Home > Akashma, Awareness, Brazil, Revolution > The mask of our democracy is falling: A letter from #Brazil

The mask of our democracy is falling: A letter from #Brazil

Posted on June 17, 2013 by Akashma Online News
Source Truth is a Beaver

A contribution from Franco A., an undergraduate student of International Relations at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, translated from French

contribution from Franco A., an undergraduate student of International Relations at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, translated from French

It’s true: I do think all the signs in Portuguese are a problem for those who wish to understand the protests that are taking place in my country. I hope this article will be useful to shed some light on what is actually happening in Brazil today.

You have maybe already heard the superficial reasons for the recent wave of protests as the media has announced them. A rise of 20 cents in R$ for a bus ticket, leading to a ticket price of 3,20 R$, which is the equivalent of a modest 1,14 Euro.

The pictures that have decorated the international news pages of most of the world’s important newspapers, images of burning trash cans in the streets of Rio de Janeiro, mass mobilization in São Paulo, tear gas grenades fired by the police, overall just images of violence, do raise the question : all of that for 20 cents ? There are many people who have already asked themselves this question.

My answer to all of them is : No, “all” of this not just for 20 cents.

Brazil is still a poor country, inhabited by a population that is generally poor by global standards. The minimum wage, despite successive wage increases over the last years, is still a bad joke : 678 R$, which makes 242 Euros. Many workers live very far away from their workplace, which means they have to buy numerous tickets to get there. At the end of a month, another 20 cents can make the difference between eating and not eating. A number of low-paid workers, when they were interviewed by the media, have effectively admitted that due to the bus fare increase, they would have to go to sleep without eating more often than before.

Nonetheless, the revolt has not started for 20 cents and will not end as soon as the price is lowered again. Similar to the movement of Gezi Park in Istanbul, which has not really erupted because of the decision to build a shopping mall, or the demonstrations in Tunisia, which were not really caused by the suicide of Mohammed Bouazizi, no one in Brazil is revolting because of 20 cents. All of these uprisings share a set of deep-seated causes, which accumulate over the years, followed by a symbolic event which serves as the first spark that ultimately lights the fire.

“If the price doesnt fall, the city will come to a halt”

Like many countries today, Brazil lives through a civil war between the State and the people. This war, up until a few weeks ago, was happening without much noise but in no way more peaceful than now. For way more than a century, Brazil has been governed by politicians who see the revenue from taxes payed by their citizens – those who they ought to represent – as a mere bank account. Whole states (regions) belong to a certain group or a political dynasty, families who, before being elected to office, had already been the feudal lords of enormous latifundios, with family trees as old as the arrival of the Portuguese in Brazil. In Brazil, more than anywhere else in the world, the oppressors of today are the oppressors of tomorrow.

The foundation of Brasília, in 1960, has not improved anything. In fact, the passage from the old capital Rio de Janeiro to the new one in the middle of the country, planned and constructed within five years, an apotheosis of modernity, has only reaffirmed the odious tendencies of Brazilian politics. Rio de Janeiro was a cosmopolitan center in those days, inhabited by more than one million people, the heart of a very active workers’ and citizens’ movement. Brasília, in contrast, an artificial capital, did not even have any population before its foundation; even if this has changed over time, it continues to be primarily inhabited by an army of bureaucrats, who will not criticize the government very often, as they depend on it and are well-paid. None of the other metropoles of Brazil has the same political importance and the majority of them is too far away from Brasília for the population to travel there and directly show their indignation to our President.

Brazil is living through a special moment today, it’s true. Some well-applied political programs over the last decade have brought impressive results: economic inequality – a real cancer of which Brazil was practically world champion – has been reduced notably. The program Bolsa Família has had much success to reduce poverty and the investments in higher education for the poor as well as for ethnic minorities have shown encouraging results.

This is not about questioning the things that have worked well. These experiences of the last 10 years under the administration of the PT (Partido dos Trabalhadores, or Workers’ Party) must be protected and enlarged if one wants to create a more just society, with less poverty and exploitation from the forces of the past, like the feudal lords from the Sarney family. This is not just about protesting against the government of the PT, against the President Dilma, or against Geraldo Alckmin, Fernando Haddad or Eduardo Paes. This is about freeing the country from its authoritarian, dictatorial, and cruel heritage.

If, at the end of these protests, the political class of Brazil – a class for itself more than any other – and its army of capitalist crétins who enrich themselves not through work but thanks to their personal connections, its journalists who prostitute themselves in the interest of an elite, its policemen who kill without hesitation, if all these oppressors are removed from power and forced to recognize that an era of true democracy is arriving, then I will be very happy to pay 20 cents more.

Here’s something curious: In Brazil, demonstrations are traditionally seen as something for the “bo-bos,” an entertainment for the children of the rich who have nothing productive to do, an excuse to paint one’s face and to shout in the street.

If the demonstrations are seen like this, then it’s because, to a certain degree, it’s correct. The majority of people who participate in the protests are effectively young people coming from rich families (sometimes very rich) who have a rather leftist political vision that is considered by some as incompatible with their social class. The strange combination of protest chants inspired by worker movements of the 20th century and the not-at-all-worker-like upbringing of the protesters is very often ridiculed by the media and this perspective ends up being internalized by a large part of the Brazilian population, a country where fatalistic cynicism has been lifted to the level of art.

But here’s an interesting situation: When I participated in a demonstration of the “movement of the 20 cents” (using this name seems, at least for the moment, more practical than “movement to reduce the bus ticket price by 20 cents again”), we were stopped near the Central do Brasil, the famous train station which you probably know from the movie of the same name. The demonstration up to this point had been entirely peaceful, a real party of democracy. The majority of us were, in fact, university students from wealthy families, but already then one could see that this movement had a social base that was more heterogeneous: we also had numerous people from independent professions, retirees, and poor workers among us who were dissatisfied by this fare increase. It’s very rare for a protest in Rio de Janeiro to attract more than 200 people but we were around two thousand from several social classes. I began to realize that it was something different this time. The Brazilian people was waking up from its long sleep – and it was furious.

The calm was not there to stay. Special forces from the police, with their shields, their black uniforms, frightening looks, and “non-lethal” weapns had just arrived and started to make a line in front of us. Our group stopped. The songs fell silent. The situation almost seemed like a duel from a Western movie.

All of a sudden, something happened. The people coming out of the Central do Brasil joined us. They were street side vendors, selling fries, or mothers with four children, the children in the street, or hobos and beggars. The poor, the poorest of the city of Rio, came together and positioned themselves right between us and the police.

A few minutes later, the riot police shot at us and arrested 40 people, among them a friend of mine. On the run, as I was trying to seek refuge in the closest metro stop, I saw a man who was crying and seemed weak. He was bleeding – a victim of “non-lethal” arms.

These scenes have repeated themselves innumberale times, at all places where the people have had the courage to lift their voice against a decision which directly affects the majority of the population without ever being consulted. An authoritarian way of doing politics, and a type of politics which is only interested to benefit a cartel of bus companies, well-known for ther connections with the electoral campaigns of the mayor of Rio and other important figures. Bellow all of this: a deaf-mute federal state that takes the people hostage for private companies, financed by public money. The resultats are: bad services, high fares, revolt.

In São Paulo, the police shot at demonstrators who were carrying flowers. Just a couple of days later, they forbade carrying vinegar in the city because it could be used against the effects of tear gas; they simply allowed themselves to search people, looking for it. In Minas Gerais, all demonstrations were banned during the FIFA Confederations Cup 2013. One project that is being discussed in the Chamber of Deputies is a bill that would characterize all demonstrations during the World Cup 2014 as “terrorist,” including similarly grave punishments. In Rio de Janeiro, in the wake of a new confrontation with the police on June 16, close to Stade du Maracanã, certain demonstrators tried to flee from the fight by hiding at a friend’s house. The police, then, started to invade the houses in search of these “criminals.” The mask of our democracy is falling and the authoritarian roots of our political establishment have become visible – roots originating in a compromise with the military dictatorship of 1964 to 1985, which ended by bringing those who had fought for democracy closer to the old major figures of authoritarianism.

The symbolic alliance between Lula, the hero of the labor movement of the 70s and 80s, and Paulo Maluf, the last presidential candidate of the moribund military regime, shows that the political class is just interested in power itself and does not have an actual political project to offer. But thanks to them and their watchdogs from the police, the “Movement of the 20 cents” is becoming a movement to say what one thinks, the right to say that one wishes to live in a real democracy.

This is what is happening in Brazil. But this doesn’t stop at our borders – it’s a global struggle, against all dictators, may they come from a Unity Party, that of Moscow or that of Capital. Our world is interconnected and so will be the global resistance against those who believe they can govern us with their orders.

It is winter in Brazil at the moment but, figuratively speaking, we are living through our spring, a spring of popular action and mobilization against injustices. I hope that spring will last – otherwise, it might be the last spring before an eternal winter.

Solidarity from Turkey: “Resist Brazil: We are together in this fight”

Thank you for your article, Franco! Solidarity from France and Germany!

The Giant Is Waking Up:”

Interview with Gonzalo

Gonzalo G. is a friend of our group at “Truth is a Beaver” and an undergraduate student of the social sciences at Sciences Po’s Latin American campus in Poitiers. He comes from Rio de Janeiro.

1) Why are the recent protests in Brazil something new ?

Despite all the big changes in Brazil over the last years, what is still missing is a true social change! This conformism which has haunted the country for a long time has to go, the people have to revolt, go to the street, protest – but nothing of this sort had been done before, the Brazilian continued his day on the sofa, watching Novelas and complaining each time a protest arises that it will make him be late to work. But corruption was always present, just as much as sleeping children in the street has been a normal part of our everyday life. Hospitals in Brazil have still always had a lack of medicine, equipment, and places.

Overall, Brazil is a conservative country. The values of Brazil are still the same as fifty years ago and the old Brazilian thinks like he did in his youth – and a large part of the youth of today thinks the same way as well, unfortunately. I read an article the other day that said all of the recent protests have given back the ability to dream to those older generations who had forgotten how to do it : dream of a better country, of social justice, of equality for all.

These protests started with the bus fare increase of 20 cents and was organized by the the movement Passe livre (Free fare movement). It developed step by step (a bit like in Turkey, which started with a simple demonstration for a park and ended up in a movement demanding the removal of the prime minister) – into a social movement that no one had seen coming! These 20 cents were the drop that finally spilled the cup.

Many journalists have been attacked or arrested.

2) How do the protesters organize ?

How did they actually get started ? Another time : Facebook ! It’s the tool, the tripping divice, of social movements (I won’t go up to the point to draw a direct line between the Arab Spring and this Brazilian Spring in Winter but the principle is the same). Through Facebook, everyone shares information on the protests, even the central slogans on the signs are chossen through Facebook groups with the option to make a survey etc. Also, Facebook has become an important tool to pass videos of police violence along, to share advice on how to protect oneself against tear gas, how to reach doctors or lawyers.

3) What is the role of the police in the development of the movement?

What is funny and another time very comparable to Turkey is the fact that the police agression is the actual source of all of these demonstrations. Brazil has a fascist police, corrupted and badly trained, especially for situations like these, up to the point that people in the streets call Brazil a dictatorship (in Rio they call it “Ditadura Paes,” after the prefect of the Rio region, Eduardo Paes). The protests had, at the beginning, a pacifist strategy and, in principle, still do today but the numerous cases of police violence against the protestors have just re-affirmed their case and given reason to more and more people to not only demand the decrease of public transport fares but also to get involved to change the whole country, which, despite the general belief, still works very badly for most. Look at the videos from Rio or São Paulo and you will see the absurdity of the scenes, the unnecessary force used by the military police, the agressions against journalists, who are there to do their job but end up being shot with rubber bullets and tear gas grenades. Numerous journalists have been injured and hundreds of people arrested.

What’s curious is that a large part of the arrests were made on the 4th day of protest when the cops had the order to arrest all people who were carrying vinegar – a useful tool against the effects of tear gas – in their backpacks or pockets! The absurdity of the situation, the fact that people get arrested for the possession of vinegar – please!) has been widely commented in the media and the response of the people lived up to the same level of absurdity as police and government: they organized a “Marcha para legalizaçao do Vinagre” (a parody of the “Marcha para legalizaçao da maconha” for the legalization of cannabis).

4) What social class is pushing the protest forward?

The rich really don’t care about this question since the public transport system is almost not used by them at all and the poor do not have any time to lose for such questions either, since watching a football match is still a thousand times more important than going to the street to defend one’s rights. Marx said that religion is the opium of the people – in Brazil, it’s football. So it’s the middle class that actually defends the civic rights of Brazilians but it’s not always easy. On one side, you face the manipulative media (O Globo, Rede Record, etc.) and on the other side, you have a conformist population who is not interested in political life. They still try to do their best, showing that one can change a country, and that they want the peace, which has been destroyed multiple times by the military police. Humour is very present in their banners and chants and many people bring flowers to the protests to give them to policemen as a symbol of peace.

5) What can we expect for the time to come?

I don’t have an answer to this, and I don’t think there are many specialist who actually do. The days of action against the fare increase continue, the next one is June 17 and more and more people will be there. Even if the fare increase will not be taken back, at least Brazil will have understood one thing: the people have the power – a power they did not know about but one that becomes more and more present in the mentality of young Brazilians. One cannot foresee how a government could possibly counteract such a process because if a country of more than 200 million people is waking up, that’s going to make noise, a lot of noise. So for once, in a long time, the Brazilian people has an actual reason to be proud of itself.


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