Brazil Protests Peaceful, And Not About Bus Fares

Favela among treesIn preparation for FISL (where I hope to be speaking next week), I have been continuing to try to understand the protests in Brazil, which are now regularly bringing crowds the size of a European town onto the streets. They aren’t really about “bus fares” — and as far as I have been told are free of violence by the protesters apart from a statistically insignificant number of them. With so many people on the streets, there are bound to be a few disorderly encounters; to focus on them is try to distract from the real issues.

The real issues every Brazilian friend I have spoken to cares about relate to a sequence of governments failing to address structural issues and widespread corruption, and even perhaps joining in. The protesters are people just like you and me, who just won’t take it any more and are peacefully but loudly saying so.

So an example, shared with me by a dear friend: In this Guardian article, they mention PEC 37, a proposed constitutional amendment that would stop federal prosecutors being allowed to perform any investigation apart from what the police tell them. Given the police are widely mistrusted, this is seen as an attempt to pull a curtain across the corruption at the heart of state and federal government, rather than to expose it to daylight.

The protests are attracting 6 and 7 figure crowds because everyone knows about this corruption problem. It’s why the health service doesn’t get fixed; it’s why the World Cup stadium in Rio was so expensive; it’s why taxes for ordinary people are so unfair; it’s why justice is slow and beyond the reach of many. All of those issues are symbolic for a section of the protestors, but the protest is not about them; it’s about the failure of Lula, and Dilma after him, to reform the administration of Brazil.

The bus fare rise was a symbolic last straw. After spending an unimaginable amount of money on a stadium Rio (and all the other cities where one has been built) doesn’t need, bus services are so badly funded that the only way to keep the (very bad) buses on the road is to raise fares. Every Brazilian can see the bitter irony that the state can afford the World Cup but not properly-funded bus services so many need to live.

The President has said she’ll stop fare rises and bring in doctors to help in hospitals. But every Brazilian I have spoken with understands that’s treating the symptoms and not the disease. The problem is not the bus fares; it’s the lack of investment in infrastructure. The problem is not a shortage of doctors; Brazil has many excellent and dedicated doctors who are paid too little. It’s that hospitals are under-resourced to the point that the treatment is inadequate. Bringing in more medical staff from Cuba will just mean there are more people struggling to make an inadequately-resourced hospital fail less.

What’s needed is a root-and-branch clean-up of the political system so that the people can get the society they know Brazil — with its oil and other natural resources as well as it’s half-miracle of a newly-vibrant middle class economy — can afford.  I’ve no idea who advised her to make a speech that, to ordinary Brazilians, was as insulting as it was shallow. But she needs to get back to her roots and listen to the people if she doesn’t want to find herself impeached. It’s happened before.

7 Responses

  1. Good article, interesting read. I’ve been meaning to grab a look at what’s going on behind the protests for a few days but time is lacking at the moment. I knew it was more about general corruption but not how/why.

    One small nitpick though, it’s pointless to say that the doctors are paid “less than Britain pays nurses” because that makes no reference to cost of living. It doesn’t matter if they’re paid 30% less if the cost of living is also 30% less, whereas it does matter if they’re paid less and cost of living is equal or higher.
    This site isn’t perfect, it’s based on user-submitted figures, http://www.numbeo.com/cost-of-living/compare_countries_result.jsp?country1=Brazil&country2=United+Kingdom , but it suggests the UK is quite a bit more expensive to live in than Brazil, so it’s extremely likely that salaries in Brazil would be lower than the UK.

    • I agree, that doesn’t give a good feel; I’ll try to make it more informative.

      Here’s an example based on people I know: the head of intensive care pediatrics at a major hospital makes about 1600 reais/month; an average web developer makes about 3000 reais/month; almost twice as much. In the UK, the doctor would make more than the developer.

      • Sorry, but I’m Brazilian, from Porto Alegre, and these example incomes are not true.
        An average doctor makes about 7-10k Reais per month. The head of a intensive care pediatrics at a major hospital should earn much more than that. No doctor earns 1600 Reais per month. It’s way too low.
        A normal Java developer here makes about 3-7k.

        • Thanks, Luis – I had input from a São Paulo friend on the doctor pay but I’m happy to hear it was wrong.

  2. What is more cynical in those demonstrations are those that nobody talks about. On the spotlight, the Congress and the President, where votes can do a good cleansing job. On the shadow, the most scarry, corrupt, untamed, uncontrollable, closed-source, strongest esprit-de-corps and unwashable of the Republic: The Judiciary.

    Fix the Justice, you fix everithing else.

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