Brazil went through a roller coaster in June of 2013. Thousands of people overflowed onto the streets of hundreds of cities throughout the country in protest against the bad conditions of the public education, security and health systems. All levels of government were targeted and some national, state e municipal buildings were depredated by enraged people who tried to invade them.
The first demonstration happened on June 6th and it was organized by a social movement called Movimento Passe Livre – MPL – (Free Bus Fare Movement) against the increase of 10 cents on the bus fare in the city of São Paulo. It defends that public transportation should be free just as health, security and education are rights guaranteed in the Brazilian Constitution, although they are not well provided in the country.
For the MPL, if a poor person needs to go to a doctor and does not have the money to pay for the bus fare, it means that this person has been denied the right to be healthy. (It could cost as much as US$ 4.00 round trip for a person who lives on the periphery of São Paulo to visit a doctor in the center of the city). The movement is inspired by cities that already provide free public transportation in Brazil, the United States and Europe.
During one of the first protests, a police officer was hurt when the police were violently repressing the demonstrators. This caused a backlash by many police members who acted with lots of violence during following demonstrations, taking dozens to prison and severely hurting many demonstrators and journalists who were covering the event.
The fact that the police violence was publicized on the social media caused a revolt by the population in general that drew more people to the following demonstrations. By them, the São Paulo mayor and governor canceled the increase of the bus fare, but it was too late.
The protests spread to all over Brazil and people started protesting against a wide range of issues from the health system to corruption. Some researchers commented that this was the first time that people went to streets without a pre-defined agenda in Brazil.
The result is that right-wing extremists tried to take advantage to weaken the federal government run by the Workers Party since 2003 (this Party is trying to reelect the President Dilma Rousseff in the coming October Presidential election).
The protests also coincided with the Cup of Confederations, a soccer championship that was happening in some state capitals of Brazil. This international event raised the question of the public money spent on stadiums and the number of poor people who had to be relocated for their constructions.
Meanwhile, the June demonstration served to show that some of the protagonists of change in Brazil in the past are completely far away from ordinary people’s dreams of a better society. Unions, leftist parties and the Catholic Church were the organizations that led the country to transition from a dictatorship to a representative democracy in the 70s and 80s and demanded many rights for the poor.
Many of the government officials appointed by the Workers Party were leaders from some unions and traditional social movements and they lost touch with the grass root movements. The Church did not appear as a vehicle for the dialogue in between the protesters and the government last June, which was its role in the past.
Many protests are expected during the World Cup and after that, as it is also an election year. In spite of the improvement in some areas such as food security, the country, which the majority of the population living in urban areas, is going through a wave of violence making people feel unsafe.
Education, mobility and health continue to be big complaints. Meanwhile, Brazil spends billions of dollars to hold the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games in 2016.
No one knows what is going to happen in the near future, but is certain that people will continue going to the streets to demand their rights.
Flávio José Rocha is a Social Science Ph.D. student at PUC-São Paulo.