It all started when the bus ticket fare in Sao Paulo was raised 20 centavos (or 9 cents). Tension that had been building for years finally reached its breaking point, as citizens came together and raided the streets in fury and frustration.
A demonstration that started out about the high price of a bus ticket in Brazil’s largest city, turned into a mass riot in all of Brazil and the largest protest in 20 years, covering a much larger issue (or rather, issues that the 9 cent price rise is representative of): a corrupt government, which shamelessly spends tax money on luxuries like the World Cup and the Olympics (with politicians oftentimes even pocketing the money themselves), instead of putting the money where it really matters: public services, education, health and helping the poor rise to the middle class.
The worst part of all? Peaceful demonstrations were made violent, thanks to the corrupt and brutal police, who injured protestors with tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and stun grenades, amongst other weapons. Demonstrators who were found with vinegar (which is used to lessen the effects of tear gas) were arrested. Consequently, these demonstrations have been called the “Vinegar revolt.” Appalling, right?
Thankfully, not all of the police are this disgusting. Some of them are even participating in the protests themselves. Now how’s that for a protest?
And it is not only in Brazil that these protests are taking place: Brazilians all around the globe are protesting as well to show their support.
The root of the problem
To say that health and education in Brazil are underfunded is probably the understatement of the century. Here’s the bottom line: billions of dollars are being spent on the World Cup and the Olympics, while next to nothing is put into public services, education and health. While stadiums are being constructed so that Brazil can enhance its reputation for the rest of the world, many Brazilians are suffering and even dying because of lack of health care, while others remain stuck in lower classes because of an education that is practically nonexistent.
[The lines in public hospitals are] ridiculous, people are dying before they get a chance to see a doctor. And let me tell you about public schools, here nobody in a public [school] repeat[s] grades. Thats right, it doesn’t matter if you know or not, or even if you know how to read!
We’re talking about a country where the gap between the rich and poor is one of the greatest in the world. Get this: Brazilians pay the highest public taxes of any country outside the developed world (36% of GDP) and get practically nothing in return. As The Economist states, “…it is poor Brazilians who pay the biggest share of their income in tax and get the least back from government spending.”
So the protests are well justified, to say the least. One Brazilian, Tainara Freitas, says,
Tonight this is about all of Brazil, we are moving against corruption. We have been suffering for too many years. And this year we rise. We have woken up. We are on the streets like in Turkey and Greece. They have made us wake up about this. The World Cup in Brazil is about too much money. There are too many poor people suffering. The World Cup isn’t good for Brazil. It will bring tourists and money but this is not good for poor people.
And this is a common belief among Brazilians – most Brazilians agree that this is not a good time for Brazil to be hosting these events. Sure, they will make Brazil better known to the rest of the world. But in the end, they are doing more harm than good – because money that should be spent on bettering Brazil and its people is instead going towards satisfying the rich and outsiders. Taxes and bus fares are rising, but people are reaping none of the benefits of these augmentations. Instead, poor people are being treated like animals: many people of Rio’s lower class have been thrown out of their homes with nowhere to go, just to make way for Olympic infrastructure.
For so long, the government has tried to hide Brazil’s problems and rampant corruption from the rest of the world, in the hopes of portraying a certain image of Brazil. As the NY Times finds, the government has manipulated its people into remaining loyal, “…using diversions like sports and street parties to distract the public from endemic corruption and economic inequality…” But Brazilians are starting to realize that events like sports carnivals are only serving to make the rich richer and help corrupt politicians.
Such corruption dwindles right down to the media, which has mainly shown a biased negative perspective of the protests. Many protestors throughout Brazil are hoping that their actions will gain international attention and support that may incite change. Gabriel of Salvador Brazil claims that, “This is what we wanted: to achieve international media to embarrass our politicians and thus seek an improvement in Brazil.” Some protestors even carried around signs in English, instead of Portuguese – smart move.
A new beginning
At the very least, the protests have already resulted in a reduced bus fare! Success. But more importantly, these protests mark the start of a new and improved Brazil: Brazilians are finally standing up for what they believe in in order to enact the change that they have long deserved.
I remember a Brazilian friend once telling me that Europeans will protest until they get what they want – but Brazilians just sit there and do nothing, which can help explain why the country is in the situation that it’s in. Fortunately, that is no longer true; as one Brazilian, Deli Borsari, claims, “Brazilians tend to be too nice sometimes, they enjoy partying rather than protesting, but something is changing.” Here’s what’s changing: Brazilians have finally awaken.
To understand more about the actions of the corrupt government and its effects on the repressed people, check out this extremely informative video – if this doesn’t motivate you to boycott the World Cup and Olympics, then I don’t know what will…