The Giant is Waking Up: Brazilians Rise from Reticence


By Michelle Chang –

Brazil: a nation of nearly 200 million people, 26 states, countless prime exports, and significant contributions to the world. Disruptive scientific developments, internationally recognized festivals, vibrant cities, and some of the world’s most beautiful and warm people are only a few of the nation’s outstanding characteristics. Despite the global financial crisis in 2008, it is one of the first economic markets to grow and recover from the recession, outperforming any other South American economy. Survival and growth are among Brazil’s innate characteristics (think overcoming military regimes and suppression in history and five FIFA World Cup Championships), and when there are problems that need to be solved, Brazilians are not ones to sit and comply.


Brazil is currently a buzzword in the international sphere. Current events are being widely publicized and put on an international platform because people are interested in this country that currently is producing so much news in various spheres. The advent of the FIFA World Cup has put a spotlight on Brazil and the controversy surrounding public spending on soccer is a topic of high interest. In addition, violence and police brutality has put the country under international scrutiny. While all of this is happening, the Brazilian people are not sitting still. In particular, issues with rising bus fares, political corruption, and skewed public funding are causing the people to rise up. The South American giant is waking up after years of turbulence that has gone unacknowledged by authorities, and is demanding crucial social, political and economic change.

The demand for change began in a slow but steady movement that included peaceful organized demonstrations among the likeminded. Unhappiness with increased bus fares caused citizens to feel the initial pressures of suppression. The relatively small demonstrations in Natal, Rio Grande do Norte in August and September of 2012 were successful in changing fare prices, which would eventually act as the catalyst for many more to come across the country.
When the train and metro fares rose in Sao Paolo, demonstrations took place in objection of more than just the ticket fares. The government was under attack for not just raising ticket prices, but also for turning a blind eye to promises made to citizens. The federal government had initially announced that public transportation would not be subject to extra taxes, which would prevent the rise in price. Nevertheless, fares were raised and the protests began.
The first large protest that acted as the catalyst for the protests to follow throughout the summer began on June 6th in Sao Paolo’s famed Paulista Avenue. On June 13, 2013, it was reported that police had lost control of the crowd and resorted to violent measures. Over 100 people were injured and more than 120 were arrested in downtown Sao Paolo. This particular demonstration received international coverage, and from then on out, the rest of the world was watching. Numbers of protests then mobilized and sparked continuous national interest. At one given point on June 20th, there were protests in over 100 cities around the country. Special security measures were even put into place at the major government buildings, attesting to the incredible number of people that gathered to protest, not to mention the power of the masses.

The demonstrations were in response to not just rising bus fares and inflation, but also issues with police brutality, wealth inequality, and lack of action in the incumbent President Dilma Rousseff’s administration. Overall disenchantment and unhappiness with the government caused people all over Brazil to stand up. Later in 2013, similar protests took place in other cities, including Brasilia, Porto Alegre and Rio de Janeiro. During these protests, many students, young people, and innocent bystanders were hurt.

The countrywide protests against rising bus fares were just a very tangible way for Brazilians to take action against their government. There were more issues that go beyond public transportation fares rising, many of which are still subject to objection today. The wealth inequality, inflation of goods and products, incredible taxes that are estimated to be above 40% of income, and lack of quality public education are all but a few of the issues that Brazilians want to change. In particular, corruption in the government is causing grief for citizens, especially the fact that the citizens of today are paying for the corruption of the past. Current citizens are being held responsible for the costs of the scandal of 2003, called the Mensalao, during which public funds were used to buy campaign support for the then-Lula di Silva administration. Public funds were also used to pay off election campaign debts. Those involved were discovered in 2005, found guilty in 2012, and imprisoned just last year after multiple delays. The money funneled into corruption in Brazil as of 2010 was 1.38% to 2.3% of GDP according to a study by the FIESP, the Federation of Industries of Sao Paulo State. The country’s total GDP according to the CIA website is $2.422 trillion as of 2013. By these numbers, between $32 billion and $51 billion is “spent” on corruption. Billions of dollars that could go into public education, hospitals, infrastructure—anything potentially constructive for society and the country—is being used for the wrong reasons.

It is no surprise that Brazilians, the young people especially, feel the need for change. While billions are spent on corruption, and $7 billion was spent on infrastructure for the FIFA World Cup, while an additional $4 billion is going to be spent on various stadiums for the matches. There is confusion as to why the government is doing this to the people, especially when there are obviously other pressing issues that could positively affect Brazil. In addition, the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro will also face objection. Already, some of the favelas in Rio are facing eviction for game-related purposes. And of course, money is always an issue. Allegedly, $51 billion was spent in Sochi for the Winter Olympics, and there is no doubt that billions will pour into the Olympics.

Perhaps the government thinks that by hosting the World Cup and the Olympics, the people will have something to brag about, something to be proud about. Perhaps this is a way for the authorities to turn a blind eye to the serious issues plaguing the country. Unfortunately, whatever the country’s leaders believe they can do, or believe they can hide; the people have opened their eyes. They are refusing to let themselves be exploited and banding together to provoke changes and reforms in a country that can provide so much more, if only the government were to care. Brazil is a proud culture, a proud nation, but to them, a bit of soccer isn’t going to cut it. They are fighting for human rights, for political correctness, and an overall better standard of living. With the upcoming sporting events along with the Presidential election later this year, there is no telling what exactly might happen. We can be sure; however, that Brazil’s people will not go down without a fight. Relapse is not an option, and it is with a fiery passion that they will fight on.

While these protests and riots take place, it is hard to keep in mind all that the country has to offer, and to dwell on the instability of the society today. Despite the number of societal problems that Brazilians face, there is no shortage of hope. They are fighting for their rights, and standing up because they believe there is potential for change. And there is not only potential for change, but also the potential for incredible growth, national unity and ultimately, a better tomorrow.