SAO PAULO: Brazil girded for more street protests Saturday despite President Dilma Rousseff’s conciliatory remarks pledging to improve public services and fight corruption, while warning against further violence.
Rallies coordinated via social media were called in several cities, including Sao Paulo, Brasilia, Belo Horizonte and Salvador as the country’s intelligence services warned of an escalation in the protests against shoddy public services and sloppy, corrupt government.
As the Rousseff administration fought to deal with the ever rising tide of dissatisfaction, former football star-turned Socialist politician Romario joined the debate, praising the demonstrators and dubbing world football body FIFA “Brazil’s real president.”
In an address to the nation late Friday, Rousseff offered Brazilians a “great pact” between the government and the people to improve underfunded public services and stressed the need for “more effective ways to fight corruption.”
Her remarks came a day after more than one million people marched in cities across the country to slam the huge cost of hosting next June’s World Cup, put at some 15 billion dollars, while public services such as schools and hospitals are lacking.
The protests began over a transport fare hike but spread to include a bevy of gripes.
Rousseff’s intervention left the protesters unmoved, judging by a torrent of comments on social media sites.
“Listening to President Dilma depresses me. It’s a joke. She treats us like idiots on national television,” was one typical comment.
“We want dates and times, action. Promises are not enough,” said another.
The protests have been largely peaceful but some have been marred by violence and acts of vandalism, notably in Rio and Brasilia, with two deaths recorded to date.
FIFA welcomed the president’s comments, as did the newspaper O Globo, saying they set “a horizon for a way out of the crisis.”
The protests come as Brazil hosts a dry run for the World Cup, called the Confederations Cup.
Brazil’s footballers have sided publicly with the protesters and Romario, a World Cup winner with Brazil in 1994 who was elected as a Socialist lawmaker in 2010, warned he believed the country had to shake itself out of its lethargy.
“After the Confederations Cup, we are going to have to focus on the World Cup and the person who decides how that goes is the real president of Brazil, which today is FIFA,” said Romario.
He added he wanted to “congratulate the Brazilian people for yesterday’s and today’s demonstrations and those still to come” while blasting FIFA for “setting up a circus, not spending a cent and then pocketing everything.”
The watching world, seeing what is being described as a “Tropical Spring” unfold as marchers urge Brazilians to “wake up” and push for reform, are more used to seeing Brazil’s streets awash with revellers at the country’s famed carnivals as well as sporting events in a soccer-obsessed nation.
But the image currently being beamed around the world is of a country in turmoil as demonstrations become increasingly fraught, with police resorting to using tear gas and plastic bullets in a bid to keep the protesters at bay.
“People have a right to criticize,” Rousseff said, promising to meet with the leaders of peaceful demonstrations as well as workers and community leaders.
But the president warned against further violence.
“The government cannot stand by as people attack public property … and bring chaos to our streets,” she stressed in Friday’s address.
Saturday’s planned protests coincide with the Confederations Cup games including a Italy-Brazil clash Saturday afternoon in Salvador.
In Belo Horizonte, demonstrators planned to march to the Mineirao stadium where Japan faced Mexico. Authorities have pledged to tighten security there.
In Sao Paulo, the Free Pass Movement (MPL) that sparked the nation-wide protests over higher mass transit fares two weeks ago said on its Facebook page that they would go on, even though the increase has been repealed.
Some spokespersons for the group had said Friday the rallies were being suspended because some of the protests had turned violent.
But MPL says it will press on until public transport is free of charge.
“The only way to change life is by fighting,” the Facebook posting said.
“The revolution has started. I am with you,” read another posting.
“It does not look good for you, Dilma” and “if you don’t sack all the corrupt, we are going to sack you,” were other comments tweeted
Although the transport fare rises lit the touchpaper, the protests have since mushroomed into a national outcry as Brazilians say they have had enough of years of poor public services and political corruption.