As I mentioned yesterday, there were a number of causes behind the recent wave of demonstrations in Brazil. One of those sources of unrest is the traditional power of political elites – after all, it wasn’t an accident that crowds gathered outside of the Governor’s Palace in São Paulo, the Legislative Assembly of Rio de Janeiro State, and the national Congress building in Brasília last night; each site served as a physical and spatial representation of the political power that people were both demonstrating against and demanding to be heard by. And when one looks at the recent actions of politicians at the highest level of national politics, it is fairly easy to see their discontent.
For, while people protest what they perceive to be the unfulfilled economic promise of Brazil, an inactive government, police violence, and other issues, Congress dealt with other, less pressing issues. The Congressional Committee on Human Rights, headed by well-known homophobe and racist Marco Feliciano,passed a resolution that would allow psychologists to try to create a “gay cure” to “cure” homosexuality. The proposal still has to make its way through two more committees before it even reaches a full vote in the Chamber of Deputies, but the fact that the Committee on Human Rights is passing homophobic legislation is representative of how legislators are both out of touch with the issues that are preoccupying their supposed constituents and the very function of their own committee (it’s hard to see how passing a bill that seeks to treat homosexuals as “sick” is embodying human rights).
And such myopia is not limited to just one committee in Congress. While people in the streets speak out against corruption in politics, Congress is preparing to vote on an “impunity bill” that would prevent state and federal prosecutors from being able to investigate political corruption and human rights violations, instead making such crimes the jurisdiction of police forces. In effect, the bill would remove one of the few institutional mechanisms that can independently work to try to prevent political corruption from further spreading. To be clear, the current system has not prevented corruption, but the impunity bill would undo what institutional control does in fact remain and erasing one of the checks on politicians’ power.
With Congress considering bills like these while hundreds of thousands are in the streets with other issues, it is not difficult to see why people in Brazil are outraged with the political elites at the highest levels of government.