5 Reasons Why Brazil Is Protesting

Bruno Magalhae/AP Photo

On Saturday, thousands of Brazilian fans at the Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha booed and heckled FIFA president Sepp Blatter and Brazilian president Dilma Roussef during the opening ceremony of the Confederations Cup.

Although that response has become fairly common at events that involve Blatter, the jeering seemed unexpected in the case of Dilma Roussef, who has been a popular figure for years. Few analysts found it odd, however. Indeed, even Roussef herself expected trouble.

That's because for more than a week now thousands of protesters in Brazil have fought violent battles against riot police. The demonstrations, started in Sao Paulo by a political group called the Movimento Passe Livre (Free Fare Movement), have spread across at least five cities. And the group's initial objective – to revert a recent hike in public transportation prices – has given leftist organizations and university students a reason to shine a light on larger social issues like corruption.

This broader movement has been alternately dubbed the Revolta da Salada (The Salad Revolution), the Revolta do Vinagre (The Vinegar Revolution), and V for Vinagre, after a Brazilian journalist who was arrested for carrying vinegar to ward off the effects of tear gas used during protests.

So what exactly was the final straw? There wasn't just one. Here are five key reasons that led to the revolt we're seeing in Brazil today:

1. Public Transportation Prices

The recent 10-cent increase in bus and subway fare has been cited in most news accounts as the leading motive behind the week's brutal clashes. The issue is constantly highlighted by the Free Fare Movement, and it is the only item in this list that protesters can actually hope to change.

"People are demanding a single thing, a clear and specific one, which is to repeal the increase," Caio Martins, a 19-year-old history student who belongs to the Free Fare Movement, told Brazilian newspaper Folha de Sau Paulo. "To negotiate something different than what the population wants would be a betrayal."

2. The Combined Costs of the World Cup and the Confederations Cup

Demonstrators have started targeting soccer stadiums in Brasilia and Rio de Janeiro as part of an effort to raise awareness about the extraordinary amounts of money the government has on 12 stadiums to host the World Cup and the Confederations Cup. Taxpayers are footing the bill in spite of promises that private enterprise would cover it.

"We are demanding more respect to the population," Vinicius de Assis, 21, a protester in Rio, told the Associated Press. "They are building these overpriced stadiums and are not worrying about the situation of their own people."

The total cost of the buildings has tripled since the initial 2007 estimates. It currently stands at around $3.68 billion, nearly twice what Germany spent on their World Cup preparations.

Demonstrators point out that no one is quite sure about what will happen with the stadiums once the competitions are over.

3. Police Brutality

As most Latin Americans know, violence, or the threat of violence, hardly prevents further protests. In fact, police brutality is often viewed as a valid reason to protest more. Certainly, the Brazil demonstrations have been rife with the kind of incidents that encourage indignation.

Hundreds of protesters have been arrested, and more than 55 were wounded just last Thursday in Sao Paulo. Brazil's defense minister has acknowledged that the police have acted "arbitrarily and violently," and there are countless YouTube videos that show officers in riot gear using tear gas and rubber bullets against peaceful demonstrators. Protesters have vowed to increase rallies in response to this.

4. Corruption

Brazil is ranked 69 out of 176 in Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index. Though that is relatively good when compared with the rest of Latin America, Brazil still has significant corruption problems, as demonstrated by the recent shooting of a newspaper director in a town outside of Rio.

There have also been massive scandals involving prominent businessmen and influential government employees (Lula's chief of staff, for instance). More worrying is that politicians have considerable discretionary spending benefits when they are elected. Elected officials can spend thousands of dollars on airline tickets, housing expenses and several other perks.

"The recent uprising that is spurring in Brazil is not an act of unwarranted violence and it is not gratuitous vandalism," according to the leaders of the #ChangeBrazil movement "It is what happens when a society is forced to put up with the ludicrous, nonsensical laws that are created exclusively to benefit the lawmakers themselves."

5. The Economy, Stupid

In effect, it all arguably boils down to Brazil's recent economic slowdown. In the past year, inflation has steadily climbed to 6.5 percent, affecting mostly poor families.

More than the slow growth in income, poor families also lack decent access to education and employment, according to the Brazilian government's Family Development Index.

Brazil's economy grew 1.9 percent in this year's first quarter, 0.5 percent below last year's predictions. The government raised the minimum wage by nearly 9 percent this year, but the price of transportation and other basic services remain disproportionately high.

All of these factors have contributed to Dilma Roussef's first popularity debacle. Her approval ratings have fallen for the first time since she took office, and the booing during her stadium visit stadium shows just how fed up people are.

Economic turmoil coupled with social unrest tends to breed more social disturbances, and Brazilian authorities will continue to be faced with a massive challenge as the World Cup puts a spotlight on more than this country's hosting efforts.

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