Brazilian Leaders Take Conciliatory Tone Toward Protesters

Protests have erupted in Brazil over the past week. On Monday, there were tens of thousands of demonstrators on the streets of cities across the country. And again on Tuesday, demonstrations have continued. Unlike in Turkey, Brazil's leaders are adopting a conciliatory tone.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Today, protesters are once again out in the streets of Brazil. Yesterday, hundreds of thousands demonstrated in cities across the country. And today, Brazil's president adopted a conciliatory tone.

PRESIDENT DILMA ROUSSEFF: (Foreign language spoken)

BLOCK: That's Brazil's president, Dilma Rousseff, saying the protesters' voices need to be heard. We go now to Sao Paulo and NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, who is at today's demonstration there. And, Lulu, tell us where you are and what's going on.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: I'm in front of the cathedral here in Sao Paulo. And today, I have to tell you it's a lot smaller protest than it was yesterday. Yesterday, there were tens of thousands of Brazilians here on the streets of the economic capital of Brazil.

And today, I would say there's only a few thousand. And I've spoken to a few of the protesters here to ask if they're disappointed by the turnout. And they say, you know, they want to keep these protests going. It doesn't matter if they're small. They're hoping for a much bigger turnout at the weekend where more people can show up. But they want to keep the pressure on the government to show that, yes, these protests are still happening. The pressure is still being placed on the government for the changes that they're asking for.

BLOCK: And the spark, Lulu, for these protests, what kicked this all off?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: These protests were kick-started by a hike in the price of public transport: buses, the subway. And because the police responded with violence during those initial protests - they used teargas and rubber bullets - it really galvanized people here. They were outraged.

And so from what was rather a small movement, we're seeing a massive awakening, some are calling it. Brazil doesn't really have a history of mass dissent, unlike other Latin American countries such as Chile and Argentina. So this is really something new, people are saying.

BLOCK: And, Lulu, you said they want to keep pressure on the government to get what they're asking for. What are they asking for in particular?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, that depends on who you're talking to. People here are coming out for all sorts of reasons. But I would say there's one common theme. This is one of the most expensive countries in the world to live in. Taxes are very high and so are prices. And what you get for that is minimal: bad education, they say, terrible transportation, shoddy infrastructure.

And because Brazil in the last decade was booming, people sort of lived with it. But now, the economy is slowing down and many people have moved into the middle class, and they are demanding more for their money. What is a big concern for the government here, though, is how these protesters are focusing on the big events Brazil will be hosting in the coming years.

BLOCK: Big events including the World Cup next year, the Olympics in 2016. How much are those events tying in with the protesters and what you're hearing from them?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, many of the protesters are calling for a boycott of the World Cup. How can Brazil, they say, build a refurbished 12 stadiums, billions of dollars in public money, when there is so much that needs to done in the country?

This is, of course, deeply embarrassing to the government. This is a big milestone for the Brazilian government, the World Cup and the Olympics as you mentioned. Brazil has ambition to show it's a modern global power. And what these protesters are doing are throwing a spotlight instead on the crime and the glaring inequality here.

BLOCK: And, Lulu, we hear the crowd behind you. What are they chanting? Are there signs that they're hoisting? What do they say?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: They are chanting that the people have woken up. They're also holding up signs asking for better health care, for better transportation. They're waving Brazilian flags. It is a very festive atmosphere, unlike what we saw last week when there were clashes between the police and the protesters. At this point, the police has decided to take a step back, hands off as long as they don't damage any of the property. And so far, it's been very peaceful.

BLOCK: OK. That's NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro on the streets in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Lourdes, thanks so much.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're welcome.

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