What is going on in Brazil?

In recent days, Brazil has enacted its own “Spring”. It began with demonstrations in São Paulo against a 10-cent increase in bus fares. Last week, the protest was harshly repressed by the military police, but their brutality produced an unexpected outcome. The majority of the population, which had been looking with displeasure at the isolated episodes of vandalism that accompanied the demonstrations, became sympathetic to the protesters’ cause after watching the government’s violent reaction.

On Tuesday, more than 200,000 people took to the streets of the main cities across the country. In São Paulo, they were 60,000. In Rio, around 100,000. These have been the biggest demonstrations since the impeachment of Brazilian president Fernando Collor de Mello in 1992, after a corruption scandal.

In a typically postmodern appropriation, the soundtrack of an ad for the automotive industry Fiat has virtually become the anthem of the demonstrations. The lyrics celebrate the World Cup in Brazil and invite people to leave their homes because “the greatest bleachers is the street”. That advertising campaign’s hashtag (#vemprarua or #cometothestreet, in the English translation) became the hashtag for the demonstrations in Twitter.

The Wall Street Journal has already called Brazil the social media capital of the universe due to the “hyper-social culture” of the expanding middle class that is increasingly going online. Actually, social networks played an important role during the demonstrations. A friend of mine who works for an important newspaper published in Twitter:

“You, idiots, do not understand that the world has changed. We have mobiles and social networks now. It will be more difficult for you to deceive us!”

To some extent, he’s right. The following picture had an enormous impact in social networks:

eye injured

It was taken by Diego Zanchetta, one of my colleagues at the Estado de S. Paulo newspaper. The girl in the photo is also a journalist. Her name is Giuliana Vallone and she works for Folha de S. Paulo. Her eye was injured by a rubber bullet while she was covering the Thursday demonstrations.

I attended Tuesday’s protests at Avenida Paulista in São Paulo. Some things I noticed:

– The vast majority of demonstrators are not poor workers. They are young high school and college students.

– The agenda of the protests has become more comprehensive (and heterogeneous). The demonstrations have brought together people who advocate reducing bus fares, the nationalization of the public transport service, the impeachment of the governor of São Paulo, broad political reform, boycotting the World Cup, more resources for education, etc.

The lack of consensus on the list of demands is remarkable… and worrying. The protesters’ political spectrum is varied and their claims often antagonistic. Since Tuesday, the following Youtube video has become a frequent post on my Facebook timeline. It is an attempt to explain Brazilian negative feelings about the next World Cup to foreigners.

Undoubtedly, some Brazilians think like the girl in the video. But if you take a look at the comments, you will see that there is no unanimity of opinion at all. There is no consensus about the causes and, especially, the solutions to the problems the country is facing.

Yesterday, both the São Paulo governor and the São Paulo mayor decided to revoke the 10-cent increase in bus fares. However, it is likely that the demonstrations will continue. The protests clearly showed that this is not a 10-cent issue. And it is still difficult to predict what the impact of these events will be.