Tag Archives: PEC 37

A gigante acordou – The giant has woken

22 Jun

I’ve just arrived back in Rio from a week visiting the baroque towns and isolated splendour of Brazil’s colonial past to the protests, uncertain and rising spirit of the chaotic present. Hints of the movement rippling across the country came from short snippets of news on the TV, people leaving early from work to be able to arrive home and scenes of the giant marches and homemade placards in all of the major cities. However, it was only talking to my Brazilian housemate today, her experience of the protests, reading the news reports and watching the film clips that I really became aware of the scale of this uprise.

The protests started over a week ago, just before we boarded a bus for the interior with small marches of students and members of the Movemento Passe Livre (Free Movement) against rises in bus fares in several major cities including Sao Paulo and Rio. These were small rises, to R$2.95 in Rio (£1), but as I’ve discussed before are a huge cost if you are living on the minimum wage. A large but peaceful march in Sao Paulo was met by riot police with rubber bullets and teargas and huge indignation across the media and the public and were the spark for ever increasing protests across the country. There were giant marches in the centre of Rio every night last week but also smaller scale protests across the city. 500 footballs with red crosses were placed on Copacabana beach these morning, representing the half a million people murdered in Brazil in the past 10 years whilst people have marched and camped outside the Governor of the State of Rio de Janeiro’s residence in Leblon.

Although the politicians have struck a conciliatory note, saying that they need to listen to the demands of the people and that this is a sign of democracy, the police have reacted somewhat differently. Videos abound of teargas and rubber bullets being sprayed towards people, apparently without reason, as they stand on pavements, walk down the street, sit in their cars or film events from their apartment. My housemate told me of walking in the crowd towards the Prefeitura (the seat of Rio’s goverment) as helicopters flew lower and lower overhead, dropping teargas from above as crowds including young people, children and pregnant women fled away. This style of policing may be partly due to the use of the BOPE police, heavily armed shock troops more accustomed to entering and tackling drug gangs in the favelas than policing protests.

And what does this waking giant want? Although the spark was the rise in bus prices the underlying frustrations are multitudinous. The poor infrastructure and investment in health and education, friends constantly declaim the poor wages of teachers and the endless waiting and lack of equipment at public hospitals, any one that can pays for private education and healthcare plans. The cost of hosting the mega events of the World Cup and the Olympics, which appear to serve external international interests such as the International Olympic Committee and Fifa rather than the local population. In Cuíaba, the capital of Mato Grosso, a recently built stadium has been knocked down and a new one built specifically for the World Cup that is hugely outsized for the audience of the local lower tier football team. But overlying all of this is the corruption and self-serving interests that have chipped away at people’s respect, trust and belief in politicians, in their trust that these mega-events are not being used to line the pockets of politicians whilst public services are neglected. The recent mensalão (Big Monthly Payment) scandal where 25 senators, businessmen and PT (Workers’ Party) officials were found guilty of receiving monthly payments to vote with the government, has still not resulted in any of the guilty going to prison. The politicians appeared outraged that the Supreme Court had had the gall to actually prosecute them, let alone find them guilty.

One of the specific complaints of the protesters is the amendment PEC 37 to the constitution which will be voted on this coming week, with today and tomorrow called the ‘Dia do Basta a Corrupção’ (Enough Corruption Day). This amendment would mean that all prosecution investigations would have to be carried out by the Federal or State Police, rather than some being brought by a public prosecutor, as occurs at the moment. People are worried that this concentration of power will give a monopoly to the police to investigate crimes, leaving some uninvestigated, especially those of corruption by politicians or police. Other people have suggested that a change is needed from the status quo, with local police forces needing more independence and better pay to increase their autonomy from State Governors and their ability to investigate corruption. Overall, it indicates the lack of trust in federal institutions.

Whatever the outcome and changes that occur from these protests, the giant has definitely woken. I am proud to see this spirit of change and demand for a better future speak on the streets of these cities, to see a people find its voice after so many talks with my colleagues, hearing their complaints about public services and corruption and their disbelief that any change will happen. Talking to people on our travels around Brazil they have told me how needed these protests are, for politicians to see the anger and frustration of the people and to know that they are watching and that they will demand change. Currently President Dilma hasn’t offered enough to calm this giant, we’ll see what the next week brings.