The Economist, 06/22/2013
WITH stunning speed, protests that started on June 6th in São Paulo over a 20-centavo (nine-cent) rise in bus fares have escalated into the biggest nationwide street demonstrations Brazil has seen since 1992. Then, citizens took to the streets to demand the impeachment of a president on corruption charges. What they want this time is less clear. The first protests were dismissed by paulistanos unsympathetic to the organisers’ demand for universal free bus travel (a policy that would cost the city 6 billion reais a year, the mayor, Fernando Haddad, pointed out). Commuters were unimpressed when the protests made their hellish journeys even worse, and outraged by the vandalism committed by a hard core. Conservative newspapers called for a crackdown.
All that changed on June 13th when ill-trained, brutal police turned a mostly peaceful march into a terrifying rout. Officers with their name tags removed fired stun grenades and rubber bullets at fleeing protesters and bystanders, and hunted stragglers through the streets. Motorists trapped in the mayhem were hit with tear gas. Demonstrators caught carrying vinegar (which lessens the effect of the gas) were arrested. Several journalists were injured, two shot in the face at close range with rubber bullets. One is likely to lose sight in an eye. The following day’s editorials took a markedly different tone.
By June 17th what has been dubbed the “V for Vinegar” movement or “Salad Revolution” had spread to a dozen state capitals as well as the federal capital, Brasília. An estimated 250,000 took to the streets across the country the following nights. There were many more women, families and middle-aged folk than at the initial protests. The demands had also grown more varied: banners condemned corruption, rising prices, poor schools and hospitals, and the cost of next year’s football World Cup, for which Brazil will spend 7 billion reais on stadiums alone—three times the cost of South Africa’s 2010 World Cup. “First-world stadiums, third-world schools and hospitals”, ran one placard.