RIO DE JANEIRO: President Dilma Rousseff vowed Tuesday to listen to youths staging Brazil’s biggest protests in 20 years in an outpouring of anger over the huge cost of staging events like the World Cup.
More rallies were scheduled for Tuesday, a day after more than 250,000 people took to the streets of major cities in mostly peaceful rallies, although there were some clashes with police and acts of vandalism.
Protesters are furious that Brazil is spending $15 billion to host the World Cup next year and the ongoing Confederations Cup bring together national times from around the world while, the protesters say, spending on health and education is moved to the back burner. The Confederations Cup is a dry run for the World Cup.
The president expressed empathy.
“These voices need to be heard,” Rousseff said in an address at the presidential palace. “My government is listening to these voices for change.”
“My government is committed to social transformation,” she added, hailing what she called the largely peaceful nature of the protests.
In Rio, where 100,000 marched, some tried to storm the state legislative assembly, set fire to a car and ransacked shops. Twenty police were hurt, along with several demonstrators.
Rousseff said that with the country’s rising prosperity over the past decade, new citizens have emerged “demanding more and entitled to more.”
“The voices of the street want more citizenship, health, transport, opportunities,” said Brazil’s first female head of state. She is a former Marxist guerrilla who was jailed and tortured during the country’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship.
“My government wants to broaden access to education and health, understands that the demands of the people change,” Rousseff said in a clear attempt to regain the initiative in the face of widespread national discontent.
A new demonstration was set for central Sao Paulo, with organizers saying the focus would be on demands for better public services and, again, criticism of the billions allocated for the sporting events.
Meanwhile several players of the national soccer squad, including Dani Alves, Hulk and David Luiz, expressed solidarity with the protesters.
Alves, who is preparing for Wednesday’s Brazil-Mexico Confederations Cup clash, posted a picture of a giant eye with yellow and green colors, as well as the motto of the national flag: “Order and Progress.”
“Order and Progress without violence for a better Brazil, a peaceful Brazil, an educated, healthy, honest and happy Brazil,” he wrote.
“I come from the bottom of the social ladder and now I have a good life. I see these demonstrators and I know that they are right,” Hulk told a press conference in Fortaleza.
“We know that Brazil needs to improve in many areas and must let the demonstrators express themselves,” he added.
Monday’s demonstrations were the biggest in Brazil since those against corruption in 1992 under the rule of Fernando Collor de Mello, who was subsequently impeached.
“The government is worried,” admitted President Rousseff’s chief of staff Gilberto Carvalho, urging the opposition not to get involved. “No one from either side should try to take advantage of the situation.”
The spark from the current wave of unrest was a nationwide hike in public transport fares. But this quickly broadened to resentment over the money being spent on the Confederations Cup, the World Cup and the 2016 Rio summer Olympics.
According to a survey by the Datafolha institute released Tuesday, the main reasons people give for protesting is the increase in mass transit fares — from $1.5 to $1.6. That is costly in a country where the monthly minimum wage is $339.
The protests were coordinated via social media networks across the country.
“With the Confederations Cup, all eyes are on the country. But I wonder why these young people did not protest earlier,” Zaluar said. “To demand more investment in health and education rather in stadiums, everybody agrees.”