Leaders in Brazil’s two biggest cities on Wednesday said that they reversed an increase in bus and subway fares that ignited anti-government protests that have spread across the nation in the past week.
Many people doubted the move would quiet the demonstrations, which have moved well beyond outrage over the fare hikes into communal cries against poor public services in Latin America’s biggest nation.
“It’s not really about the price anymore,” said Camila Sena, an 18-year-old university student at a protest in Rio de Janeiro’s sister city of Niteroi.
“People are so disgusted with the system, so fed up that now we’re demanding change,” she said.
Sena added that seeing money poured into soccer stadiums for the current Confederations Cup and next year’s World Cup only added fuel to the people’s anger.
“It’s not that we’re against the World Cup, not at all. It will bring good things for Brazil. It’s just that we’re against the corruption that the World Cup has become an excuse for,” she said.
At a press conference in Sao Paulo to announce the reversal of the public transport fare hike, Sao Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad said it “will represent a big sacrifice and we will have to reduce investments in other areas.”
He did not give details on where other cuts would occur.
Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes also confirmed that the fare increase would be rescinded in that city.
Scattered street demonstrations continued in some parts of Brazil, including Niteroi, as protesters demand improvements of the public services they receive in exchange for high taxes and rising prices.
Small groups of protesters clashed with police in Niteroi late on Wednesday, while demonstrators staged a large march in the capital of Brasilia that included a new demand that the government provide free transit services.
Earlier in the day, about 200 people blocked the Anchieta Highway that links Sao Paulo, the country’s biggest city, and the port of Santos before heading to the industrial suburb of Sao Bernardo do Campo on Sao Paulo’s outskirts.
Another group of protesters later again obstructed the highway.
In the northeastern city of Fortaleza, 15,000 protesters clashed with police trying to prevent them from reaching the Castelao Stadium before Brazil’s game with Mexico in the Confederations Cup soccer tournament.
Riot police used gas bombs and pepper spray to keep protesters from advancing past a barrier about 3km from the stadium. A police car was burned by demonstrators, who also threw rocks and other objects at officers.
The protest disrupted fans’ efforts to get in the stadium for Brazil’s second match at the World Cup warm-up tournament.
“We are against a government that spends billions on stadiums while people are suffering across the country,” said Natalia Querino, a 22-year-old student participating in the protest.
“We want better education, more security and a better health system,” she added.
Earlier, hundreds of protesters cut off the main access road to the stadium, and police responded by diverting traffic away from the road. Official vehicles of the international soccer organization, FIFA, were among those struggling to reach the stadium.
Protest organizers, who have widely employed social media, called for mass demonstrations yesterday in Sao Paulo and Rio.
The Rio action promised the most volatility, with protesters planning to march to Maracana Stadium where Spain and Tahiti were to play a Confederations Cup match.
Police said they would not allow protesters to interrupt the game.
Soldiers from Brazil’s elite National Force have been sent to Fortaleza, Rio, Belo Horizonte, Salvador and Brasilia to bolster security during tournament games.