It would be reductive to say that the massive protests happening in Brazil — the largest since pro-democracy demonstrations in the 1980s — are just over a bus fare increase of 20 reais (10 cents), just like Turkey's protests weren't simply about a park. Public transportation policy alone probably wouldn't prompt tens of thousands of people to march through the streets.
Instead, the demonstrations represent a broader frustration with the government because of corruption, inflation, and a lack of services, as the country diverts millions upon millions of dollars to preparations for the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016. Brazil, for example, has built or thoroughly renovated 12 stadiums, including a stadium in Brasilia at a cost of 1 billion reais (more than $460 million), according to The Guardian.
Simon Romero, the New York Times bureau chief in Brazil, summed up the anger in Rio de Janeiro:
Focus of Rio protesters: rising cost of living in Brazil's World Cup cities. They ask why stadiums get priority over schools, hospitals, etc
— Simon Romero (@viaSimonRomero) June 16, 2013
While tensions seem to be heightening by the day, the massive protests have, for the most part, been peaceful, apart from a few incidents of rock throwing and a car being set on fire. Much of the angriest response from crowds seems to be aimed at police. When video of journalist Pedro Ribeiro Nogueira — who was reporting on the protests in São Paulo — was released showing him being beaten by eight police officers (watch below), Brazilians responded in outrage on the internet.
And while the unrest seems — to some outside of the country — to have sprouted out of nowhere, the underlying frustrations have likely been long in the making. Since the fall of Brazil's military dictatorship in 1985, the country has experienced considerable growth, particularly over the past decade. Brazil is one of the four BRIC nations — along with Russia, India, and China — which are seen as emerging economic powerhouses.
Yet the economic boom hasn't translated into a better standard of living.
"I saw all sorts of signs and placards admonishing a corrupt government that heavily taxes its people with little to show in terms of public services (education and health care in particular)," writes a Brazilian reader of The Dish. "There are two sides to every coin, so Dish readers should know that boom times don't necessarily mean good times for the citizenry of a country that suffers from tragic and wholly resolvable social inequality."
Even the new middle class, for whom a 20-real bus fare increase isn't too much of a burden, has grown restless with the state of the country, writes Brazilian blogger Rio Gringa:
On one hand, there are more and more people moving into the so-called new middle class, gaining higher salaries and levels of education and as a result, [coming] to expect a higher standard of living. But some things haven't changed much. Crime is a major concern, especially in Rio and São Paulo; muggings, gun violence, and home invasions are serious security challenges. Public transportation is still inadequate and often of poor quality, and traffic means workers from different levels of the socioeconomic spectrum have long commutes. Many consumer goods are still expensive, and the cost of living — including basics like food and housing — is high. "It's a general feeling of being fed up," a friend in São Paulo told me. [Rio Gringa]
And public anger is manifesting itself in a number of cities: While the largest turnouts have been in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, substantial crowds have also convened in cities such as Porto Alegre, Belo Horizonte, and the capital, Brasilia. As with many of the most recent protests across the globe — in Turkey, Greece, and Egypt, for instance — much of the action in Brazil is being documented on social media:
Brazil is not only soccer and Carnival, we are the people that go out asking for a better country pic.twitter.com/Z9ncOp7LFe
— thyago (@thyagram) June 18, 2013
So far, the federal government has condoned the protests, with the office of President Dilma Rousseff saying, "The president believes peaceful protests are legitimate and proper for a democracy and that it is natural for young people to demonstrate." But merely supporting the right to demonstrate isn't likely to appease disgruntled Brazilians for very long — and it certainly won't help Rousseff's case when she faces re-election in 2014.