entrusts his own mission to you: Go and make disciples.”

Earlier, he sent another tweet to thank his flock and “all the authorities for a magnificent welcome in Rio.”

Violent Protests

Rio was also the stage for violent protests centered at Palácio Guanabara where earlier in the day Pope Francis had been received by Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff. The incidents occurred Monday night during a demonstration against Rio state governor Sergio Cabral which convened an estimated 1.500 people according to the police.

The security forces surrounding the Guanabara palace used rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the crowd with some groups particularly aggressive and violent and armed with rocks, sticks and Molotov cocktails. Protestors also lit fires.

Activists used social media to assure that the clashes between police and protestors 200m from Rio’s government headquarters were instigated by officers who had infiltrated the crowd.

A medical student stated that he had tended to a protestor injured by a bullet in the leg while taking part in the demonstration.

The police reported four injured and several arrests.

Additionally, two journalists from Midia Ninja, an Internet channel that was covering the protest, were arrested due to what police described as “inciting violence”.

Military Police sources revealed through their twitter account that one officer was struck by a Molotov cocktail thrown by protestors, and suffered serious burns.

They also divulged that one youngster had been held under suspicion of throwing the first Molotov cocktails in the police direction.

It was clear that the protests were not directed to Pope Francis or his presence in Brazil, but rather to target Governor Cabral who has been accused of repeated irregularities and protestors are demanding his resignation and having him face corruption charges.

The violence marred the end of the pope’s first day in Brazil, which began with throngs of pilgrims lining the streets to warmly welcome the 76-year-old Argentine as he crossed the city in an open-top jeep.

Spending Cuts

Brazil is cutting spending for the second time in two months to help meet its fiscal target as it forecasts slower growth this year which was also confirmed according to the latest Central Bank survey. The economic data was announced while Brazil had its eyes and ears in Rio do Janeiro to receive Pope Francis.

The government is reducing expenditures by 10 billion Reais (4.5 billion dollars approximately) and lowering this year’s economic growth forecast to 3% from 3.5%, Finance Minister Guido Mantega said on Monday. However the government will meet its primary budget surplus target, which excludes interest payments, of 2.3% of GDP this year without reducing investments, insisted the minister.

President Dilma Rousseff has pledged to contain expenditures to help control inflation that has exceeded the upper limit of the central bank’s target range twice this year. The government will cut travel, information technology, rental and outsourcing expenses, Planning Minister Miriam Belchior told reporters alongside Mantega in Brasilia.

Economists cut their 2013 economic growth forecast for the 10th consecutive week to 2.28% in a central bank survey published today. While the government is open to further revisions of its GDP outlook, Mantega cautioned about changing forecasts too frequently.

Rousseff is balancing efforts to slow consumer price increases while meeting public demands for improved health care, education and public transportation. More than one million Brazilians in June demonstrated throughout the country for lower bus fares, less government corruption and better public services, among other issues.

On May 22, Mantega said the government was cutting 28 billion Reais in spending.

Standard & Poor’s in June lowered its outlook for Brazil’s BBB credit rating, citing a loss of credibility in the government’s fiscal accounts. Last week Fitch Ratings affirmed its BBB rating and said policy adjustments may improve confidence in Brazil’s economy.

Brazil’s first-quarter economic growth unexpectedly slowed to 0.55% from the previous three-month period, falling short of analysts’ forecasts for the fifth straight quarter. GDP climbed 0.9% last year, the worst performance since the 2009 recession.

Consumer prices rose 6.4% in the year through mid-July after breaching the upper limit of the central bank’s 2.5% to 6.5% target range the previous month. Annual inflation will end the year at 5.75%, according to the median estimate of analysts polled July 19 by the central bank.

Lula Is Back

Former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is back leading opinion polls as the most likeable candidate for Brazil’s presidential election in 2014, eleven percentage points ahead of his successor and current president Dilma Rousseff according to the latest public opinion polls released over the week end.

The survey from private pollster Ibope and the influential daily O Estado de São Paulo shows that 41% of Brazilians would vote for the former president if he decides to run next year, compared to the 30% for President Rousseff who is suffering the consequences of a month long of protests when over a million people took to the streets.

However Lula who stepped down after eight years in office (2003/2011) with 80% popularity said he has no intention of bidding for the presidency in 2014 because he wants Dilma Rousseff to win a second consecutive mandate.

The poll shows that the two leaders from the ruling Workers Party are favorites to win and beat other hopefuls but if the election was to take place now, both would face a run off. Brazilian legislation demands a 50% of ballots cast in a first round to avoid the run-off.

“I discard the possibility of being candidate since I already have a candidate, the president of the republic. Nobody is knocking on my door and people know it’s not worth doing so”, insisted Lula da Silva following an academic event in São Paulo.

Rousseff’s support crashed 24.4 points in a month from an approval rate of 73.7% in June to 49.3% in July according to the CNT/MDA opinion poll. The fall coincided with the massive street protests demanding better public services and condemning rampant corruption in the political system and pharaonic expenses in anticipation of the 2014 World Cup.

Most of the protests took place during the recent July Confederation Cup sponsored by FIFA, thankfully won by the host.

The 30% vote for Rousseff compares with the 22% for Marina Silva, the greens’ candidate and a former environment minister; with 13% for Social-democrat Aécio Neves, governor of Minas Gerais and the main candidate of the opposition and 5% for Eduardo Campos, governor of Pernambuco and an ally of the current ruling coalition.

Last March the Ibope-Estado poll had Rousseff winning with 58% of vote intention, but in the new scenario the president and Silva would be tied in the run off and with 18% simply not voting or tearing the ballot. In March the disenchanted reached 9%.

Lula in a similar scenario would capture 39% of the vote; Ms Silva, 18%; Neves, 12% and Campos, 3%.

The survey was done on July 14th with 2.002 interviews covering the whole of Brazil and with an error margin of two points.



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