An increasingly vocal movement against fare increases on public transport has swept Brazil in the last two weeks, resulting in street demonstrations in several cities and angry confrontations between protestors and police. In São Paulo, Thursday night saw the fourth demonstration in the space of a week, drawing a crowd of almost 10,000 people. Nearly 130 people were arrested and 105 people were injured, according to the organisers of the march, the Movimento Passe Livre (MPL).
Likewise, in Rio de Janeiro, more than 2,000 people took to the streets. Both demonstrations ended in violent clashes with the police, who used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse demonstrators, some of whom responded with rocks and fireworks. Smaller demonstrations have also taken place in the capital Brasília and in Porto Alegre, in the south of the country.
Demonstrations of such strength have not been seen on the streets of Brazilian cities since the movement to impeach the then president Fernando Collor in 1992. However, the current protests involve a new generation, for the most part too young to have participated in the earlier movement. Many are university students. They are politically conscious, well organised and extremely frustrated with the current political landscape in Brazil.
While the fare increase of R$0.20 (6p) might seem trivial to city dwellers in the US or Europe, it is the spark which has ignited longstanding public anger about the poor quality of public services in general, political corruption and even the preparations for next year’s World Cup, which are badly behind schedule and way over budget.
The protests have also highlighted the gulf that exists between most Brazilians and their elected representatives. While police and demonstrators clashed in São Paulo, Fernando Haddad, the mayor, and Geraldo Alckmin, the state governor, were in Paris, promoting the city’s bid to host the 2020 Expo World Fair.
The protests will have been highly embarrassing for both men, not only given São Paulo’s Expo bid but especially considering the need to promote Brazil as a safe tourist destination ahead of the World Cup and the Rio Olympics in 2016. Alckmin has reacted angrily to the protests, dismissing those involved as ‘troublemakers’ and ‘vandals’, and suggesting that the demonstrations are nothing more than the actions of ‘a few small but very violent political groups’.
However, the number of protestors involved suggests that Alckmin has badly misread both the situation on the ground and the broader public mood. According to opinion polls 55 per cent of the public in São Paulo support the protestors, despite initially negative coverage in much of the national media.
Early reports tended to emphasize acts of criminal damage committed by a minority of the demonstrators. Now, however, most of the national media is beginning to strike a more balanced tone, not least because reporters from both of São Paulo’s two main newspapers, O Estado de S. Paulo and Folha de S. Paulo, were attacked by police during Thursday night’s demonstrations on, despite having identified themselves as press. Seven journalists from Folha were injured, with one reporter pictured bleeding from the eye after being hit by a rubber bullet.
Policing has been heavy-handed enough to provoke criticism from Amnesty International which condemned ‘the alarming discourse from the authorities, which has encouraged greater repression and the detention of journalists and demonstrators.’ Indeed, the events of Thursday night forced Haddad to admit that the police may have used ‘excessive force’. ‘On Tuesday the enduring image was one of violence on the part of the demonstrators,’ he said, ‘unfortunately today [Thursday] there is no doubt that it is one of violence on the part of the police.’
While Haddad’s tone has been more conciliatory than that of Alckmin, he has also reiterated that will be no reduction of the fares. ‘I do not intend to revise the transport fares because an enormous effort was made over the course of the year to ensure that the increase was well below the rate of inflation,’ he said.
More demonstrations have been scheduled for the week ahead, and protestors have insisted that they will continue until fares are reduced to their previous rate or lower. Haddad has invited representatives of the MPL for talks, in which he will outline a series of measures aimed at improving public transport in the city, and explain in detail how the new fares have been calculated. He will also show how state subsidies for public transport have developed over the years.
However, given that neither side appears willing to compromise on the main issue, more disruption is almost certain in São Paulo and in other cities across Brazil in the coming days and weeks.
This article was first published by Latin America Bureau
Yasmin Gunaratnam reflects on John Berger’s gut solidarity with the stranger
Charlie Clarke and Heather Mendick discuss how to work through the tensions within Momentum
As man-made global warming gets closer to the tipping point, Andrew Simms finds reasons to be positive about averting catastrophic climate change
In this extract from his new book The Candidate, Alex Nunns tells the inside story of how Jeremy Corbyn scraped onto the Labour leadership ballot in 2015
Graham Jones proposes a framework for a diverse movement to flourish
Musician Eliane Correa reflects on the fading revolution
Trump's victory is another sign of the failure of the centre-left's narrative on climate change. A new message is needed, and new politicians to deliver it, writes Alex Randall
Siobhán McGuirk says the question we are too afraid to ask is simple - what kind of society leads to Donald Trump as President?
The battle lines are clear. Democracy is in peril and the left must take itself seriously electorally and politically. Ruth Potts speaks to Gary Younge, who was based in Muncie, Indiana, for the US election, about the implications of Donald Trump’s victory
We need a society built on openness, community and equality to truly defeat everything that trump stands for, writes Nick Dearden.
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Short story: Syrenka
A short story by Kirsten Irving
Utopia: Industrial Workers Taking the Wheel
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry – and its lessons for today
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant
Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’
Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue
Utopia: Room for all
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK
A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank
News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions
Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release
Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts
‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette
The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.
How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op
Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU
Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity
Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson
Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release
University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.
Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.
Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History
Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.
A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas
Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn
From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'
The Fashion Revolution: Turn to the left
Bryony Moore profiles Stitched Up, a non-profit group reimagining the future of fashion
The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.
Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.
Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism
What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry