Protests In Brazil Gain Steam, Violence Increases
Lourdes Garcia-Navarro Reports For Morning Edition
Hundreds of thousands of Brazilians turned out in cities across the country in mass demonstrations Thursday night. Despite government pledges to reverse fare hikes for subway and bus rides, public anger is only rising.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Until recently, our correspondent Lourdes Garcia-Navarro was posted in the Middle East. She was an eyewitness to the Arab Spring uprisings in Egypt, Libya and elsewhere. Now, she is NPR's South America correspondent, based in Brazil. And guess what's happening on the streets there?
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Last night, demonstrators spread all across that country, with a total of a million people estimated to have taken part. Some protesters clashed with police. One was hit and killed by a car.
INSKEEP: Now, these demonstrations began last week with a few hundred protesters objecting to a price hike in public transport. The fare increases have been rolled back but now, Lourdes has been watching as the demonstrations grow bigger.
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: A hundred-thousand people on the streets of Sao Paulo; 300,000 on the streets of Rio de Janeiro. In all, a hundred towns and cities saw demonstrations, some of them violent. If the question was, do these protests have legs? The answer is, those legs are running.
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GARCIA-NAVARRO: But the question is, to where?
MAURICO WROTLAWSKI: It's important to show to the government, to everybody that - that the first demand is only the beginning of the protests. We will keep the process until we can change our country.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Maurico Wrotlawski, on the streets of Sao Paulo last night. He wants to change the country, he says. But every single person you talk to has a different opinion on what needs to be tackled first.
CAMILLA GUZMAN: (Foreign language spoken)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I want better education, better health care, better public transportation, more security, says Camilla Guzman.
FERNANDO SCHERER: I'm against the World Cup right now. No World Cup at all.
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GARCIA-NAVARRO: Fernando Scherer - nicknamed Xuxa - is a Brazilian Olympic swimmer and a well-known figure here. He had a Brazilian flag draped around his neck, and was greeted with cheers by the demonstrators. He says despite the diverse demands, everyone out here is unified in one thing. They are mad at politicians that are seen as elitist, out of touch and corrupt.
SCHERER: People are mad not because of this government, the other government. They are mad because they think they can treat us like stupids that - going to be quiet, and they do whatever they want. They cannot do whatever they want because we put them there.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Brazil is a vibrant democracy but in many ways, still a young one. It suffered under decades of brutal dictatorship until the mid 1980s. In protests around the country, political groups that tried to join the demonstrations last night were chased out to the sound of boos and catcalls.
MATHEAS MARTINS: I am against the political class, in general, in Brazil. Everybody who is here, we don't have a party that - represent us.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's 18-year-old Matheas Martins. A recent poll of the protesters backs up his view; 75 percent in Sao Paulo said they are not affiliated with any political group.
In some ways, the movement that has blossomed here bears striking similarities to others in the Middle East and Turkey. Most of the people out on the streets were young, middle-class, urban; and are organizing through Facebook and Twitter. They say the traditional pillars of society - the government, the media - don't speak to their needs.
So what can the leadership here do? As they decide, the protests are taking on a life of their own. President Dilma Roussef has canceled her visit to Japan, to deal with the unrest here. And she's convened an emergency meeting with her ministers. And if that wasn't enough to underscore the seriousness of the situation, in soccer and TV-mad Brazil, the main channel Globo canceled the broadcast of a Confederations Cup soccer match and the soap operas last night, to cover the demonstrations live.
Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Sao Paulo.
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