For more than a year, demonstrators invaded the streets in Brazil. Starting in 2013, protesters have openly expressed their dissatisfaction towards a centre-leftist government and its deriving public policies. The demand for rectitude and the implementation of effective measures to reduce poverty and improve people’s quality of life in one of Latin America’s wealthiest countries is not surprising. The massive movement of citizens across Brazilian cities during June and July of the same year, shortly before the advent of the FIFA Confederations Cup, was mainly founded on the government’s increasing levels of corruption and the misuse of public funds.[i] The tension that emerged from this context served as a prelude for the 2014 protests that arose before and during the World Cup, causing a heightened level of violence. With the run-off elections taking place on October 26, 2014, it is unclear whether turmoil will persist or not, and if an eventual change in administration might be able to satisfy Brazilians’ needs. However, considering the country’s current situation, it is possible to cautiously predict if violence will continue in the foreseeable future.
The ‘Brazilian Spring’
2013 marked the beginning of the civil unrest. Initially triggered by the Free Fare Movement over increases in transportation prices on June 6, demonstrations spurred in different cities as complaints became manifold, comprising any issue worth objecting. Grievances ranged from corruption and ineffective public services to the mere possession of vinegar – banned for its believed bomb-making capacity.[ii] In this setting, authorities were only able to bolster an escalating cycle of violence; as more people occupied the streets to fight for their demands, police brutality and the disrespect for human rights increased progressively.[iii] By violating people’s freedoms, the alleged restoration of order that police officers were supposed to exert had the opposite effect, setting off anger and spiralling disruption.
Demonstrations continued amid the FIFA Confederations Cup, as the latter enforced people’s resentment against public spending, unfitted healthcare services, growing inflation and the lack of appropriate infrastructure.[iv] Undoubtedly, the event created a momentum that enabled citizens to raise numerous issues that had not been dealt with before. The Confederations Cup fuelled the distress against the 31 billion reais (€10 billion) spent to that point in hosting the World Cup with the prime purpose of depicting Brazil as the product of modernization and development,[v] despite the huge economic loss that it entailed and the corresponding setback that it represented for its people. It is for these reasons that during the month the tournament lasted, more than 1 million citizens took to the streets in Rio de Janeiro and several other cities,[vi] diverting attention from football to profounder political, social and economic troubles. These last concerns were vividly illustrated before and during the Confederations Cup final match held between the host country and Spain, were protesters concentrated around the Maracana stadium to complain about the approaching World Cup and the political matters it signalled.
The riots that forecasted the World Cup protests were known as the ‘Brazilian Spring’, among other names. The particularity of such reference lies upon the fact that, in contrast to the ‘Arab Spring’ to which it alludes, and closely resembling the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement, demonstrations in the first one were incorporated by educated, middle-class Brazilians that superseded the average citizen.[vii] Having started with young students, protests gradually attracted people from diverse sectors, united in their disapproval for the government’s actions. Even though a rough comparison may be made with the Arab Spring respecting the way dissatisfaction sparked and spread, the extent of the Brazilian protests will be determined after the elections.
The 2014 World Cup
Long before the opening match on June 12, the excitement generated by the World Cup was exceeded by disorder and commotion. Albeit in lesser dimensions than the precedent year, anti-World Cup protests occurred in various cities and embodied many of the previous issues, but simultaneously involved a superior level of violence, proceeding especially from the authorities. Due to the last ones’ excessive use of force, Amnesty International was obliged to penalize Brazilian military officers with a “yellow card,” given their forceful confrontations with peaceful protesters.[viii]
Clashes continued repeatedly – for a while. By the end of the month, the event distracted Brazilians from their objectives as they started concentrating on their country’s performance in the World Cup. The number of protesters decreased significantly (39% within 12 days) due to the entrenched cultural value that football has in the country and the concessions that were made by the government acknowledging some of the people’s demands.[ix] While the unrest of the precedent year jeopardized Brazil’s internal security, the situation had changed for the following one. Perspectives and priorities were restructured and politics were gradually left in the background. Nonetheless, enjoyment did not last long. Whereas some suspended their political activities in the streets to celebrate Brazil’s victories, others kept the unrest alive; but when Brazil was ultimately beaten by Germany in the semi-finals on July the 8th, both tendencies were replaced by a widespread sentiment of indifference.[x] Contradicting the anticipated reaction against Brazil’s elimination, people’s emotions faded away.
Although circumstances were different, riots kept on going sporadically until the final match. Yet demonstrations had lost their way and political discontent translated into an untargeted disappointment comprised by a broad array of concerns. The upheaval created by anti-World Cup activists came to an end with the event’s conclusion. However, taken that citizens’ distress still pleads to be addressed, the furtherance of violence will be defined by the elections’ outcome.
On October the 26th, Brazil’s electoral process will reflect the future chosen by its people, but it will hardly placate the revolt that has been momentarily deferred. The repercussions of last year’s demonstrations extend well beyond the organization of public events, including the 2016 Olympic Games. Noticeably, 2013 symbolized a time of transformation and the actions prompted by the squandering of public funds will not be easily appeased.
The first-round election – which took place on October 5 – makes it hard to establish who will finally lead the country, with President Dilma Rousseff facing her opponent Aécio Neves in the election run-off, having respectively received 41.6% and 33.6% of the vote.[xi] On one side, the incumbent, Rousseff, could be re-elected for a second presidential term, notwithstanding the discontent that her administration has brought to Brazilian citizens. None of the pre-World Cup problems have disappeared: inflation has reached the 7%, and economic growth has fallen at an extraordinarily fast pace shrinking by 0.6% during the present year, driving the country into recession.[xii] But, at the same time, unemployment has remained low (between 5% and 6%)[xiii] and social programmes traditionally promoted by the Workers’ Party have reduced poverty levels.[xiv] On the other, despite his only recent rise in popularity, Neves, representing the Brazilian Social Democracy Party, may still become president, conceding that his focus on economic growth ultimately drew significant support, leaving Marina Silva – the third running candidate – behind.[xv]
It is difficult to predict who will win the elections. Considering the radical and varying shifts in support shown by the polls and the first round of elections, Brazilians are apparently not convinced that either Rousseff or Neves will actually be capable of changing the political and socioeconomic spheres of the country. In this context, the World Cup demonstrations will have a major impact over the post-elections scenario, having already increased the probability of violence. This is because the elected candidate will be more closely scrutinized and a failure in carrying out the requested adjustments will immediately incite violence. The strikes revealed that citizens are ready and willing to fight for their rights, which is why whoever wins October’s elections will have to do a lot more than formulating empty promises and creating false hopes to prevent violence from recurring.
[i] Transparency International. Brazil’s World Cup Corruption Challenge. June 11, 2014. Retrieved from <http://www.transparency.org/news/feature/brazils_world_cup_corruption_challenge> [accessed on September 11, 2014].
[ii] Barbara, Vanessa. Brazil’s Vinegar Uprising. The New York Times. June 21, 2013. Retrieved from <http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/22/opinion/brazils-vinegar-uprising.html> [accessed on September 11, 2014].
[iii] Human Rights Watch. Brazil: Investigate Use of Violence against Protesters. June 18, 2013. Retrieved from <http://www.hrw.org/news/2013/06/18/brazil-investigate-use-violence-against-protesters> [accessed on September 11, 2014].
[iv] Simöes, Rogério. Broken promises and corruption fuel Brazil protests. CNN News. June 21, 2013. Retrieved from [accessed on September 11, 2014].
[v] Watts, Jonathan. Brazil prepares for World Cup as criticism mounts over cost. The Guardian. June 9, 2013. Retrieved from <http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jun/09/world-cup-brazil-cost-mounts> [accessed on September 12, 2014].
[vi] Watts, Jonathan. Brazil’s protests raise fears for World Cup as a million take to the streets. The Guardian. June 21, 2013. Retrieved from <http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jun/21/brazil-protests-football-world-cup> [accessed on September 12, 2014].
[vii] Winter, Bryan. Analysis: Brazil’s protests: Not quite a ‘Tropical Spring’. Reuters. June 19, 2013. Retrieved from <http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/06/19/us-brazil-protests-impact-analysis-idUSBRE95I1LQ20130619> [accessed on September 11, 2014].
[viii] Amnesty International. Brazil: Military police issued “yellow card” after brutal repression. June 12, 2014. Retrieved from <http://www.amnesty.org/en/for-media/press-releases/brazil-military-police-issued-yellow-card-after-brutal-repression-2014-06-1> [accessed on September 17, 2014].
[ix] Phillips, Dom. World Cup 2014: Protests in Brazil fade to background. The Washington Post. June 26, 2014. Retrieved from <http://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/dcunited/world-cup-2014-protests-in-brazil-fade-to-background/2014/06/27/9d2dce1e-fbdf-11e3-b1f4-8e77c632c07b_story.html> [accessed on September 19, 2014].
[x] Bowater, Donna. Whatever happened to Brazil’s World Cup protests? Aljazeera America. July 10, 2014. Retrieved from [accessed on September 19, 2014].
[xi] Winter, Brian and Boadle, Anthony. Brazil’s Rousseff, Neves race for support in election runoff. Reuters. October 6, 2014. Retrieved from [accessed on October 7, 2014].
[xii] Costas, Ruth. Brazil election: Economy at heart of battle. BBC News. September 8, 2014. Retrieved from [accessed on September 19, 2014].
[xiii] Rapoza, Kenneth. Why Brazil’s Unemployment Rate Is So Low. Forbes. April 17, 2014. Retrieved from [accessed on September 22, 2014].
[xiv] Ayuso, Silvia. Rousseff defends her government’s accomplishments before the United Nations. (‘Rousseff defiende los logros de su Gobierno ante la ONU’). El País. September 24, 2014. Retrieved from [25/09/2014].
[xv] Jiménez Barca, Antonio. The halt in Brazil’s economy boosts Neves’s candidacy. (‘El frenazo de la economía de Brasil impulsa la candidatura de Neves’). El País. October 6, 2014. Retrieved from [accessed on October 07, 2014].
Photo credit: REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino