Lucas G
Abonné·e de Mediapart

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Billet de blog 4 juil. 2013

Chronology of the protests in Brazil

Lucas G
Abonné·e de Mediapart

Ce blog est personnel, la rédaction n’est pas à l’origine de ses contenus.

The ongoing wave of protest that sworn Brazil for the last few weeks was mainly rooted in the use of social media such as facebook or twitter and national as well as international media didn’t saw these unrests coming and were surprised by it. Yet, a close monitoring of the social networks in May and in the beginning of June would have allowed them to anticipate the importance of the Brazilian wave. Indeed, as in other parts of the world (Greece, Spain, Portugal, United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Chile, Turkey….) recent protests all started through the social networks and the events in Brazil are not different on this point.

Facebook, with its 50 million users in Brazil is mainly used as a way to prepare the protests both for the practical organization (when ? where ?) and the political content of the protests (polls can easily be organized on Facebook pages to decide the thematic, the slogans, the singings of the protests). And on the other hand, Twitter is used as the primary source of information for all kind of Medias to find the latest news, the pictures or the live videos that are uploaded directly from the protesters' smartphones to Twitter.

Therefore to have a better understanding of the reasons and the evolution of the protests it is mandatory to immerge in the social media and to use them, together with traditional Medias as a source of information. Currently Living in Brazil capital, Brasilia I was able to see and to follow the massive flow of information that came with the protests. But as I was quickly overwhelmed by it I decide to take note of the different facts and news around the protests on a daily basis. This now allow to have a precise and long collection of fact, that might be fastidious to read but which will give a fair view of the evolution of the protests and the political context in Brazil during the last weeks.

Roughly you can perceive 5 phases in this movement so far: a first phase from June 6 to June 13; a second phase from 13 to 17 June, a third phase from 18 to 21 June and a fourth phase from 22 June to the end of the Confederation cup on the 30th and from the 1st onwards.

In March, previously to the current protests, the Movimento Passe Livre (“Free Pass movement”) successfully convinced Porto Alegre local authorities to reduce transportation prices after social mobilization, and on the 16May, some tough protests started in Goiania against bus fare rise. 

1. From 6 to 13 June.

On 6 June, the movement extended to São Paulo with a call for a reduction of recently increased bus fares. The "Free Pass Movement" that called for the protests, is well known in this capital city and has been asking free public transportation in São Paulo since 2005. Around 2.000 persons attended this first protest and blocked the traffic for several hours. The protests then gained ground through massive use of social media campaigns and facebook events – 5.000 people came to the streets in São Paulo again on 7 and 11 June and the movement extended to Rio, Brasilia and Belo Horizonte. There were reports of several violent confrontations with the military police while demonstrators were judged as "vandals" and "criminals" by the traditional media, which in general supported the police action or even called for harder repression.

2. From 13 to 17 June

On 13June, more people went out to the streets while military police repression reached unprecedented level, affecting random peaceful protesters together with some reporters of the main media. TV channels then changed their approach to the protesters and openly criticized the police repression. Images of people injured invaded the social networks and spread very quickly.

On 15 June, at the opening game of the Confederation Cup in Brasilia, President Dilma Roussef and J. Blatter, the Head of FIFA, were booed by 40.000 persons in the stadium. In the meantime, a small group of protesters in front of the Stadium were strongly repressed.  As the Confederation cup begun, demonstrators expressed their anger with overpriced stadiums and huge costs of the soccer world cup, on top of the other claims on transportation.

The change toward more positive media coverage of the protests and large social media campaigns called to the streets other segments of the population - not related to the original movement - to support the protesters and show solidarity against police repression. The claims became broader, against misuse of public funds and corruption, against police violence... Mobilisations of Brazilians living abroad also took place in Latin American, North American and European cities. International media coverage kept growing, as the Confederation Cup was broadcasted worldwide.

On 17 June, large peaceful protests saying no to the repression and military police violence happened in 20 cities of Brazil: 65.000 persons in Sao Paulo, 100.000 in Rio, 10.000 in Brasilia where protesters occupied in a really symbolic act the roof-top of the Congress. Apart from Rio, where violent fighting sparkled in front of the Town Hall and a car of the “Record” TV channel was burned, the majority of demonstrations were peaceful.

On this day, criticized for their handling of the previous protests, the police was told to follow the protests and to act only in last resorts. The protest started to gather a multitude of different claims, taking a notable more "nationalist" dimension, (unlike previous protests, lots of Brazilian flags were waved in the streets, people sang national anthem) and this including far-right leaning movements - Black Blocks - promoting violence and anarchist ideas. Claims were very general - “against corruption”, “to change everything, what's bad”, “a better Brazil”, "more education", "better transports and better hospitals" – thus complicating the perception and the global coherence of the movement.

3. From 18 to 21 June 

On 18June, President Rousseff commented for the first time on the demonstrations saying "today Brazil woke up stronger” (playing with one of the protesters slogans - Brazil woke up -  O Brasil acordou). She added that the movement reinforced Brazil young democracy and that her government understood and listened to the protests' claims. This same night the protest degenerated in Sao Paulo: the Town Hall was the target of important destructions together with other buildings while some shops were looted. The demonstrations showed a clear division between a small minority calling for violence (at some point there was only one protester destroying the entrance door in front of all the cameras) and a majority praising non-violence and trying to stop the clashes. On the same day, Evangelic Deputies proposed a law authorizing psychologists to offer “medical treatments” to change the sexual orientation of homosexuals, provoking the outrage of the LGBT communities.  

On 19 June, after a meeting with President Rousseff and former President Lula, Fernando Haddad (PT), Mayor of São Paulo, discussed with representatives of the "Free Pass Movement" and accepted a reduction of the transportation prices. Six other cities also reduced their bus fares. On the same night, calls for a protest to “celebrate the victory” circulated on the social networks. The majority of the demonstrations were peaceful, but there was tension between protesters waving flags of political parties (including ruling party PT) and other protesters denouncing it as an attempt to recuperate the movement. Comments from major football players (Ronaldo, Pelé, Neymar and the Brazilian football team via Twitter) made the news in the social networks. Ronaldo and Pelé were criticized for asking the contesters to “forget the protests and support their national team”  Rising football star Neymar writes: “it’s up to the state to provide quality public services in health, education and transports”. 

During the night of 20June, new protests happened in more than 120 different cities of the country gathering more than 1 million people. Situation in Rio turned violent as groups tried to block the bridge connecting the city centre to Niteroi suburbs. Scenes of "urban war" happened in the centre of Rio with the police coming back to an extended use of rubber bullets and tear gas. Several journalists were hurt. Another TV channel car of was burned.  Live TV coverage put the emphasis on the fact that the violence came from a minority of protesters. In Brasilia, protesters faced a reinforced police protection around the National Congress and the Presidential Palace. As the situation got tenser, violent groups succeeded to quickly invade nearby less protected Brazilian Foreign Ministry (Itamaraty) and also caused destructions to the Central Bank building and to the National Cathedral. In Ribeirao Preto - State of Sao Paulo - a young protester died after being hit by a SUV that went into the mob, leaving a dozens of people injured. In reaction to the death of the 18 years old boy, social networks were in ebullition, videos of the accident and the pictures of the driver went viral. He surrendered to the police an hour afterwards. More and more articles and comments circulated talking about how the mood of the protest had turned weird, talking about the use of the movement by extreme, anarchist and violent movements. There were also rumours of some protesters calling for a coup d'état and the media put the focus on critics anti-PT and anti-President Rousseff government. Brazilian Intelligence Agency (ABIN) also announced they had reinforced its monitoring of social networks.

On 21 June, President Rousseff cancelled her planned trips to Japan and Salvador and called for an emergency meeting with several ministers. Newspapers showed polls explaining that, among protesters in Sao Paulo, Joachim Barbosa (Head of the Supreme Court) might be the favourite if he was to run for the next presidential election. President Rousseff toll of approval got sharply down. São Paulo branch of the "Free Pass Movement" announced that they will not call for any more protests since the major objective has been achieved, but more and more different groups are now on the streets with different and sometimes contradictory agendas. On the social media a certain part of the population call the activists of the “Free Pass movement” as traitors or as being sold to the government for not calling for more protests.

On the same day, President Dilma Rousseff finally did a national TV and radio pronouncement, at 21.00h. She acknowledged the importance of the movement and firmly condemned the violence. She announced a new plan of urban mobility, the use of all oil royalties to finance education and the contract of thousands of foreign doctors to work in the public health system. The President also talked about the reinforcement of the dialogue with the civil society and the need of a political reform. The speech was well built and cautious but didn't convince the majority of the protesters.

4. From June 22 to the 30th 

Demonstrations extended during the weekend (June 22 / 23) to many capitals and other small cities of Brazil with a main focus on Belo Horizonte and Fortaleza where the Confederation Cup games were taking place. Protesters camped in front of the Governor's residence in Rio and the fight against project of law PEC 37 and the privatization of the Jaraguara public park in Sao Paolo brought several thousands to the streets.  In Brasilia, protesters came along with their kids in front of the Congress in a demonstration for peace. The situation seemed to be calmer as protesters and government alike take toll of what happened and how to handle the demands.

On 24 June President Rousseff started to put in practice her promises of dialogue and held meetings with ministers, governors and mayors, plus she received representatives of different association including the "Free Pass Movement". The President discussed the urban mobility plan with investments of 50 billion R$ and also new investments in the public health system as well as a compromises to hiring a large number of foreign doctors and nurses to supply shortages of local professionals (mainly in the nordeste region and the Amazon).  She announced a "pact for fiscal responsibility" to ensure economic stability and inflation control, a draft resolution calling for a plebiscite to establish a Constituent Assembly and a pledge to assign 100% of the fiscal revenues oil royalties to the public education system.

On 25 June, all media, traditional and social networks, commented critically on the measures announced by the President and their feasibility. Legal and constitutionality issues arise fromthe propositions forcing President Rousseff to lower the expectation on her "Constituent Assembly" announcement. In response to the call for more concrete action Brazilian congress examine one day ahead of the planned day the controversial project law PEC 37 and the repartition of the oil field royalties. And, with rare swiftness the deputies rejected (430 votes against – 9 in favour) the PEC 37 that would have complicated the investigation on corruption. Regarding the oil royalties, the executive project of having 100% dedicated to education was altered for a repartition of 75% of the royalties for education and 25% for health. The deputies also changed the scope of the law by applying it to all the contracts signed till December 2012 where the exploration is not started. The law still has to pass the Senate and deal with legal issues regarding the contracts.

Protests happened in Brasilia on the 26 June, with 5.000 people in front of the congress. The protesters shot football balls to the 4.000 policemen protecting government institutions and buildings. Big demonstrations (estimated 40.000) took place again in Belo Horizonte where the Brazilian soccer team played against Uruguay. One youngster died after falling from a bridge. Congress president Renan Calheiros received a group of protesters. In Recife (Nordeste) a group of protesters sent an open letter to State governor and probable candidate for next year election, Eduardo Campos asking for free public transportation for registered students and unemployed and more transparency in the accounts of the transportation company. In Sao Paulo 3 different protests happened, led by different claims, with each one gathering less than 1.000 people. In Rio a protest gather 1.000 persons against Homophobia.

On 27 June during confederation cup semi-final in Fortaleza, a small group of the 5.000 protesters clashed with the police in the surroundings of the stadium, 92 people were detained. In the morning, in Sao Paulo 3 different protests happened simultaneously but with different claims ( Teachers claiming better salaries, Medics protesting against "importing" foreign doctors, Locals protesting against the shutting down of a fair) and in the afternoon different protests blocked the access of the Airport and the bus station. Data show that since the beginning of the protests retail sales drop by 70% in Sao Paulo. Plenty of small protests with local claims happened throughout the day in different cities of the country. Student syndicates also protested in Brasilia gathering 2.000 persons peacefully.

On the 28th Corruption is included in the list of the "odious crimes". Executive and legislative powers discuss on the modality of the public consultation announced by President Dilma Rousseff, she wishes a quick plebiscite that would allow her government and the congress to pass new laws and regulations before 2014 elections. Again, President Rousseff received representatives of Youth and LGBT associations. Throughout the country 14.000 people gathered behind different claims (against “Cura Gay”, transportation prices, in favour of a "democratization of the medias"). A decrease in the participation is flagrant, with radicals group proportionally taking more importance in the protests. In Porto Alegre shop owners organized themselves to defend their shops from “vandals”.

On the 29th 300 people peacefully occupied the municipal assembly of Belo Horizonte and passed the night in the building.

On Sunday 30th the last games of the confederation cup took place in Rio (Spain x Brasil) and in Salvador (Uruguay x Italy). In Salvador less than 1.000 persons gather in front of the stadium (facing 1.600 policemen) and also in front of FIFA’ staff Hotel. In Rio the protest was larger gathering 5.000 protesters in front of the Maracana stadium, another group of people briefly invaded new Brazilian football federation building in Rio. The building is said to have been overpriced up to 20 million R$ more than its normal cost. Around the stadium a group of 2.000 evangelists also distribute flyers praising Jesus and the Brazilian football team. The mass of 10.000 policemen protecting the stadium turned into an attraction with passers taking pictures in front of the armoured cars and soldiers. Later in the day clashes between a group of 1.000 people and the police started. Artisanal bombs answered the tear gas thrown by the police. Protestors took shelters into oil stations to avoid being targeted by police gas bombs. A policeman was injured by Molotov cocktails. Protestors also clashed with supporters watching the final game in nearby bars. In Belo Horizonte protestors passed their second night in the municipal assembly. Speculations around a possible fixing of the football games to let Brazil win spread on the social Medias. During the closing ceremony of the Confederation cup one of the dancers participating in the event was expelled from the stadium after waving an anti-homophobia flag. 

 5. From the 1st of July onwards

On the 1st of July different groups had been calling for a general strike for a few weeks on the social networks and 1 million people said they would participate. But it was hard to assess the real impact and whether the strike was followed or not. Yet, truck drivers blocked the traffic on important highways around Sao Paulo, Rio, Belo Horizonte, Salvador de Bahia and other states. They claimed a reduction in the highway tolls. Supporters of the MST (Movimento Sin Terra) Movement also blocked highways in Sao Paolo state.  Activists linked to the MPL (Movimento Passe Livre) occupied highway tolls. They asked for changes in the public tenders regulation to now concede the operation of highways to the companies offering the lowest end-user price instead of the highest bidder for the state. Drivers also blocked the access to Brazil's main port, Santos. In Belo Horizonte 300 people pass their 3rd night in the municipal assembly. In Belem 200 people also invaded the local parliament and occupied it through the night. They ask the voting of a free transportation pass by the city authorities. Nadan Donadon, Rondonia state deputy, condemned to 13 years of jail for corruption in 2010 is arrested in the streets of Brasilia as he came to the end of all the possible legal recourses in his case. President Rousseff called for another emergency meeting where she will decide together with ruling and opposition party members, the content of the plebiscite proposition to be sent to Congress. In Brasilia, 300 persons protested to claim the demission of Renan Calheiros, Senate president accused of corruption, he is one of the new targets of different protests together with Evangelist deputy Marco Feliciano.

On the 2/07 after 11 days spent in front of Rio de Janeiro Mayor's House the small group of 30 protestors was dismissed by the police. President Dilma Rousseff presented to Congress her proposition of political reform to be answered by the plebiscite: Campaign financing (public, private or a mix of the two), Electoral system (proportional or majority), the end of coalition parties, the end of Senator Alternates and the end of secret vote. Later, the project of law of "cura gay" was taken down and cancelled by its author, Joao Campos after being pressed by its party to do so. Still, evangelist deputies said they will present a new proposition of law. Marco Feliciano, president of the human right commission, said in a provocative way: "in the next legislature, the number of evangelist deputies will be twice larger and we'll be stronger". The occupation of local or municipal Parliaments continues in Belo Horizonte, in Belem and extended to Espirito Santo State. Some highways remained blocked or with limited traffic due to the continuation of truck drivers protests.

On the 3/07 traffic is still blocked in 15 highways in 6 different states (Bahia, Espírito Santo, Mato Grosso, Paraná, Rio Grande do Sul e Santa Catarina). Drivers allowed buses and cars to pass but blocked all the trucks. They claimed to be exempted of highway tolls and for subsidies on the Diesel prices. On the question, President Rousseff answered that "on the Brazilian flag is written order and progress, progress we are talking about it and we will build new infrastructures but it is fundamental to respect the order and to impede individuals to blocks the roads". The proposition of plebiscite is criticized by Congress and deemed unfeasible within the dates promised as the proposition need to be approved by the Chamber, the Senate, then the election had to be organized and according to its results a law have to be discussed and issued before the 04th of October, if it want to be in application before next presidential election. Congress president is heavily criticized for having used a public Jet to carry his family and friends to Rio for the final of the Confederation Cup, he quickly reacted and said he is willing to pay the price of the trip.  Fishery Minister, Evangelist Mr Crivella said that the protests took their origin into machismo against the president Rousseff being a woman. Medics protested in 15 states for better conditions and against "importing" foreign doctors. Municipal and local parliament continues being occupied in Espirito Santo, Belo Horizonte, protestors are expulsed from Belem parliament. In Belem the majority of the supermarkets are closed for the third consecutive day, employees strike and ask for better working conditions and salaries.

This is for today. As an attentive - and brave - reader could have perceived through the text, the movement is now completely spread out and divided into plenty of small protests across the country with different or even contradictory claims. But six of the main Brazilian Trade Unions (including CUT, UGT, CONLUTAS, CGTB) called for another general strike on 11July asking for salaries increases, reduced working hours and land reform, better health and public education. Even if some of these claims join the ones of the protestors the syndicates didn't directly linked their action to the waves of protests. Therefore it will be interesting to see if the traditional social movement will be able to regain a certain control on the protests and to unify this movement. Yet, such an outcome seems quite unlikely as Social media already criticize syndicate move and praise the continuation of an “apolitical” movement without any banner of political parties or syndicates. Still, one of the most likely scenarios is that small, viral and extremely local protests will continue to spread in the country’s middle and small city centres complicating even more the political answer to give to the movement until next year world cup where large and massive protests are to be expected.

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