(Brazil continues to be shaken by the grassroots demonstrations that started last June, and this time not only were they able to spoil the military parades scheduled for Independence Day in Rio, but in Brasilia they were also the target of a security operation that required 8,000 of the city’s finest. The following post is the full text of an interview made that June by Hannah Yang, campus staff writer for the Ohio University student-run newspaper The Post, with some perfunctory annotations in italics and brackets.)
HY: What is the current state of government right now in Brazil? Why are the people of Brazil protesting and angry?
LFC: If by “current state of government” you mean whether there is a major crisis similar to the Arab Spring, that is not the case. The issue is not governability. What ails Brazil, and it has been so for years, is governance — a government that actually delivers. Although these protests began as grassroots opposition to bus fare increases in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro (expensive for many, unaffordable for others), they eventually included a panoply of demands that pertain to Brazil’s inadequate governance, including housing shortages, corruption, rampant crime, homophobia, and police brutality. All this is occuring in the midst of a major international soccer tournament [the 2013 Confederations Cup] and many Brazilians do not think that it is a good idea to splurge on it while there are some many other, more immediate and pressing needs.
HY: Has the unrest in Brazil existed for a while? What finally pushed the citizens over the edge?
LFC: This is a subset of the last question: The bus fare increase pushed citizens over the edge, but it is the tip of the iceberg. This unrest, however, was not a long-standing one. Although these governance issues have been going on for decades, this unrest was sudden. It has been peaceful, but there are confirmed reports of rioting. It also bears mentioning that the protests have no identifiable leadership and have been organized through social media, which contributes significantly to their spontaneity. The largest protest [at the time of this interview] had 100,000 people in Rio alone.
HY: The protest that occurred is said to have been the largest in Brazil in 20 years. Does that possibly imply that the citizens’ discontent is growing? Do you think the Brazilian government has done anything to really address the citizens’ needs?
LFC: That is the reason why I believe this is all due to inadequate governance — in almost 30 years of democracy, governments have not addressed every citizen need. There have been successes along the way, though, particularly in the form of extensive social welfare policies that have helped many poor Brazilians reach the middle class, but poverty and inequality continue. Still, Rio and Sao Paulo are seriously affected by crime, education and health systems are deficient and yes, public transportation in Rio and Sao Paulo are unreliable and cannot keep up with the millions of denizens that use it (the regular work commute in Sao Paulo takes 3 or 4 hours), which makes the bus fare increases this enraging.
HY: Protests are breaking out across Brazil and are continuing. What could possibly happen from the results?
LFC: We know one thing at this point: the mayors of Rio and Sao Paulo will reconsider the bus fare increases [this development was breaking at the time of this interview]. We also know that there will not be a Brazilian “spring” any time soon because, unlike Mubarak in Egypt and Ghadaffi in Libya, Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff is still popular [at that time, not so much now] and popular discontent is not directed against the government itself. Also, Brazil’s economy is in a better position than the Spanish or the Greek economy (or the US economy, for that matter) despite concerns with inflation and currency devaluation. Analysts believe that this is all a by-product of Brazil’s spectacular economic growth during the last 10 years. That is, people have accomplished a lot and will not give it away; to the contrary: They demand better governance and the opportunity to play a more visible role in it. Anything else at this point, including whether the possible reversal of the bus fare increases will lead to other needed changes, would be speculation.