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Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro, 2014 – Photos from the Second Night

March 4, 2014 Comments off

Last night marked the second and final night of the major parade of samba schools for Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro. While Portela and União da Ilha stood out for their performances on the second night, it was Salgueiro samba school, which paraded on the first night with the theme of indigenous origin stories from around the world, that took the Gold Standard for best samba overall school this year (which collectively considers the theme, song, costumes, dancing, floats, and execution of the parade overall). However, União da Ilha won the award for best storyline/theme this year, and Viradouro won the A Series on Sunday, meaning next year it can parade in the grande spectacle that takes place on Monday and Tuesday. Photos from the first night, including Salgueiro’s parade, can be found here.

And for those who think this is some random bacchanalian festival (a belief that the photos alone should demonstrate is otherwise), it’s worth noting that Portela had a change in its directory last year when it was revealed that the samba school was about US$7 million in debt. Such a figure reveals both the cost of participating on the grandest scale of Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro, and why winning is important not only for cultural pride (though that’s certainly the case), but also for economic reasons (via sponsorships, greater donations, etc.).

G.R.E.S. Mocidade – Celebrating the state of Pernambuco and its contributions to Carnaval

G.R.E.S. União da Ilha – A focus on the symbols and cultural products of childhood

G.R.E.S. Vila Isabel – A look at the cultural “DNA” of Brazil

G.R.E.S. Imperatriz Leopoldinense – A celebration and commemoration of Zico, one of Brazil’s best and most famous soccer players

G.R.E.S. Portela – The history and culture of the city of Rio de Janeiro

G.R.E.S. Unidos da Tijuca – Ayrton Senna, the renowned Brazilian racecar driver who died in a crash 20 years ago

Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro, 2014 – Photos from the First Night

March 3, 2014 Comments off

It’s that time of year again in Brazil – Carnaval. Last night marked the first night of the major parades in Rio de Janeiro, where, beyond the stereotyped vision of women, there were remarkable floats, songs, dance, and pageantry. As in the past, below are some photos from the first night of the festivities (with the samba schools listed in the order they processed), along with the themes for each school. The photos demonstrate the richness and complexity of the design, floats, and costumes that mark Carnaval each year. [And for those who read Portuguese, you can learn more about all of the schools and here samples of their songs here.]

G.R.E.S. Império da Tijuca - The influence of African instruments in Brazil]

G.R.E.S. Grande Rio - Maricá, a coastal region in the state of Rio de Janeiro

G.R.E.S. São Clemente - Favelas and their cultural influence and creativeness

G.R.E.S. Mangueira - Popular festivals in Brazil

G.R.E.S. Salgueiro - Origin stories from a variety of cultures from around the world

G.R.E.S. Beija-Flor - José Bonifácio de Oliveira Sobrinho, a director of TV programs in Brazil

Regulating Hip-Hop in Brazil?

February 17, 2014 Comments off

In an unusual story, rappers and hip-hop artists in Brazil are rallying in response to a law that seeks to regulate their art. Politician (and former soccer star) Romário proposed a bill that would regulate hip-hop professionals, including MCs, DJs, graffiti artists, and others, requiring them to take professional training courses in government-recognized technical schools. In response, hip-hop artists in both Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo (two of the main hubs of Brazilian hip-hop culture) have begun to meet to discuss ways to combat the law, and a group on Facebook has also formed in protest of the law.

The problems with the law are numerous. Brazilian hip-hop is inherently a cultural form of the favelas, the poorest areas of urban centers like Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Its lyrical content and production values reflect and relate the experiences of life in the favelas, where state violence, racism, and socioeconomic inequalities are tragic facts of life.  By targeting just hip-hop, and not other Brazilian music forms (such as bossa nova, samba, or other styles), Romário’s law is inherently replicating prejudicial laws that disadvantage the favelas, in this case targeting both those from the favelas who produce art and the art that expresses life in the favelas itself. While Romário’s defense is that he just wants to let the “true artists” of hip-hop benefit, rather than just anybody claiming to be a hip-hop artist, there’s still the question of who gets to define authenticity among hip-hop artists; by requiring “legitimate” artists to receive governmental training, the law would attempt make the government the main legitimizing force in determining what constitutes “art” – a highly problematic proposition by any metric of artistic production or for cultural autonomy. Fortunately, Romário has accepted a group of hip-hop artists’ invitation to meet with them to discuss the law.

Hopefully, for the reasons outlined above, it will not pass, and right now at least, it’s hard to see why it would pass. Still, the fact that it exists reveals ongoing ways that favelas continued to be negatively targeted and persecuted in ways that other sectors of Brazilian society are not.

Around Latin America

December 4, 2013 Comments off

-Peru has launched its biggest exhumation ever, as it tries to find victims from the violence between the Shining Path and the Peruvian state between 1980 and 2000.

-Peru is not the only country exhuming victims of violence. In an attempt to find two missing police officers, forensic scientists in Mexico got more than they expected when their search led to the discovery of 64 bodies buried in mass graves in Jalisco and Michoacán, with the bodies showing signs of torture and indicating they are the victims of ongoing violence between cartels. In spite of the discovery, the two police officers remain missing.

-In the wake of a close election and allegations of electoral fraud, Honduras will hold a recount after thousands took to the streets in support of Xiomara Castro, who allegedly lost the election to conservative candidate Juan Orlando Hernandez (who got 37% of the total vote)  and whose husband, former president Manuel Zelaya, was removed from office in a coup d’etat in 2009. The recount comes amidst outsiders’ observations allegations of chicanery and after Honduras’s electoral council was very slow to issue the data from the November 24 election, adding to suspicions of fraud.

-Rio de Janeiro governor Sérgio Cabral announced that he will leave office 9 months early after seeing his popularity plummet in the midst and wake of protests last June, when millions of Brazilians took to the streets to protest a number of causes, including political elites’ disconnect and corruption. Cabral himself became a particular target of that anger in Rio de Janeiro.

-The bad news for governors is not limited to Brazil. In Mexico, former governor of Tamaulipas Tomás Yarrington faces charges in the US of having ties to the drug cartels while he was in office during his 1999-2004 governorship.

-Costa Rica closed a probe into the 1984 bombing that killed 7 journalists and Nicaraguan Contras and wounded 20 more people, after forensics revealed that the attacker died in the late-1980s.

-Mexico’s Senate has approved electoral reform that would allow reelection and would strengthen Congressional power in the face of executive power even while approving President Enrique Peña’s efforts to increasingly privatize the state-run PEMEX oil company in Mexico.

-Francisco Flores, the former president of El Salvador for the conservative ARENA party, is under investigation for the misuse of upwards of $10 million that Taiwan donated to El Salvador during his presidency, money that apparently never made it to its intended institutional destinations.

-Finally, in Brazil, Guaraní indigenous leader Ambrosio Vilhava, whose struggle to help protect Guaraní land was documented in the 2008 film Birdwatchers, was found stabbed to death after his father-in-law allegedly killed him. While the circumstances around his death remain unclear, the fact remains that his death marks the loss of an important activist and leader in Brazilian indigenous mobilization.

On This Date in Latin America -July 24, 1993: The Candelária Massacre

July 24, 2013 1 comment

In the early hours of the morning on this day twenty years ago, police in Rio de Janeiro murdered eight street children on the steps of Rio’s Candelária Cathedral in what came to be known as the Candelária Massacre.

The Igreja da Candelária in downtown Rio de Janeiro.

The Igreja da Candelária in downtown Rio de Janeiro.

Official violence in Brazil is nothing new – indeed, the use of brutal forms of both direct and indirect violence against the racially and socio-economically marginalized in Brazil can be traced back to slavery itself. Although Brazil abolished slavery in 1888, like the United States, it did little to address the greater political, social, and economic inequalities that left free blacks at a greater disadvantage within society more broadly, and the poor (and often racially “darker” within Brazil’s own complex matrix of race and ethnicity) faced ongoing challenges. For example, when authorities decided to renovate Rio’s downtown in the 1910s in preparation for a visit from the Belgian royal family, they forcefully displaced the poor who lived along the mountainsides in downtown, relocating them to the city’s periphery, a pattern that has continued into the twenty-first century, as hundreds of favelas now dot the city’s surroundings and mountains where upper-class high-rises cannot be built.

Even while Brazil’s poor continued to be marginalized within the cities, their numbers also grew considerably, and not just through basic population growth; between 1930 and 1980, the rural-urban populations saw a complete inversion, as Brazil shifted from a 70% rural population and only 30% urban population in 1930 to only 30% rural and 70% urban populations by 1980 (even while the total population in the country grew from around 35 million in 1930 to nearly 120 million in 1980). This growth in cities like Rio only added to the strain on the poor, as the growing numbers of rural migrants to cities were unable to find adequate-paying jobs in a glutted market and the favelas only grew.  By the 1960s, as the growing urban poor faced dim prospects, neglect, and poverty, they tried to survival any way they could. Many, especially children and mothers, would beg in the streets, even while the drug trade took root in the favelas, providing means to wealth to many who otherwise were completely shut out from economic improvement in Rio de Janeiro.

Unfortunately, the inequalities facing Rio’s urban poor were not limited to economics. Police also regularly targeted poor neighborhoods, employing increasingly brutal tactics to stamp out “crime”. Already by the late-1960s, police death squads were openly operating in the favelas, killing “criminals,” often extrajudicially. Though reports of the death squads appeared in some of Brazil’s more popular magazines, the fact that the victims were poor led many in the middle- and upper-classes to turn a blind eye, blithely accepting the police’s accounts of events and disregarding conflicting reports from the favelas themselves. Indeed, in the context of the military dictatorship (which had begun in 1964), the repression in the favelas increased, and while middle-class students and parents mobilized to defend human rights for university students and “political prisoners”, they were notably silent when it came to favela residents who were labeled “criminals.” The distinction was notable – the political prisoner/criminal dichotomy created a sense that those university students and activists were unfairly persecuted, while those in the favelas legally “deserved” their fates.

By 1985, the military dictatorship had left power, and with it, political and police persecution of middle-class activists had faded away. Sadly, the same could not be said for the urban poor, as police activities and the operation of death squads and paramilitary groups continued to operate, often killing dozens of “traficantes” (dead favela residents who in death were labeled traffickers, regardless of whether or not they were tied to the drug trade or criminal activity) and arresting numerous others, creating a massive strain on Brazil’s already-overcrowded prison system. As had been the case in the 1960s, the middle- and upper-classes, along with the media, continued to accept police accounts of violence at face value, never considering the ways in which the police repression and violence that they had associated with the dictatorship had continued in the favelas. Additionally, Brazil’s 1979 amnesty, which pardoned political prisoners and state agents guilty of torture or murder alike, had further reinforced a culture of impunity, giving the police a greater sense that their actions against the poor would go unpunished (a belief that has sadly persisted well into the 2000s, in spite of some judicial attempts to rein in extrajudicial violence, attempts that have been met with more murders of officials investigating such crimes).

All of that set the stage for the events of the wee hours of the morning on July 24, 1993. Facing these socioeconomic inequalities, neglect, and even abandoned by their own families, thousands of homeless children tried to eke out an existence any way they could, begging in the streets in popular tourist districts or in the business districts where foot traffic was heavy, and finding shelter where they could. One such place was Candelária Church, in the heart of downtown Rio. The church became a popular place for street children to gather, providing some space for rest as well as a place for socializing among those who shared similar plights. Of course, being at the church did not mean that they did not face persecution; police regularly harassed them. Then, on the evening of July 23, the police arrested one youth who had taken shelter there for sniffing glue; indignant, some of the other children threw stones at the car. The police left, saying they would get them sooner or later, a threat they regularly made to the children. Around midnight, cars pulled up to the church where around 72 children were resting. The cars opened fire on the unarmed children, wounding several  suddenly opening fire on the unarmed kids, leaving eight dead. The youngest was 11; the oldest was only 20.

At first, authorities did little, even while the news spread worldwide and led to international pressure for an investigation. Yvonne Bezerra de Mello, a social worker who worked with the children and the person who first arrived to help the children on the night of the 23rd/24th, tried to bring attention not just to the murders, but to the broader challenges and violence street children faced. Brazil’s slow legal system began to move, charging several police officers with the murders. Some of the survivors served as witnesses, but still faced violence for their willingness to speak out and identify their attackers; indeed, in 1995, police kidnapped 1993 survivor Wagner dos Santos, shooting him four times; though dos Santos survived this second attack, nobody was arrested for it.

Ultimately, the trial led to conviction of three police officers. In 1996, courts sentenced Nelson Oliveira dos Santos Cunha to 261 years in prison for his role in the attack; in 1998, Marucos Aurélio Dias Alcantara received a 204 year sentence; and Marcos Vinícius Borges Emanuel ultimately received a 300 year prison sentence in 2003. Yet in 2013, not a single one of them is in jail; Cunha and Alcantara have been released, and Emanuel was pardoned. Though his pardon has since been overturned and he is once again wanted, he remains free.

The survivors of the attack were nowhere near as fortunate. By 2003, just 10 years after the massacre, only around twenty of the 64 survivors was still alive; many had died violently, be it at the hands of the police, gang wars, or other ways. In perhaps one of the most tragic and highest-profile cases, in 2000, survivor Sandro do Nascimento took passengers on the Bus 174 line hostage after a robbery gone awry (events recaptured in the powerful 2002 documentary Bus 174). As Brazilian media and bystanders flooded to the scene, worsening the situation. As the scene was broadcast nationwide, Nascimento said he did not want to kill anyone, and that he was a survivor of the Candelária massacre. Around 7:00 that evening, he descended the bus with Geisa Firmo Gonçalves as a hostage. A police officer approached to apprehend Nascimento, opening fire and hitting not Nascimento, but Gonçalves; the shot immediately killed her. In the pandemonium, the crowd that had gathered, thinking Nascimento had fired, moved to lynch him. Police prevented a public lynching and took Nascimento to the back of the police car, where, before millions watching across the country, they suffocated him to death, finishing what they had failed to do to him in 1993. The officer who killed Gonçalves was acquitted; not  a single officer was even charged with Nascimento’s murder, reinforcing the social inequalities in which the murder of Brazil’s poor could go unpunished.

Sandro do Nascimento, one of the survivors of the Candelária Massacre, talks to police from a bus where he held hostages in 2000.

Sandro do Nascimento, one of the survivors of the Candelária Massacre, talks to police from a bus where he held hostages in 2000.

Though Brazilians today recall the deaths of the eight killed on the night of July 23/24 1993, the broader issue of violence against the urban poor remains ignored. Indeed, Mello, the social worker who first worked with the children who were victims in 1993, estimates that there have been over 170,000 street children killed in Brazilian cities in the last thirty years, and their deaths go unpunished.  And so, while we remember the eight children who died that night and the survivors who have since died in poverty (and often violently), the socioeconomic inequalities, legal weakness, and culture of impunity that defined the events of July 24, 1993, continue in Brazil even today.

The sidewalk across the street from Candelária, with children's bodies painted into the stones to remember the eight children police murdered there in 1993.

The sidewalk across the street from Candelária Church, with the outline of children’s bodies painted into the stones to remember the eight children police murdered there in 1993.

 

Popular Demonstrations Continue to Resonate through Brazilian Politics

June 26, 2013 1 comment

In the wake of lower bus fares and discussions of a national plebiscite, the recent and ongoing protests in Brazil continue to ripple throughout Brazilian politics and the people’s voices continue to resonate. One of the majuor targets of public outrage was a legislative bill, PEC 37, that would remove the authority of state and federal prosecutors to investigate politicians for corruption and effectively intensifying a culture of impunity in Congress. Last night, Congress voted on the bill. The outcome?

430 against, 9 in favor, and 2 abstentions.

Nor was Congress finished. It then passed a bill that agreed to spend 75% of oil royalties revenues on Education, with the other 25% going to health. Two other major issues that people have been demanding in their demonstrations? Greater government investment on education and health. And even Renan Calheiros, who himself has been the subject of angry chants in the streets, called on the government to dedicate 20% of the entire federal budget to education and to reduce the number of ministries in the executive. While there may be some cynical politicking here on the part of Calheiros, it nonetheless shows that politicians are aware of and still need to address the demands of the people.

Before the protests erupted, I saw nothing that indicated Congress was going to vote PEC 37, and certainly not by such an overwhelming vote. Likewise, neither education nor health spending were at the top of the docket for most Congress members. Thus, yet again, the people taking to the streets to make their voices heard (and the overwhelming percentage of the population who support them) in an electoral democracy has directly shaped how politicians vote – in other words, how a representative democracy is theoretically supposed to work. [And some estimates are saying 3.5 million people have mobilized...in Rio de Janeiro alone, a sign of broader support and mobilization.]

Meanwhile, the protests continue to take place and evolve in sometimes new fashions. Last night, over one thousand people from the favelas marched down from their neighborhoods to gather outside the home of Rio de Janeiro governor Sérgio Cabral to make their voices heard. Though that does not sound like much, Cabral lives in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Rio; the sight of one thousand people from one of Rio’s poorest neighborhoods marching to make their voices heard before such an economically and politically elite institution is a significant move itself, demonstrating once more the degree to which Brazilians are beginning to feel they can shape politics and transform society through action, and that politicians are not immune to challenges once they are elected. The protest even prompted the creation of a samba song – “The Day the Morro [mountains where favelas are] Came Down and It Wasn’t Carnaval”.

If gathering outside of the expensive home of a governor is one example of using urban spaces to make powerful messages, so is protesting in a church, which is exactly what happened in Minas Gerais last Saturday, when 30 protesters to peacefully demonstrate in mass. But this wasn’t some statement against the Church – the priest himself invited them in, saying that, given their focus on social equalities and justice, “I tried to do as Jesus would do. If the faithful were against it, they would be neither citizens nor Catholics. I can’t be in a [political] party, but I can always support [them].” It’s another remarkable episode in what has been two weeks of remarkable episodes. The protests and the people’s voices are rippling throughout not just politics, but every corner of society and culture, and now, no matter the outcome (and there have already been several significant outcomes), 2013 is going to be a moment in Brazilian history that people – citizens, scholars, and politicians alike – are going to come back to regularly in the coming months and years.

 

Images from Brazil, as More than 1 Million Nationwide Take to the Streets

June 21, 2013 Comments off

In spite of reductions in bus fares, the protests in Brazil have only expanded, as over one million people took to the streets in more than 100 cities  throughout the entire country. This included over 100,000 in Recife, around an estimated 300,000 in Sao Paulo, thousands in Salvador, thousands in Brasilia, and hundreds of thousands in Rio de Janeiro (early counts said it could have possibly reached one million, which would rank it with the largest demonstration in the city’s history). The protests turned violent in a number of cities, as police failed to learn the lessons of earlier in the week (or really, of the 1960s) and employed the very violent tactics against peaceful demonstrators that helped the protests to balloon from last Thursday. Ultimately, police wounded hundreds throughout the country, including bystanders completely uninvolved with the demonstrations. The events of last night were so intense, and so widespread, that O Globo, the media conglomerate that includes the most-watched channel in the country, interrupted novelas and soccer games to broadcast live transmissions of the protests throughout the country, including footage of police using rubber bullets and shooting an unarmed protester who had “surrendered.” Indeed, to know the impact of rubber bullets and the inherent violence of police repression in Brazil, one only need to take a look at this photo of a journalist whom police shot during the protests to understand just how violent and awful even “non-lethal” rubber bullets are. And that’s to say nothing of the multiple photos documenting police use of pepper spray against unarmed protesters, alongside tear gas (and tear gas, and tear gas) and “sound bombs“, even as protesters made clear they were unarmed. For those interested in following the ongoing events on the ground, I strongly and highly recommend the twitter feeds of RioGringa, Kety Shapazian, Simon Romero, and Gabriel Elizondo.

As for what’s next for Brazil – it’s really difficult to say. I’ve already covered some of the historical and more recent causes of this new wave of protests. At least two things are certain, though. On the one hand, given its scale, this is the largest mass mobilization Brazil has seen in at least 21 years (since the corruption hearings that ultimately brought down former president Fernando Collor), and possibly since the push for direct elections in 1984. On the other hand, the roots of popular anger and protest are deep and varied, and addressing bus fares was not and will not be the end of the issue. No matter what is next, though, or what the outcome of these protests is, this absolutely is a major moment in Brazilian history. For the first time in a generation, the giant has indeed once again awoken.

More Victories & More Protests (or, Why Reducing Bus Fares Won’t Make Brazilian Protests Go Away Immediately)

June 20, 2013 Comments off

Following up on the reduction of bus fares in several cities Tuesday, yesterday, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo both announced they were reducing fares for their public transport in the wake of protests over the past week (down to R$2.75 in Rio, or about US$1.25, and to R$3 in Brazil, or about US$1.40). The announcement marks yet another victory for the protesters. In São Paulo, this of course meant the elimination of the 20-cent hike in fares that was originally scheduled and was the cause of protests (and violent police suppression) in São Paulo last Thursday.

Yet these announcements were made just a few hours after demonstrations in Fortaleza (where a Confederations Cup game was taking place), turned violent, as police once again cracked down against protesters expressing their anger at the expenses of the World Cup and the lack of internal and infrastructural development in Brazil. And after the announcements, people across the by from Rio de Janeiro gathered to protest in the city of Niterói, carrying signs objecting to the money that went to the World Cup and even shutting down the vital Rio-Niterói bridge that over 100,000 people cross every day as they travel between the two cities.

And these protests before and after the bus fare announcements get at the heart of why the protests are not likely to just disappear with the concession of lower fares for public transport. Yes, the fares were the superficial cause of protests in São Paulo last Thursday, but by the weekend, it was clear they were just part of broader demands that included anger at government spending for the World Cup, the disconnectedness of Brazil’s political elites from the citizenry, the police’s brutal and disproportionate use of force against demonstrators, and numerous other issues. Indeed, both the United Nations and Human Rights Watch now asking the government to investigate the police’s excessive use of force against protesters, making clear that these issues are not going away just because bus fares went down.

Indeed, the connection between soccer and police violence is seeming to become intractable. In protests in Rio last Saturday, police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets, even chasing protesters (and non-protesters) into the subway system. And again yesterday in Fortaleza, we witnessed a similar experience, even after it was clear that police violence played no small part in the rapid expansion of protests throughout the country earlier this week. This seems to be because soccer and police violence are interrelated. Protesters angry at the $13.3 billion spent on preparations for the World Cup gather at the most obvious symbols of that excess: the stadiums themselves. Meanwhile, the police have nowhere to retreat when protesters show up, even as they try to cordon off and protect the stadiums and to prevent protesters from entering no matter what the cost, both for the sake of Brazil’s image and for FIFA’s own interests. And when FIFA Secretary-General Jerome Valcke claims that “less democracy is better for organizing a World Cup” and praises Putin’s Russia for maintaining “less democracy,” it’s clear where FIFA stands on Brazilians taking to the streets, an attitude Brazilians themselves are not likely to welcome. And thus, the expenses of the World Cup and FIFA’s presence in the Confederations Cup this year and World Cup next year will continue to fuel anger and protest in Brazil.

And so, the movement will not just disappear or dissipate in the wake of a reduction in bus fares. Certainly, it can continue without taking to the streets, and so perhaps the demonstrations will fade for the time being in the coming weeks, as the Confederations Cup comes to a close. But that won’t resolve the broader macroeconomic troubles, the political abuses and corruption, and the sense of disillusionment with traditional politics among many Brazilians, and the ramifications at the state and local levels could be felt for quite some time. Indeed, last night, protesters gathered at Maranhão’s state capitol in São Luís to voice their anger at politician (and former president) José Sarney, who has long used his personal connections among elites to remain in power for decades even while flaunting that power (including getting a court to order a blogger to pay $900,000 in fines for a comment some visitor to her site left on her blog). Discontent with politicians existed well before the issue of bus fares arose, and readjusting bus fares in a handful of cities is not going to get rid of the deeper and more widespread discontent with politicians throughout many parts of the country.

Additionally, the recent demonstrations have reminded a new generation of Brazilians that organizing, publicly protesting, and making their voices heard can and does have very real effects, and provides a powerful way to shape democracy in Brazil. For a country that hadn’t seen such mobilizations since the early-1990s, that is a powerful lesson indeed, and one that a new generation of Brazilians is unlikely to forget, just as those who took to the streets to demonstrate against corrupt president Fernando Collor in 1992 still recall their role in the eventual resignation of the president.

Thus, with deep-rooted issues and inequalities still endemic to Brazilian society, and with the new lesson of the power of popular mobilization, the likelihood of the popular movement that we’ve seen in the last week seems unlikely to suddenly disappear completely. Some temporary victories have occurred, but they haven’t resolved Brazil’s bigger problems even while they’ve reminded Brazilians of the ways that they can shape the path of their country and their government. As thousands of Brazilians have uttered, in the streets, on Twitter, and elsewhere: “the Giant has awoken.” And it’s hard to see that giant demobilizing or forgetting the lessons of June 2013 anytime soon.

The Face of Police Violence in Brazil’s Protests

June 18, 2013 1 comment

To understand the grotesque response of police to citizen protests in Brazil, there’s hard to find a more horrific, yet succinct, picture than the one below making the rounds on Twitter.

Pepper Spray

Clearly, this is an extreme response to a non-threat. And though the image may be grotesque, this type of response is not uncommon among police forces in Brazil, which in turn helps to explain why so many people turned out to demonstrate throughout Brazil last night.

More Thoughts on the Protests throughout Brazil Yesterday

June 18, 2013 Comments off

Protests once again took place yesterday in major urban centers throughout Brazil, building on the protests of last week and the weekend. As of now, I don’t have much more to say about the causes and what the protests tell us about Brazil today (I covered that more thoroughly yesterday).  The protests did lead to some remarkable images from throughout the country (with links to more photos below). That said, some quick observations and comments on the particularities of protests in various cities yesterday.

  • Police in Rio estimated that there were around 100,000 people at the rally in downtown, and based on incredible photos like this one and Vine videos like this one, that seems entirely plausible. If it is the case, then it marks the largest mobilization in Rio de Janeiro since the Diretas Ja! (“Direct Elections Now!”) movement in 1984, and before that, the aptly-named “March of 100,000″ that took place in 1968. Clearly, in spite of a long history of political activism and social protest in Rio, this level of mobilization is one that comes around only once in a great while.
  • A handful of protesters apparently resorted to more heavy-handed tactics in Rio, including the burning of cars and painting graffiti on historic buildings. That said, these people were a very small fraction of a percentage of those who gathered to peacefully demonstrate, and that should be remembered. And, if on-the-ground Twitter reports were to be trusted, one group of  protesters surrounded those who panted graffiti and demanded the clean it up.
  • Protesters also returned to the streets in São Paulo, sometimes making their concerns clear in clever ways. and it was far from a students-only affair; older generations showed up as well, including this man, who carried a sign saying “I am 82 years old, and I did not come to play; I came to protest.”
  • The protests were nation-wide, and thousands also gathered in Brasilía, ultimately climbing up on to the rooftop of the Congress [you can see a picture of the buliding in its full scale here] before peacefully leaving.
  • Again, there are a number of factors in play in explaining the protests, including the costs behind hosting the World Cup. Last night, the website for the World Cup in Cuiabá [one of the cities hosting some games] was hacked, with graphic video footage showing the protesters in São Paulo last week marching peacefully and chanting “Sem violencia!” (Without violence!) when the police opened fire on the protestors. The video was accompanied with subtitles in both Portuguese and English, clearly targeting an international audience, and the hack job and subject matter made clear the ways in which police violence, government spending, and athletics have come together in the protests here.
  • Protests in other parts of the country were more reminiscent of the violence in São Paulo last week. Reports were emerging of incidents of police violence in Porto Alegre. More damningly, the police response in Belo Horizonte was even more dramatic, with reports of police violence and on-the-ground accounts of tear gas launched from helicopters (and photographs that seemed to corroborate such claims).
  • Other cities that saw mobilizations of the tens of thousands included Salvador, Belem, Curitiba, and Maceió.
  • Finally, President Dilma Rousseff’s spokesperson finally addressed on the protests, calling them “legitimate and appropriate to democracy.”

From here, it’s tough to say what is next. I think the more subdued police responses last night (with the exceptions of Belo Horizonte and Porto Alegre) were a tacit admission that violence in Rio Sunday and São Paulo last week only contributed further to the unrest (and understandably so). I’m currently teaching a class on 1968 in the world, and a common refrain throughout recent history is how police violence tends to give greater support and impetus to social movements. That is not to say yesterday’s less confrontational tactics will lead to an end to the protests, but I would not be surprised if things were calmer for much of the week as those making their demands heard focus on how to actually effect change. Obviously, protests aren’t going to undo the construction projects related to the World Cup that cost so much money, but they could have a possible impact on both the police’s use of extreme force and the issue of bus fares; it seems conceivable that there could be a pause while people collect themselves and try to see what to do next.

That said, in one way, the protests have already been a massive success. They’ve made clear that there are broader areas of social unrest and discontent in Brazil, and that there are no easy solutions. And, perhaps even more importantly, they’ve made clear that the people can rise up and make their voices heard quickly and in ways that have not taken place since the corruption case of President Collor over 21 years ago. As São Paulo mayor Fernando Haddad commented, politicians have to learn to work with these new political movements and forms of expression. And when the people find ways to make politicians pay attention and work towards addressing their concerns, that is a victory. What comes of it in the next days, weeks, or months remains to be seen, but what the protests have already suggested is that politicians ignore them at their own risk.

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