PAULO SOTERO, 06/18/2013
Massive and mostly peaceful protests held Monday
It is no accident that an increase in bus fares was the issue that generated the protests after a totally unnecessary show of force by the police last week in São Paulo. On Monday, protesters asserted their civil right to raise their voices and demand respect from authorities and an aloof and self-serving political class that has become an embarrassment to itself and to the nation. They have proved they do not need political parties to express their opinions for them. They have used the tools of social media to organize, articulate and express their demands. Members of a rising middle class of mostly young people, they have glimpsed at the promise land of economic growth with equity and are now telling themselves and the country’s political leaders that they want to get there.
A movement of many causes and no clear leaders, the protests will likely fizzle after the reduction of bus ticket prices expected to be announced on Wednesday in São Paulo and other cities. It is more difficult to harness people’s anger around some of the other demands heard on the streets such as unpunished political corruption and distorted priorities on public spending. Some common themes that emerged from the crowds have, nevertheless, gained more visibility and urgency thanks to the protests. Opposition to city bus tariff increases is reflexive of people’s frustration with poor quality of public services in general. They are asking: if Brazil is the sixth or seventh world economy, as the country‘s politicians like to proclaim, why do they have to endure daily
Wasteful public spending, illustrated by hundreds of millions of dollars of cost overruns in the construction of soccer stadiums for the 2014 World Cup is another focus of strong criticism heard from protesters. Is that really a priority in a nation facing huge deficits in education and health?
At the political level, protesters are united in their strong rejection of an unresponsive political system. During rallies, a few attempts by militants of small parties to make partisan statements
Going forward, the question is whether politicians will understand the message emerging from the protests and respond in ways that revalue Brazil’s democratic institutions, painstakingly built over the past three decades, in the eyes of the people. On the hopeful side, the protests should be viewed as a healthy political event that will force an underachieving Brazil to move on with a consequential agenda of political and economic reform and improvement. The scene is set for leaders with vision and courage to understand the challenge of the moment and act. The absence of such a response will aggravate current problems and undermine leadership at all levels of government. It is too early to measure and interpret the political implications and impact of this week’s events for the October 2014 nationalelections. Until the dust settles and opinion polls are released, attempts of this sort should be viewed mostly as speculation.
Paulo Sotero Marques is the director of the Brazil Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.