Brazil: A Country to Watch

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This post, written by Natasha Kieval, STAND Programs Intern, is the third in our new series “Countries to Watch,” which follows developing conflicts. Read our previous posts on Turkey and Russia. This week we focus on Brazil, in light of its recent protests.

Since last week, over 150,000 protests have erupted in Brazil’s major cities. They began over a 20 centavo (9 cent) increase in public transportation costs in Sao Paulo, but have developed into more general anti-government protests. Says civilian Silvio Caccia Bava, “It is about the 20 cent raise but in the end it is also about better transportation, better services and infrastructure...It is about living better, with more respect and dignity.”

Brazil has a chronic issue of economic disparity. The World Bank lists Brazil in the bottom 10% in the world in terms of income equality. It has the world’s 6th largest economy, yet citizens making minimum wage earn only $313 per month. A minimum wage worker who takes the bus twice a day will spend nearly ¼ of his or her income on bus fares alone - and this figure was calculated before the suggested fare hike. Little government money is spent on social programs, yet Brazil is expected to spend $15 billion each on the World Cup and the Olympic Games, which it will be hosting in the coming years. According to the Wilson Center, 80% of schools in Brazil have “inadequate facilities”: a lack of chairs, textbooks, and other essentials. Brazil is also ranked second to last on Pearson's education quality index of 40 developed nations.

The protest movement, largely led by students and the middle class, has used social media to publicize the peoples’ concerns. According to Al Jazeera (link at the bottom of the page), the mainstream media has criminalized the protests, as the networks are owned by elite, powerful families. Police have used tear gas to crush the protests, especially near events with international audiences, like the Confederations Cup. President Rousseff has appeared tolerant of the protests, saying that they only “strengthen our democracy.”

The fare hike has since been cancelled, and on Tuesday President Rousseff announced a planned $25 billion investment in transportation. She also suggested a platform of political reform to curb some of the corruption which is being protested. This has not been enough, as protesters have since returned to the streets.

Though these protests have been called the beginning of a “Tropical Spring,” it is important to distinguish them from the protests occurring in Egypt. Brazilians are not attempting to overthrow an authoritarian government, but rather are asking their democratic government to do more.

For a general overview on the causes of the Brazilian protests, click here.

 

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