Thursday, June 20, 2013

Updates and Notes from the Social Uprising in Brasil

The sign reads "Not for pennies but for rights!"
A few random updates and notes about the protests here in São Paulo.

First, the protesters won the concession they were originally seeking: bus, metro and train fares are returning to R$ 3.00 from R$3.20.  (Divide by 2 to get US$ equivalent)  However the protests will continue all over SP (and Brasil) today as the movement has quickly spread to become much broader.  The group that started the whole thing, Movimento Passe Livre, is now moving on to demand free transit (as is the raison d'etre of the movement whose name is 'free pass').  Though the protests have morphed to include all sorts of gripes about current social conditions, Passe Livre is still the focal point and the group that organizes the initial protests - i.e. sets up time and dates with local police.

Second, one interesting aspect of these protests is that normally you might be expecting that they call for the government to get out.  But the government is the Worker's Party (PT) and has traditionally been the party of the poor and working class and who stand for exactly these issues.  Even more interesting is that it was the PT that started Passe Livre in the first place (or so I have been told).  Many of these social groups are established to put political pressure on government to help out an opposition party and such was the case with Passe Livre - their demand helped the cause of the PT as they were trying to gain national power (which they did, Lula and Dilma are both PT).  So the protesters are demanding changes and are angry at government but can't quite get themselves to demand the PT get out (or at least as far as I can tell).  The state governor here is not PT so the protesters have one head to call for.

Third, I wrote yesterday that the R$0.20 fare increase seems like a little but it is a lot for the poor and working class and, even more, is a powerful symbol of balancing budgets on the backs of the poor.  But São Paulo is such an gigantic city that the repeal of the R$0.20 fare increase leaves a R$ 325,000,000 for the rest of the year.  So roughly the R$0.20 fare increase yields R$700,000,000 a year to the government coffers.

Fourth, some foreign newspaper have tried to push the story of frustration over the squandered opportunity of the economic boom (which has cooled of completely here).  But this is unfair - the government has made remarkable progress on many fronts.  They have massively expanded Bolsa Familia, the government transfer to poor households which also incentivizes kids going to school.  They have invested in social services like schools and public health and there are now twice as many university students in Brasil than there were just 12 years ago.  So the progress Brasil has made in many indices of human development is impressive, but that Brasil still lags so far behind other countries demonstrates the sheer depth of the problem. (The New York Times has the best English language article I have read on the protests, by the way)

Finally, though the protest have been largely peaceful (save for a bunch of localized vandalism by kids more intent in using the moment as an excuse to smash and steal stuff) it does completely mess up transit in the city that already has massive transit problems on normal days.  My kids school has cancelled after school activities today due to the planned protest (much to my son's despair - Thursday is futebol day!) and we had to cancel an after school playdate because getting from one neighborhood to the next is too hard. Needless to say, the protests do not enjoy the full support of my kids!

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