Protests against price hikes and massive expenditure on sporting events snowballed yesterday as hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated in cities across Brazil.
Reuters says that unrest has spread from São Paulo to Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, Porto Alegre and Brasilia. According to reports, some 100,000 people took to the streets in Rio, 20,000 in Belo Horizonte and 65,000 in São Paulo.
The Telegraph also reports that police used pepper spray, rubber bullets and tear gas against groups of youth who attacked legislative buildings in Rio and Porto Alegre. According to the New York Times, in São Paulo, "protesters marched to the governor’s palace; in Rio, to the state legislature; and in Brasília, to the Congress," where they took over the roof of the building and later stormed its offices.
More than 100 people were injured by police attacks in Sao Paulo and similar incidents took place in other cities. It was the unwarranted violence of the police which gave a spurt to the protests last week, images of which circulated on the Internet. President Dilma Rousseff, a former left-wing guerrilla, said peaceful demonstrations were legitimate and that it was only natural for the youth to protest.
The unrest was sparked by a government decision to increase costs of public transport and discontent has mushroomed into demands for far-reaching reforms and changes in government priorities.
Anger is spreading over inadequate public services, rampant police violence and government corruption, set against the backdrop of a once burgeoning economy, which has slipped into recession since the 2008 world economic crisis. Living standards have fallen and inflation is eating into the pockets of the average Brazilian. The fare increases appear to be the thin edge of the wedge.
The lack of investment and disregard for basic social services on the part of the government has been highlighted by the extravagant expenditure on prestige sporting events being hosted by Brazil, such as the current Confederations Cup soccer competition and the soccer World Cup in 2014, as well as the summer Olympics in 2016. According to Al Jazeera, hosting the 2014 World Cup will cost $14.5 billion, while 20 percent of the population live in poverty.
Reuters quotes a 28-year-old saleswoman on the demonstration in Sao Paulo, who summed up the mood of the protesters. "For many years," she said, "The government has been feeding corruption. People are demonstrating against the system. They spent billions of dollars building stadiums and nothing on education and health."
The Telegraph also cites an interview by AFP with a college student who said, "As a Brazilian who travels daily in those packed buses and studies in a precarious university, I feel compelled to be part of this revolution. This is just the beginning."
According to Reuters, "protesters waved Brazilian flags, dancing and chanting slogans such as "The people have awakened" and "Pardon the inconvenience, Brazil is changing."
Protests have taken place outside the stadiums during games in the current international soccer competition, underscoring the depth of the anger in a country where passion for soccer is more akin to religious fundamentalism than simple popularity.