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« Brazil's Economy and the World Cup | Main | Brazil's Protests: A Blip, or the Making of a Movement? »

June 13, 2013

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David

From the Broadway show "The Pajama Game" which was written in the 1950's, there is a lyric sung by the factory workers which goes "seven and a half cents doesn't mean a heck of a lot." The implication in that line was yes, the money did have meaning and the cents increase made sense to the workers, talking about 7 1/2 cents an hour more for their labor. And yes, 20 cents a ride in Brasil just might mean economic pain and symbolizes distrust of governmental policies.

Vincent Bevins

Here's what I think you can rule out: 1. Sluggish growth. 2. Falling currency. Those are headline issues for foreign correspondents but not (yet, perhaps) for the man in the street.

I think what we have is an issue everyone agrees upon (bad public transportation in São Paulo) combined with an extremely incompetent and brutal overreaction by the police (another specific issue most agree upon).

Also, most of the core group of protesters are and were affiliated with parties/political movements, either youth PT, or PSTU, or university anarchist types. But after things got going more people were attracted.

In general though I think it's important not to look for really big issues to explain this. Most of these people were already left-leaning/eager to protest, and have been for a while. Perhaps what changed is they actually got out there and did it, and I'd link that to the rise of the new middle class and people increasingly demanding their rights as citizens. Thanks for this and I'll post something later - Vincent

Octavio

Hi. The most lucid view of the social issue happening in Brazil, most probably because you can see things both from inside (living in Brazil) and outside (as a foreigner). Thumbs up!!!

PTRio

Yes, a US $0.09 increase in bus fares. I had to wonder at first, but you have put your hammer on that nail! Add the fare increases up over the past 18 months or so, add other increased costs such as fuel, electricity, etc, and you have "stolen" much of the financial benefit of living in the suburbs and working in the City. The frustration being experienced in Brasil is looking for an outlet. Still over a year to an election, and it will be an interesting one given the current direction of the Brasilian economy.

While protesting is one outlet for the frustration, Brasilians have been traveling outside Brasil recently in numbers never before seen. They return with stories and pictures of what they view as a different, and usually describe as a better, life. Not to mention overstuffed suitcases and boxes of things they have bought to resell. "Why, yes, Mr. Customs man, I certainly do fit into an XS, and I DO need five varieties of perfume!"

Brasilians visiting the US and Europe return much like the tourists who visit Rio are so impressed with this place, yet have no real idea how difficult it can be to live in Rio for the average Brasilian these days. I am from the US, and I constantly meet Brasilians who tell me their goal is to leave Brasil and live in Miami, New York, California or anywhere just so long as it isn't Brasil. (Maybe if Brasilians quit saying that the US will finally end the Visa requirement...) I try explaining to them why I chose to live in Brasil, many simply refuse to listen. Even the recent disclosure of massive domestic spying by the US on its citizens does not seem to deter them. Nor the fact taxes paid in the US support wars and military forces larger than has ever existed. US factories explode, buildings burn, bridges collapse, and people shoot each other, and themselves, more than in any non-war environment. The US has killer tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes and frigid Winter storms. Is it really all that less imperfect than Brasil? Is WalMart, Costco, Amazon, Nordstrom and all the other mega retail business really what makes the US a better place to live? If you think so, go ahead and move there! Independence Day is coming, there is sure to be a sale!

Being Brasilian today can be a bit like like chasing a dream tied to a string. Each time you improve yourself, educate yourself, learn new skills or other means of increasing your income that thief known as inflation pulls on the string and puts the dream you have worked so hard for just out of reach, again. I understand that frustration. Or, a real thief like the one who stole my sister-in-law's new air conditioner (still in the box) one day after she bought it, and about which she will now be angered and reminded each of the next 10 months as she pays for it. The thief also took her TV set while he/she was there, but it had recently been paid for. As they say, "that could happen anywhere, and does". The US has thieves which put Brasilians to shame, they are called Wall Street Bankers. However, the US middle class did actually achieve their dreams for a time, I believe it was just before 11 am, November 22, 1963. Then, President Kennedy was assassinated. Soon after, there was Nixon. And then Reagan, and then Bush & Bush Jr (with a few in between of varying quality), and suddenly the US middle class dreams were gone. Recently millions lost their homes which are now being bought up by companies formed to benefit from the housing price collapse, financed by Wall Street banks, and then rent those homes back to the very people who once owned them. Frustration? Student loan debt in the US now exceeds credit card debt and has turned what should be the next middle class into debt slaves for life. The US middle class has effectively been downgraded a notch or so. At least THAT hasn't happened yet in Brasil.

Recent Brasilian governments have struck me as often caring more about how Brasil appears to the outside world than about how living in Brasil is for Brasilians, especially in Rio. Big stadiums employ and feed a few people, but nothing like rebuilding the Brasilian railway system to alleviate the dangers of so much truck traffic on roads and highways, not to mention the wear and tear caused by constant truck traffick. As always, Brasil will put on an awesome show for the coming visit of the Pope, the Copa do Mundo and the Olympics, but after those events are over, will Brasil really be a better place to live because of them? To some extent, yes. Rio will have a new subway extension, some waterfront improvements, the major favela's have been pacified (somewhat, but for how long?) and other improvements are taking place, yet shouldn't and couldn't those things and more have already occurred WITHOUT the major events coming? What about plans for treating the sewage and storm drainage which pollute Guanabara and the Atlantic not so far away from where people swim and surf and (this one prevents me from eating local fish) from where fishermen catch and sell fish for people to eat?

I very much feel the frustration of Brasilians and am not trying to minamalize it in comparison to US middle class frustration, just trying to point out that you can move, but you cannot escape. Brasil began the 60's and 70's way behind, it was robbed by inflation, corruption and inefficiency, yet few Brasilians I know say they want to live in China, where those issues were addressed head on and things have changed more quickly than pretty much anywhere else on Earth over the past 40 years. It took the US and Europe many generations to reach their "developed" status, it required immigration for cheap labor (still does), wars for the incentive to improve manufacturing efficiency, and lots of taxes. Brasil is developing by peaceful means, that has to be worth something even though it may take longer.

Enough, already. I love Brasil and I live here by choice. I especially like the new anti-littering law here in Rio (but, please, do install a few more trash containers!), and of course such a law should not have to exist though even in the US and Europe there are very strict anti-littering laws. I LOVE the no smoking law, the drunk driving law, the bolsa familia, and many other recent efforts to improve life here. Take pride in Brasil, Brasilians. There is much to be proud of. Turn the frustration into positive energy, please don't just move to the US or Europe. That will not make Brasil a better place.

Ian  Nieves

State planners in Brasilia may be caught in a bind: energizing the Brazilian economy in part doubtless requires vastly modernizing and extending public transportation in Sao Paolo, Rio and other Brazilian megalopolises. Such massive upgrades require major expenditures, the most ready and proper source of which is revenue from mass transit users. Hence the rate hikes. Simply put, the masses are going to have to pay to realize their aspirations of more plentiful and lucrative jobs. Long term prosperity bought with near term hardship. Of course such knowledge does little to ease the inconvenience of those with a marginal toehold in Brazil's new middle class...and valid questions must be answered about planning priorities and the inevitable corruption...

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