Brazil Protests Continue

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Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon talks with Brazil Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota about the mass protests taking place in that country over corruption and the rising cost of living.


This is WEEKEND EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Brazilians took to the streets this past week. Originally, they were protesting transit fare hikes, but anger over poor services and government corruption have turned the protests into something much larger, prompting calls for a general strike next week. Last night, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff addressed the nation. She said the voices of protesters must be heard but not confused with those of troublemakers, in reference some violence and looting that's occurred in certain areas.

Many Brazilians are angry over millions of dollars that the country has invested in the World Cup and upcoming Olympic Games while millions still live in abject poverty. Yesterday, we asked Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota about this issue.

ANTONIO PATRIOTA: Well, for the first time in our history, we are in the position to eliminate extreme poverty in Brazil, and this thanks to the social programs that were undertaken during the Lula government and now are being intensified and broadened. So Brazil is quickly evolving into a middle-class society. And I think there is a widespread view that they reflect aspirations by citizens who have benefited from rising living standards for improvements in their lives.

SIMON: But let me renew the question.

PATRIOTA: On the sports issue, yes. It's not easy to succeed in bringing the World Cup, or the Olympic Games, to your country. And these campaigns, they were based on very widespread popular support. I think it's very important, also, to highlight that these big events are not an end in themselves. As foreign minister, I've been in touch with countries such as the United Kingdom or the Russian Federation, to ensure that the improvement in infrastructure and housing can be converted into urban improvements. Let's also remind ourselves that these big events generate employment. They will bring large number of tourists to Brazil. So, I think that the majority of Brazilian society sees the benefit in hosting these events. Now, if there are views that are critical, I think they deserve to be heard as well, to the extent that they are expressed in a peaceful manner.

SIMON: Your own ministry was, at one point, attacked by a crowd. Does the government have a policy, when it comes to dealing with protesters - particularly if acts of violence occur?

PATRIOTA: Yesterday, as soon as I became aware that the ministry was being attacked, I came back and I asked for reinforcements, which were immediately provided. So, we managed to have a situation where no one was hurt and the crowd was controlled relatively quickly. This kind of degradation or attacks against the building, such as the foreign ministry, which is one that inhabitants of Brazilia and Brazilians in general are very proud of - it's an icon of modern architecture - are entirely unacceptable. And that for manifestations to carry a message that will be seriously heard and taken into account, they cannot include this kind of behavior.

SIMON: Antonio Patriota is the foreign minister of Brazil, speaking with us from Brazilia. Thanks very much, sir.

PATRIOTA: Thank you very much.

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