Brazil unrest could flare anew during papal visit


Sat, Jul 06, 2013 - Page 7

Brazil’s social turmoil over poor public services and endemic political corruption appears to have abated but could flare again during Pope Francis’ visit later this month, analysts warn.

The unrest — which brought more than a million Brazilians onto the streets and rocked Latin America’s economic behemoth for three weeks during the Confederations Cup soccer tournament — “surges up and down like a wave,” Latin American Socoiology Association president Paulo Henrique Martins said.

“This wave will roll as long as the Brazilian people mobilize on social issues,” he said.

Demands have focused on tougher measures to root out political corruption and greater investment in public transport, health and education — rather than in sporting events like the Confederations Cup and next year’s World Cup.

Fewer people are hitting the streets to vent their anger, though truck drivers blocked roads across the country in a protest early this week and doctors demonstrated against the government’s plan to attract foreign However, Pope Francis is due in Rio for the July 22 to July 28 Catholic World Youth Day (WYD), an event expected to attract 2 million people, and this could tempt larger swaths of demonstrators to launch a new round of protests.

“New demonstrations could take place during WYD, an event that turns the global spotlight on the country and mobilizes its social structures,” Martins said.

Brazilians now realize that they can express their indignation, hold the government accountable and yield results, said anthropologist Alba Zaluar, of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.

Politicians have taken notice of “people power” and will be more cautious, he added.

“There will now be a waiting period, to see what happens, and if the political class fails to give an adequate response, the protests are likely to resume, even though on a smaller scale,” he said.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, whose approval rating plummeted 27 points to 30 percent after three weeks of unrest, according to a Datafolha poll, heard the “voices of the street” and, in response, pressed Congress to organize a plebiscite on political reform.

“If the government manages to translate the wave of mobilizations into [effective] public policies, it will be able to capitalize on them for the president’s re-election” in October next year, Martins said.

However, a lot remains to be done, judging by the succession of scandals in Congress where many members have been accused of or convicted for various offenses.

The latest came to light on Wednesday with revelations the speaker of the House of Deputies, Henrique Eduardo Alves, had used an air force plane to fly his family to Rio to attend Sunday’s final of the Confederations Cup between Brazil and Spain.

“In today’s Brazil, there is too much caviar for the elite — and the people have noticed,” journalist and author Elio Gaspari wrote in a recent New York Times column.

“What is being denounced [in Brazil] is the growing abyss between the rulers and the ruled, the richest and the poorest,” Martins wrote.