People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 32

August 11 , 2013

Discerning the Protests in Brazil

R Arun Kumar

BRAZIL has joined the list of countries which have witnessed massive protest demonstrations. This is a little surprising because Brazil has a government led by the Workers' Party. Workers' Party has indeed come to power in Brazil riding on social movements, popular mobilisations against neo-liberal policies more than a decade back, with the charismatic Lula, who was a worker himself, installed as the first popular president. Moreover, Brazil is bracketed along with the other Left, progressive governments in Latin America. After the first workers� president came to power in 2003, Brazil initiated an administration marked by inclusive programmes which led � among other social gains � to the reduction of poverty from 37.5 percent to 20.9 percent, and a drop in extreme poverty from 13.2 percent to 6 percent, according to data from the Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLAC). This swelled the ranks of the middle class (from 38 percent to 53 percent of the population) and, finally, increased the income of millions of Brazilians. Thousands of families had access to consumer markets for the first time. Hence, these protests are a little intriguing.


The 'June' protests started initially with the protesters demanding a roll back in the transport fares, which were increased by 20 cents in major urban centres. 20 cents may not look as 'big money' but still it was an important concern because the Lula government had launched a housing project for the poor, the Minha casa, minha vida (My house, my home) to reduce the housing deficit for the most unprotected families. This provided houses to those who did not have them, but in areas which still lack infrastructure, plus a deficit of public services. Hence, they are dependent on public transport for their mobility. To this demand, later, many demands like better housing, better services in the areas of health, education, urban mobility and stamping out corruption were included. Slowly a section of the protesters expressed their displeasure against the hosting of World Cup Football, 2014 and Olympic Games, 2016 in Brazil, which they considered as wasteful expenditure. Majority of the participants in these protests were students and youth.

The trade unions and many political parties expressed their solidarity with the protesters and joined them. Not surprisingly, this included the ruling Workers' Party (PT) too, with the president herself openly welcoming them. She, in fact, in a widely televised speech said, �The vigour of the streets must be taken advantage of, to produce more changes that will bring benefits to the Brazilian population�. And, �The manifestations show the power of our democracy and the youth's desire to make Brazil advance�. She proposed a five-point pact involving governors, mayors, parties and leaderships of the social movements. In it, she sought to address, apart from the demands raised by the protesters, broader issues such as: fiscal accountability to maintain economic balance and control inflation, proposal for a debate on calling for a referendum, authorising the formation of a Constituent Assembly for deepening the process of democratic, political reforms, classifying corruption as a heinous crime, involving the participation of society to explore the means and methods of improving public transport and for allocating more resources for education using hundred percent of oil royalties. This announcement was well-received by all sections of the society but the protests still continued. Why?

In Brazil, though PT is heading a 13-party coalition government with its leader as president of the country, it doesn't control a majority in the Senate (upper house) on its own, or together with its coalition partners. It enjoys only a thin majority in the Congress (lower house). Similarly, the governors of various provinces, provincial assemblies and mayors are with the opposition. So, naturally, most of the popular measures proposed by the union government are stone-walled by the opposition due to its class character and narrow considerations.

Even during the protests, the demands that the protesters were raising were addressed to both the provincial government and also, of course, to the union government. For example, the police are controlled by the provincial government. The police, particularly in Sao Paulo, whose brutalities on the protesters had triggered a chain reaction of protests across the country, were set-off by the opposition PSDB. Similarly, the issue of corruption that had aroused lots of anger among the Brazilians is a common feature of both the provincial and union governments.


The media which is hostile to the Left leanings of the Workers' Party, used these protests and the police brutalities as an opportunity to malign Dilma Rousseff and her coalition. They reported half-truths and spread blatant lies among the people. In this, they were aided by the corporates and other monied sections in the country. It is their stories on the costs of the Olympic Games and the World Cup Football that caught the attention of many people and some had rallied demanding the scrapping of these two sporting events. These demands surprised many, as Brazil, a sports-loving country, got the opportunity to host the worlds' two greatest sporting events for the first time in its history. The opposition argued that these events were being financed by diverting the monies allocated for education and health. Their arguments received wide media coverage but the reasoning of the government for hosting these events did not receive the deserved coverage. This betrays the bias of the media. It should be remembered that presidential elections are due in Brazil in 2014.

The ruling coalition countering these arguments, stated: �The strategic investment plan for 2014 World Cup, named as Responsibility Matrix, not only generates thousands of jobs, but also improves lives and expands the cities� inhabitants� rights, with urban mobility construction works (including mass transportation), the modernising of airports and telecom infrastructures and public security. The resources to make this legacy feasible are shared by the three levels of public power and the private sector. It is worth highlighting that almost three-quarters of the investments foreseen in the Matrix are meant for infrastructure and services that are not directly connected to the organisation of the sporting events. As a study carried out by Ernest Young and Get�lio Vargas Foundation shows, each Real (Brazilian currency) invested by the public power in structuring construction works associated to the World Cup leverages 3.4 Reals of private investment and the event can generate 3.6 million jobs in several sectors of the national economy.

It is also relevant to mention clarifications concerning the financing of the stadia construction works and the related costs. The ministries of Sports and Planning clarify that the stadia construction works do not use the federal government�s budget resources originally allocated to health and education. Instead, loans from BNDES (National Bank for Economic and Social Development) are used for the renovation and/or construction of 11 stadia whose financing came to a total of R$ 3.8 billion�.

Importantly, the media was silent on the fact that the opposition, which had incited people was all for the �increase in interest rates, which results in the increase of public debt whose payment of interests and amortisations prevent the allocation of more resources for health and education among other sectors�. Interestingly, the protests against the hosting of these two major sporting events in Brazil, which received substantial media coverage did not find acceptance among the majority of the Brazilians, as many surveys carried out by various organisations on this issue indicate.


The Communist Party of Brazil (PCdoB) which is part of the coalition led by the PT joined the protesters and demanded the government to address the genuine concerns of the people. It demanded that now is the time for the government to allocate 10 percent of the GDP for education, urgently address the inequalities that are cropping up in the urban areas and the issue of healthcare. It further demanded a reform of the means of transportation, reform of the judiciary and an introduction of progressive taxes, inverting the existing policy in which the workers and the poorest pay most taxes. Instead, it demanded that higher taxes be imposed on the corporates and those who earn huge profits in order to fight inequalities. The Party also demanded that corruption has to be tackled stringently and also supported the government on its stand about hosting the Football World Cup and the Olympic Games.

Assessing the character of the protests, the PCdoB in a statement said: �In the last ten years, our people had great achievements, raised its political awareness and now the country breathes democracy. The manifestations are a part of these last ten years� legacy: a population that stands, willing to fight for its rights and for a better Brazil. The voice of the streets tells us that the achievements cannot stop and that changes must be accelerated because ten years are not enough to overcome the enormous social inequality inherited from centuries of history. The right-wing opposition and the mass media intend to stir the political fight even more against the government and if possible, foster an intense political crisis...In contrast to what the right-wing intends, the government may leave this process even stronger than before...The political reality created by the boiling streets can help in creating a new block of progressive political and social forces of all committed to a platform to boost development and social progress. This new block will be made with a platform that addresses the streets� demands and that carries out democratic reforms without which changes can�t advance�.

As the PCdoB states, though the protests have concluded, the outcome of these protests is �yet to be seen�. To ensure the building of 'another world', prevent the growth of the right-wing forces in the country and ensure that Brazil remains on the path of 'Left', it is necessary for all the Left-wing forces in the country to join hands. The Left should lead the people in their struggle for genuine demands and ensure that there is constant pressure on the government to act for the workers and other common people in the country. This is all the more important as the ruling coalition is thinking of going for a plebiscite on the political reforms needed, in October.