What's going on in Rio de Janeiro - Brazil? (by F.Prieto - Oct.2013)
People abroad who are interested in Brazil or who like Rio may be asking the question above. News are confusing: from one side, mainstream media are talking about big strikes and riots, while the other side reports we'd be living in a kind of authoritarian dictatorship which would oppress people. Trying (probably unsuccessfully) not to take sides here, I'll report what I've witnessed personally during the past recent years, months and weeks.
It all seems to have started in 2007, when FIFA anounced that the 2014 Soccer World Cup would take place in Brazil. Soon, we started watching political opposition and their militants, either from right or left wing parties, oppose it publicly in the press and social networks. Next, they tried to tie this opposition to some more wider, but specific social demands: "- We don't need a Soccer Cup", "- We need Education, Health, Security" and so on. Even though the annual national budget for those areas is about ten times the cost of a World Cup event in investments, which are indeed made mostly by companies which will explore its future income, the chant went on. Notice that in no moment have those oponents proposed a national referendum - maybe because they think they'd fail, if they did.
In the sequence we had elections in 2010, but the campaigning against the World Cup did not affect PT (brazilian Labour Party) and their members' popularity. Dilma, with the blessing of the union leader and previous president Lula (PT), has gotten elected. Right after elections, the negative campaign re-started, now leaded by some radical left-wing 'emerging parties' (PSOL and PSTU). Such parties, mostly formed by dissidents of PT itself, as well as by students, union and academic people, do not have many voters yet and have elected few politicians, but do control today a considerable number of unions and academic associations. Also, they have a branch in the church, which is more active in amazonian, northern part of the country and helps mobilizing indigenous people to oppose the construction of dams or to take farms by storm by claiming it used to be native peoples' land in the far or near past.
Next move, a national campaign for 10% of national budget to be applied exclusively in Education. This campaign grew, and a law was passed in the Congress, with the very help and support of presidential party, PT. Wrong claims were made, by using social networks and outdoors, that we spent only 4,5% in Education, though in reality it's in fact almost the double of that (4.5% of direct federal expenditure and 3.5% of money which is transferred from federal taxes revenues to states and counties).
Then, a bolder next step was taken: PSOL and PSTU coalition, with the use of their façade movements, started occupying - either by force or by invasion - public places with tents, and also the dean's offices in public federal universities, as well as an old building in Rio which had been a museum dedicated to indigenous people, but had been deactivated and moved to another building 30 years ago. The idea was clever: by convincing real natives from other regions to occupy the building and claim that it would not be put down (the building was in ruins), they managed to create a pretense indian settlement, which they called 'Aldeia Maracanã', and started broadcasting to the whole country and to people abroad that brazilian and local government did not respect indian lands. After a long judicial battle, they were forced to leave the place, with the promisse that the building would not be put down and would be transformed into a cultural center. The idea was clever because it raised a lot of opposition to local and federal government, which was their main real aim, and also stressed the World Cup question again (Maracanã is the name of our main soccer stadium, which stands right beside the occupied building in ruins).
In 2012, a different strategy was used by the same group: they managed to create, with the help of right wing parties, a consistent strike of both firemen and policemen. Things went somewhat wild because those professionals in Brazil belong to military corporations and have to follow their hierarchy and rules, which forbid them from making general strikes and occupying headquarters, which they did. It only ended when it became too impopular after a local parlamentary of PSOL was caught on the telephone (monitoring authorized by a judge) arranging with policemen of Salvador, Bahia, to force their strike to last longer to make it affect Carnival both there and in Rio. Occupying public squares and universities was also intensified, under the pretext of fighting for better wages for public universities professors (and just for them ...) and for 'real democracy'.
Next move, a war against public transportation fares, started in May, 2013. Similar movements had taken place previously in southern states of Brazil, mostly, but this time around they were called as a 'revolt' (revolta do busão, revolta da catraca) and those who took part and organized it used a lot of internet work to strongly broadcast it. The idea was to call everybody's attention by destroying and burning a lot of buses and other public/private property, so that it would not remain unnoticed. SP police came around, trying to control the situation and to curb that kind of act, but it only helped violence to escalate. In the end of the day, over 80 buses had been destroyed, as well as bus shelters, public telephones, shop windows and ATM machines and bank agencies. Although those who organized and took responsibility for it were just a group of young guys under the initials 'MPL' (standing for: Movimento Passe Livre), their sites were used and broadcasted by the same militants of opposing left wing parties mentioned above. This time around, a lot of external help was also seen from 'Anonymous', 'Global Noise' and 'Occupy' movements, which helped broadcasting and promoting the internet information battles.
Taking profit of the situation described above, right wing groups and parties organized massive protests using the same mottos of leftists: - 'We' don't need Cups ... a.s.o. The only possible difference is that they stressed more on 'corruption', 'inflation' and 'politicians' unreliability', although a big part of the protests were, in fact, organized by middle-class militants aligned with right wing, traditional parties which have governed the nation for decades. For about two weeks, they managed to promote even bigger riots with a lot of destruction and confrontations with urban security forces, and after marching along with leftists, they started taking their flags away and banning them from their marches. Mainstream, right wing media also helped promoting the protests and their inherent violence, but later started condamning excessive or unjustified acts of violence. A little calm was only achieved after Dilma announced a national plan to improve public transportation, declared the intention to invest the integrality of pre-sal oil revenues in Education and proposed a public consultation about a political reform plan, which was later boycotted in Congress by opposing parties, with the help of their friendly media. She also explained that no money from public budget had actually been invested directly in the Soccer World Cup, only in infrastructure.
That's the moment when PSOL-PSTU strategists decided it could be more effective to attack Dilma's local allies, because even the big marches and riots had not strongly affected her popularity in the long run. And that's what they've been doing ever since, by means of inducing public school teachers and students to confront the mayor and the governor of Rio and Porto Alegre (PT controled or PT allies' controled cities) in big acts and strikes where teachers' unions try to storm Local Parliament (Câmara Municipal) and convoke Black Bloc movement activists to promote riot and destruction at the end of each 'peaceful act'. Every week or even twice a week, we've been witnessing the police trying to stop the destruction of bus shelters, banks, shops, public buildings and equipment, without much success, because those who organize it use cell phones and have the support of twitters and even lawyers to release militants when they get arrested. It's getting more serious and, of course, those who organize it and put their bets on such subterranean way of protesting blame it always on the police and local authorities, also saying Dilma is facing so many protests and is not well liked. However ... the general public is not convinced and 99% are still silent or reticent, but bothered by those frequent acts which interfere in their daily routines.