Why Brazil's protesters still aren't satisfied

Harold Maass
The Week
A demonstration in Fortaleza, Brazil, on June 19.

Bus-fare hikes were just the tip of the iceberg

It will take a lot more than cheaper bus fare to convince Brazil's protesters to go home.

The mayors of the country's two largest cities — Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo — have rescinded bus and subway fare hikes that triggered a week of nationwide protests. But the concession did not impress the masses, and protests resumed on Thursday in 80 cities across the country. The biggest demonstration of the day appeared to be in Rio.

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If the protesters got what they were demanding, why are they still ignoring the threat of tear gas and riot police and returning to the streets?

The short answer is that the fare hikes — by 20 cents, to $1.50 a trip in Sao Paulo — were not the only thing making people angry (although, in a country where a minimum-wage worker makes $313 a month, they did sting). Gary Duffy at BBC News said the controversy over the fares "was only the issue that got the marchers on to the streets — it all seems much bigger than that now."

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The objectives of this diverse protest movement are very broad, such as demanding better education and health services. A sluggish economy and inflation that is affecting the lives of ordinary Brazilians every day can be added to the mix.

Politicians with high salaries giving jobs and flights to relatives are widely scorned. Inequality and the huge cost of hosting the World Cup and the Olympics are key issues raised by demonstrators alongside corruption, crime and police brutality. [BBC News]

One demonstrator echoed that assessment to The Associated Press. "It's not really about the price anymore," said Camila Sena, an 18-year-old university student who joined a Wednesday protest near Rio. "People are so disgusted with the system, so fed up that now we're demanding change."

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The irony is that Brazil's leftist government, led by President Dilma Rousseff, has created an environment in which Brazilians have come to expect much more from their government. Here's Simon Romero at The New York Times:

But expectations among Brazilians remain high, thanks in large part to the government’s own success at diminishing inequality and raising living standards for millions over the last decade. The number of university students doubled from 2000 to 2011, according to Marcelo Ridenti, a prominent sociologist.

"This generates huge changes in society, including changes in expectations among young people," he said. "They expect to get not only jobs, but good jobs." [The New York Times]

And it appears that Rousseff is well aware of that fact. In stark contrast to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has met similar protests with blunt force, Rousseff has sought to frame the protests as part of Brazil's resurgence. "The size of the protests yesterday prove the energy of our democracy," she said this week.

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Whether the protesters will see it that way is another matter.

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