Even Francis Cannot Tame Brazil's Fury

Daily Mail (London), July 26, 2013 | Go to article overview

Even Francis Cannot Tame Brazil's Fury


Byline: Joe Higgins ANOTHER VOICE

THE government of Brazil must bitterly curse its bad luck this week. In normal times in a Latin American country, a visit from a Pope would bring an avalanche of good publicity and opportunities for unpopular establishment politicians to use the pontifical popularity to try and rehabilitate their dented standing with the broader populace.

No such luck on this occasion, however, for Dilma Rousseff, member of the Party of the Workers and president of Brazil.

She is hosting Pope Francis as she is engulfed in a gigantic movement of people power against the neo-liberal policies of her government.

For more than a month now, millions of ordinary Brazilians have been mobilising right across the country. And Brazil, home of the mighty Amazon river, is a gigantic country, about 100 times the size of the island of Ireland and measuring 4,200km from west to east.

Brazil has a population of 194million, very many of whom are crowded into massive cities like Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro which also include some of the worst shanty towns in the world.

The catalyst for the protests was an increase in public transport costs that had evoked strong opposition in a number of areas in May and early last month.

But when the municipal authority in the massive sprawl that is Sao Paulo raised the cost of metro and train tickets, the protest escalated -- and on June 17 hundreds of thousands were marching all over the country, with 200,000 protesting in Sao Paulo alone.

An initial brutal response from the police only intensified the anger and in the following days the movement spread and involved more than 100 cities. This elemental force of people power forced the cancellation of the fare increases in a desperate attempt by the authorities to de-escalate the protest.

This was a case of too late and far too little, however. Commentators have pointed out that the transport costs were only one of a long list of grievances of workers and the poor in Brazil. Not least is the huge disparity of wealth in the country.

Horrific poverty and deprivation exist side by side with the shameless opulence of a minority.

Millions live in the squalid shanty towns. The huge expenditure of taxpayers' funds on building stadiums for the World Cup next year is seen as diverting resources from health and education, increasing the divide and further enriching construction magnates.

One such construction boss is Cesar Mata Pires, who, according to Bloomberg, has been made a billionaire through state contracts for World Cup infrastructure. …

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