Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff proposed a wide range of actions to reform Brazil’s political system, fight corruption and improve public services — all demands angrily asked for by the millions of protesters who have taken to the streets the past week.
In a meeting on Monday with four leaders of a main group behind the protest movement and later with governors and the mayors of 26 capital cities, Rousseff shifted some of the burden for progress onto the back of Brazil’s widely loathed congress — in particular, in calling for a plebiscite on political reform that only lawmakers have the authority to call.
Rousseff told the governors and mayors that the government would allocate US$23 billion for new spending on urban public transport, but she did not provide details on what the new projects would be. The four leaders of the free-transit activist group that launched the first demonstrations more than a week ago said she also gave them no concrete plans.
“I mainly want to repeat that my government is listening to democratic voices. We must learn to hear the voices of the street,” Rousseff told the governors and mayors. “We all must, without exception, understand these signals with humility and accuracy.”
She said her government would focus on five priorities: fiscal responsibility and controlling inflation, political reform, healthcare, public transport and education.
Protesters have filled cities across this vast country to air a wide spectrum of grievances, including poor public services and the high cost of hosting next year’s World Cup soccer tournament and the 2016 Olympics.
Mayara Longo Vivian, one of the leaders of the Free Fare Movement who met with Rousseff in the capital Brasilia, said that no concrete measures were given to the group and that their “fight would continue.” The movement has been working since 2006 to eliminate public transport fares.
Vivian referred to the billions of dollars Brazil is spending for the World Cup, saying: “If they have money to build stadiums, they have money for zero tariffs” on public transportation.
“The people are on the street, the left is on the street, with legitimate agendas,” she said. “Only with concrete measures from the state will this situation be reversed.”
At a demonstration in Rio de Janeiro on Monday, 68-year-old sociologist Irene Loewenstein said she was not too impressed by Rousseff’s action.
“It’s a necessary first step, but not a particularly meaningful nor surprising one,” she said. “Neither Dilma nor any other politician here is capable of even understanding, much less putting into practice, the kind of systematic change the people are demanding. It’s just not within their world views.”
Monday marked the beginning of a more hands-on approach for Rousseff in the face of sharp criticism that she had been too silent during protests last week. She only made brief comments on Monday last week and then a 10 minute, pre-recorded nationwide address on Friday, a week after the protest exploded and a day after a million people took to the streets in at times violent protests.
Since then, the demonstrations have shrunk and become less widespread, while Rousseff looked stronger on Monday.
Many of the means she listed, including using oil royalties to fund education and a program to attract foreign doctors to work in areas underserved by Brazilian physicians, had already been proposed by Rousseff before, but met stiff resistance in congress. By putting the issues before the public at this sensitive time, the president is ratcheting up pressure on congress to not serve as a bottleneck for the proposals.