Brazilians are no longer satisfied with the current panorama of the country – at least, that is what they have been showcasing in various ways. Ultimately, on March 15th, more than a million citizens took the streets around the country and abroad to protest over issues such as corruption, weak economy and contradictory measures taken by the government of Dilma Roussef, the left-wing President re-elected at the end of 2014.
The political pressure comes at the time in which the country is shaken by the scandal of Petrobras, the Brazilian state-run oil company. It has been revealed under investigation that more than 40 politicians, some of them from the President’s Workers’ Party and the ruling coalition, including the speakers of the House and the Senate, former executives and construction companies were involved in a massive bribery scam and money-laundering case that embezzled billions of dollars. Even though the President was not accused of wrongdoing, it was during her years as Energy Minister and chairwoman of the company that the alleged corruption probe happened. The publicity of it provoked heated discussion among Brazilians – the faithful party’s supporters, the incredulous middle class and the afflicted industrialists. It is hardly shocking that such action applied this particular reaction, if anything we can be relieved that it did. Democracy is still alive and kicking.
A ‘Dilmother’ lode of opinions
The citizens are outraged not only because of the political situation – which they tend to summarize with one word, ‘corruption’, no matter what kind of scandal it is – , but also over Brazilian economy facing tough times, since it is nose-diving in one of the highest inflation rates in the last decade (7,7%) and the currency plunges. All those factors have led the President to take unpopular measures that were previously proposed by the opposition, but promptly condemned by her staff during the campaign- the ’I am in charge now‘ discrepancy, witnessed in every political system all over the world all the time.
All this instability resulted in the political dissatisfaction that gathered people in many capitals across the country. Curiously enough, the events were organised through Facebook and websites by non-partisan groups, thus following the patterns of the manifestations in 2013 and 2014, and reunited a myriad of opinions that longed for changes in the government, despite the differences amongst them.
Once again, we witnessed Brazilians absolutely and passionately divided as in a football match between the ruling parties and the opposition. Many times and regretfully enough, they were not able to understand the similarity of their demands, which is probably due to the way information is ruled and consumed in loco.
In spite of having plenty of information, people tend to absorb it in a passionate, sometimes dangerously non-critical way. In Brazil, an instructive example is that whereas some call President Dilma a ‘mother’, others tend to demonise her and her government, demonstrating that in a country where the number of magazines and newspapers greatly surpasses the number their consumers, press has its share when it offers incomplete and, sometimes, heavily biased analysis on the latest news. On top of that, citizens do not make a habit of going deep into the facts and are prone to adopt a political posture by following closely only one side of the story, deeming those who have different opinions as ‘political illiterates’. At this point, it is clear that willingness to make changes in the way the country is ruled abounds to the degree at which the process of political thinking lacks fruitful, open discussion.
Before the rally on March 15th, about 40 thousand marched on March 13th in defence of Petrobras and the Workers’ Party. Two days later, those chanting on the street were mostly right-wing oriented, but their claims were not homogeneous and the experts would actually arrange the citizens into democratic, moderate and even ultra-conservative right-wings. Accordingly, several asked for impeachment, others for democratic changes, while some even supported military intervention and secession.
Although the demonstrations were not alike when it comes to the profile of those involved, be that for economical class or political orientation, Datafolha Institute indicates that their reasons, not their views, were convergent. In the contemporary world where 99 % of people live in a different micro cosmos than the remaining 1 %, this is not at all a surprising fact. Moreover, this fusion of views into one voice should be viewed as a positive sign towards a possible future rebellion against the current (political, economic, social and cultural) world order.
The story before March: the 20 cents that woke up the giant and the Cup that tucked him in
It would be ignorant to say this newest manifestation of dissatisfaction is an isolated episode. It has been two years since the first action took place, at that time because of the increase in bus fares, and the authoritative measures taken against the protesters stemmed a series of other protests for bigger and deeper political changes that lasts until today. The Brazilian giant was awake again, craving for changes and, in a cathartic 2013, sure of what he wanted. Today, he still has legit demands, but his voice lowers as the people cannot reach a consensus on what to protest for, which has been making him numb ever since. Hopefully, 2015 will be the wake-up call for every Brazilian to reflect on their political principles and move together towards a common objective.
The initial demonstrations in 2013 can be divided into three distinct acts, all of them organised and sponsored via social media. The first of them counted mostly with students that were outraged about the raise in the fair related to transports. In a non-violent march, those students were brutally supressed by the local police and deprived of their rights. The second phase involved representatives of the society as a whole – old people, children, teachers, workers – that were not only dissatisfied by the way the students had been treated but also demanded broader improvements, better hospitals, well-trained policemen, education for the people and the end of corruption, chanting that the Brazilian giant was finally awake. The third phase was led by a group of black blocks, who acted violently and destroyed several public and private places. This was the first time Dilma’s approval rates amongst electors have fallen significantly since her presidential inauguration.
In 2014, amid the preparation for the World Cup in the country, Brazilians found themselves in a huge scandal for misusing the public funds, corruption and overbilling for the construction of stadiums.
The general tension also mounted with the leaks about the shabbiness in public healthcare and education. As opposed to what was done in the countries that hosted the World Cup before Brazil and also in contrary to what the government announced, most part of the public money was destined for stadiums, whilst the public facilities needed for the event did not receive many investments.
All those reasons incensed the citizens to go to the streets once more in peaceful, yet persistent protests that took place in the first semester of the related year, including during some of the matches.
This time, however, the event was successfully executed and the aftermaths were at the same time confusing and astonishing. Besides having increased the number of tourists and, thus, the money they spent in the country, some of the work was arguably necessary, such as the Stadium in Amazonas, where there is a lack professional soccer teams and the weather is challenging.
It is paramount, therefore, to make it clear that these latest local protests did not occur out of the blue, green and yellow. They happened as a result of sequential factors that led to new political consciousness and habits that include a wider and wider range of citizens, even if this process is still ongoing. By sharing their views through social media, spreading the news in a rapid and effective way and allying themselves with potential supporters who share the same mind-sets, protesters could on the one hand hold a big event and, on the other, increase the power of pressure.
A government that is half of a kind
Now President Dilma has to deal with an ever increasing part of the population that does not feel properly represented by the government, which is especially true for the Brazilian middle class. Researches show that rejection rates achieved 62%, the highest percentage since September, 1992, right before President Fernando Collor de Mello suffered impeachment. Experts disagree on whether impeachment would be a legal or even an acceptable solution, with the population having similarly polarized opinions.
The Worker’s Party, known for its social policies, constantly relates the resistance from the middle class to wealth redistribution – hence, the desired improvement for those in need. Yet, the President now loses adepts in the lower economical layers of society, too, which evidences that her acceptance rates have decreased even among less favoured and illiterate electors.
At this point, it is as important to remember that President Dilma won re-election by a tiny margin as it is worth noting that it happened less than half a year ago. This shows us that even though social media recently played a major role in exposing the government’s weaknesses and pushing it for changes, we should also be reminded that political consciousness should have been taken seriously ages before the chants, and that is on polls.
At that tumultuous Sunday night, the government reacted to this rejection by recognizing the democratic legitimacy of demonstrations, but downplaying their suitability, claiming that the protesters were not able to win during the elections– the demonstrators responded by banging pots and pans and honking car horns.
Now it tries to put the country back on track and desperately hopes to find a magic bullet for the animosities, such as the quick sanction of an anti-corruption law that aims to penalize enterprises involved in corruption scams. Moreover, since the beginning of her new four-year term, the President has changed some of the ministers in her staff, being the newest of them the Education Minister, the philosopher and Ethics professor Renato Janine Ribeiro.
Nevertheless, the next steps in Brazilian politics remain very unclear. Despite making some changes, the government still receives heavy criticism, especially from the organisers responsible for the manifestations, who believe it did not quite understand the needs presented. They claim the government responded insufficiently, by designing fragile policies, and demand more energetic measures towards themes like corruption and the number of ministries. Even they suffer the pressure from the right-wing now, and some of them have recently adjusted the movement’s premises, consequently supporting impeachment.
Some citizens will be rallying against the government again, on April 12th. Until then, we still need to expect few shiny new moves from both sides, the governmental and the protesting part of population. Then, hopefully, the clouds will clear and we will see how much of it is just hot air in our tropical fall.