RIO DE JANEIRO: Fresh protests simmered in major Brazilian cities Monday over public transport fare hikes and use of government funds to host the Confederations Cup, a dry run for next year’s World Cup.
Organized via social media networks like Twitter and without leadership or a clear political agenda, demonstrators prepared to return to the streets in the central city of Belo Horizonte, where Nigeria and Tahiti were to play, following a protest that drew 8,000 people Saturday.
The relatively small protests are rare in this huge country of nearly 200 million people. They reflect mounting nationwide discontent, particularly among the young, about the country’s huge investments for sporting mega-events while glaring social inequality persists.
The protests over a hike in mass transit fares from $1.5 to $1.6 began earlier this month in Sao Paulo, the country’s economic capital and most populous city, days before the opening of the Confederations tournament. It brings together eight national teams from around the world in six Brazilian host cities.
The unrest rapidly spread to other cities with demonstrators focusing their anger not just on the transport fares but also on $15 billion the government is allocating for the Confederations Cup and the World Cup.
The demonstrators want these resources to be earmarked instead for health care and quality education in a country with huge economic disparity between rich and poor.
Saturday, around 1,000 of them managed to break through a security perimeter and protest outside the gate of Brasilia’s national stadium during the Confederations Cup’s opening game, in which Brazil won 3-0 against Japan.
Sunday, 3,000 people tried to break into Rio’s renovated Maracana stadium where Italy defeated Mexico 2-1.
The Rio protesters, mostly by middle-class youths, railed against the police crackdown in Rio, Brasilia and above all Sao Paulo, where more than 230 people were briefly detained and about 100, including journalists, hurt last week.
“The people are unhappy with various things, education, health, public transport,” said Rogerio, a 25-year-old architect who did not want to give his last name as he joined Sunday’s rally outside Maracana.
The unrest comes as Brazil is experiencing anemic growth (0.6 percent in the first quarter) while inflation reached an annualized 6.5 percent in May, the upper limit of the official target.
The disappointing indicators have dented the popularity of President Dilma Rousseff, particularly among the youngest and wealthiest Brazilians, according to recent surveys.
Rousseff was booed in Brasilia Saturday as she inaugurated the tournament alongside world football’s governing body FIFA President Joseph Blatter, although she retains high popularity and is favored to win re-election next year.
Anthropologist Alba Zaluar, a violence expert at Rio de Janeiro State University, said the unrest reflects “an awareness of the need for reforms with respect to institutions, police and also basic services such as health, and transport.”
According to the daily O Globo, protests have been scheduled in 44 cities over the next four days.