“The love ran out. It’s going to turn into Turkey here,” chanted thousands of protestors as they moved down Rio Branco Avenue in Rio de Janeiro on Thursday evening, closing the downtown’s main thoroughfare to traffic as three police helicopters swam overhead.
When Rio’s protestors returned home from Rio’s State Legislative Assembly after one arrest near Central Station, it was to televised images of violence between police and protestors in São Paulo, where tear gas and rubber bullets were fired into a larger crowd and over 230 people were arrested.
Protests occurred in seven capital cities across Brazil yesterday in response to a ten-cent increase in bus and subway fares. However, such protests have been occurring around the country for several months now. In Porto Alegre in April, protests over the fare increase eventually led to its cancellation. Protesters say that the fare hike, a routine item in Brazilian bus company contracts, has become a tipping point for citizens bearing the cost of Brazil’s public improvements before seeing the benefit.
“If the quality of bus service was improving in Rio, this would make sense, but the buses are overcrowded, they run infrequently and they are unsafe,” said Natane Santos, 25, a law student at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
Students made up a healthy portion of the Rio protestors, although there were also participants from different social movements in the city and the occasional political flag. “People are protesting the bigger vision of what’s going on,” Santos continued. “I’m glad to be hearing people chanting tonight, ‘We’re over the World Cup; we want more money for health and education.’”
Gabriel Aquino, 23, was arrested at a Monday night bus fare protest in Rio before he got a chance to participate. “I was leaving class when I saw a policewoman putting a protestor into a car without answering questions about where the person was being taken. I said to her, ‘We’re in front of a law school! You can’t do that.’ When she wouldn’t tell me her name, I touched her shoulder to try to check her nametag, and she tazed me,” Aquino said.
There was a range of police and protestor behavior last night in both Rio and São Paulo. Though many protesters were peaceful, some set fire to trash in the street and sprayed graffiti on billboards.
São Paulo Governor Geraldo Alckmin criticized these acts as vandalism, but São Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad said there were also “excesses” in police behavior, which included arresting protestors and seventeen journalists for crimes that ranged from forming gangs to carrying vinegar, which is used to ameliorate the effects of pepper spray.
The police have not released a number of people wounded in São Paulo, although photos and videos of the wounded are circulating on social networks. Amnesty International has criticized the police and authorities for the “radicalization of repression.” Meanwhile, an anti-terrorism bill currently before the Brazilian legislature could classify violence during social demonstrations as an act of terrorism, and is expected to come to a vote on June 27.
Social media gave organizational strength to the protests and has served as a platform for Brazilians’ growing frustration with the rapidly-inflating cost of living. In April, an Internet meme of a tomato came to represent the growing cost of consumer goods. But last night’s events showed Brazilians trying a more traditional visibility tactic—taking to the streets. “We got off Facebook,” one sign in Rio read.
With a national debate surging about police violence, the protests aren’t likely to end any time soon. Saturday marks the start of the Confederations Cup—a different kind of World Cup warm-up for Brazil.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.