Thousands of Brazilians have protested in several cities over the past ten days, and organizers are planning for another march in Sao Paulo on Monday night.
Rising prices for public transportation was the original cause of the the protests, organized by Movimento Passe Livre. Since then, Brazilians have joined protests for various other reasons, including rising crime, income inequality, and corruption.
The protests are quickly becoming a sign of a weakening public confidence for Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff ahead of the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
The protest’s nickname “Salad Uprising” was coined in response to the arrests of those who carried vinegar with them as an aide against police tear gas.
Tumblr blog Salad Uprising is reporting to collect stories and pictures from demonstrations across Brazil (Reuters cannot confirm individual posts on external blogs; please message the Reuters on Tumblr if you seek more information on any news).
When police tried to disperse the crowd on Thursday in Sao Paulo, violence erupted, injuring dozens and leading to nearly 200 arrests.
Photo: posters read, “Dilma, we are the ones who pay for your housing” and “Communities exist.” REUTERS/Alex Almeida
Many people have asked me about this, because 1. there are a lot of Brazilian nerdfighters, 2. I am a huge fan of Brazil and see the last 20 years of its history as a model for other nations in the developing world, and 3. I like soccer a lot.
My honest opinions may be unpopular with Brazilian nerdfighters, and that’s okay. I might be wrong. I’ve been wrong before. Also, I don’t know much about Brazil, and I don’t want to pretend otherwise. But since you’re all asking:
1. 100% of the protesters’ concerns are legitimate.
2. I think the World Cup (and the Olympics) will happen regardless of whether they are a net economic good for Brazil. (I think they’ll be a net negative, but it’ll be closer than many people are saying.) Brazil has already spent more than 3 billion reals to prepare for the World Cup; yes, that is a ridiculous number, but making the World Cup a failure will not make it a less ridiculous number.
2a. Given that, I think non-Brazilians who are planning to go should go and spend a lot of money. The time to have the conversation about whether it was a bad idea to host the World Cup has passed: The cost of abandoning the World Cup (or the Olympics) at this point would be prohibitive and more damaging to the Brazilian economy than going through with it and hopefully getting a reasonable windfall from foreign tourists spending a lot of money.
3. I understand that money spent by tourists will be unevenly distributed, but that’s been the case for decades, and in Brazil at least, the rising tide really has lifted all boats: after decades of rampant inflation and extremely high poverty rates, absolute poverty has fallen by half since 1994.
3a. That said, poverty is still much higher in Brazil than it should be, and corruption remains a huge problem. (Compare Brazil’s corruption levels to Chile’s, for instance.) Income inequality is extremely high. Crime is a vexing problem, and a very complicated one. Public transportation costs should not have gone up (for a variety of reasons, but mostly because it amounts to a tax on non-rich workers, who are exactly the wrong people to tax).
4. HOWEVER: It is important to note that real and important economic progress had been made in Brazil in the last 20 years. For that progress to continue, corruption, income inequality, and crime must decrease. These protests are important because they remind the government that all is not well and that progress is fragile and only counts if it continues. They hold the government accountable to the people. But as far as the World Cup goes: Most of the money that will be spent on the World Cup has already been spent. It is gone. Let us hope that the crowds are large and that most of that money can be recouped.