Rio protests: what’s next?

Demonstrators pass by the Sambadrome on Avenida Presidente Vargas on June 20

Sambadrome bleachers are empty, while at least a million filled Avenida Presidente Vargas on June 20

“How cohesive is Brazilian society?” a Canadian radio announcer asked RioRealblog yesterday morning.

Now there’s a good question.

Soccer has always been Brazil’s strongest glue, as noted in this excellent New York Times article about the ongoing unrest nationwide.

Rio's architects speak out, calling for debate and dialogue with government officials, on the future of our city

Rio’s architects speak out, calling for debate and dialogue with government officials, on the future of our city

Soccer is what Brazilian politicians turn to, when addressing a crowd, a way of saying “We’re all in this together, we share something”. Different from the United States, major Brazilian cities have several soccer teams, each one representing, in a sense, a particular group. In Rio, these are Vasco, the Portuguese team; Fluminense, the choice of the elites, Botafogo, for cool folks, and Flamengo, everyman’s club. When faced with a fan from a competing team, cariocas will make a humorous dig as a way to tone down differences.

Given the centuries-old differences in Brazilian society, people here are experts at defusing tension. Soccer, humor, music, Carnival and the beach all come into play.

PEC is a proposed constitutional amendment that would limit criminal investigations to police forces, removing this responsibility from federal and state attorney generals' offices

PEC is a proposed constitutional amendment that would limit criminal investigations to police forces, removing this responsibility from federal and state attorney generals’ offices. Corrupt congressmen stand to gain

In the last decade, economic differences have been lessening. It’s this change which powers the protests: without sufficient education and health you can’t effectively keep on growing an economy, and without that, the young people in the streets won’t have the jobs and lifestyles they want. The economic boom now coming to an end has pointed this up; the bus driver who lost control of his vehicle last April during an argument with a passenger, allowing it to flip off an overpass, wasn’t sufficiently prepared for his job, as is the case with most of his maniacal colleagues.

So now, the most common slogans protesters have been chanting propose to trade the 2014 World Cup for better education and health care. And the protests are the new glue. Almost anywhere in Rio this past week, you could chat with a stranger about the demonstrations and find many points of convergence.

Chanting “Sem violência” isn’t enough

But no one knows how long the protests will last, or for how long the euphoria can paper over some very real differences — evident in both the footage of masked young men wrecking public and private property all over the country (aired nationally and internationally) and video and reports of police who, in Rio, are said to have hunted down protesters in the streets of Lapa (mostly shared on Facebook, but also on the O Globo site) and to have gone overboard in their use of tear gas and pepper spray.

(Who are they? Angry drug traffickers? Simple hoodlums? Testosterone-fueled sons of traditional middle class families, ticked off at having to share their piece of the economic pie with newcomers? In São Paulo, one arrested vandal has apparently turned out to be not only an architecture student (who by rights should be thinking more about building things, than destroying them), but the son of a small bus company owner. “All bandits,” blithely commented a carioca this morning at a local gym, referring to those who trashed a Mercedes-Benz dealership yesterday, in Rio’s West Zone. Reportedly, the rioters were from Cidade de Deus, a pacified favela.)

Clearly, Brazil will have to develop something new to bring and keep the nation together. Ultimately, the solution will be the time-honored strength and dependability of government institutions.


Terrified Ipanema merchants boarded up storefronts last night– unnecessarily, as it turned out.

But, when so many of those who now occupy them are corrupt, self-centered and secretive, how can the institutions be changed? It will take, for example, a Congress-approved constitutional amendment to bring district representation to federal, state and municipal government — a necessary condition for political accountability.

Beyond the protests, bridges are needed, as President Dilma Rousseff recognized in her speech last night. The protesters want “more”, she said, and to provide this, she’ll be meeting with governors and mayors to create a pact for better public services, with a focus on urban mobility and education. “Citizenship [sic— maybe she meant the citizenry?], not economic power, is what must be heard in the first place,” she added, saying she’ll also be meeting with protest leaders and others.

Many groups, such as Catalytic Communities, have long been advocating for this; at last, the issue has become central

Civil society can and does also build bridges to more participatory government. In Rio, the local chapter of the Institute of Brazilian Architects (IAB) has at last taken on a policy-making role. According to O Globo newspaper, last week the IAB hosted a meeting among Providência favela residents, architects and government officials that resulted in the decision to allow 16 families slated for removal to remain in their homes. That experience, in turn, has led to the creation of a mixed Housing Committee, composed of IAB members, Providência residents, and representatives from the Rio de Janeiro Architecture and Urban Planning Council and IPPUR, the Regional Urban Research and Planning Institute, among others. The Committee will, according to the newspaper, evaluate other proposed urban interventions.

“The IAB applauds the decision, fruit of a productive dialogue,” IAB president Sérgio Magalhães (who today also published this heartening op-ed piece) told O Globo. “Interventions in favelas must be carefully undertaken, as this is a place where families have built their homes through generations, with a great deal of effort– and any action must consider social and even emotional issues. Good contemporary urban planning practice recommends this.”

And now, the bola, as they say, is with us — and we’re winning over Italy, in the second half, 2-1.




About Rio real

American journalist, writer, editor who's lived in Rio de Janeiro for 20 years.
This entry was posted in Brazil, Transformation of Rio de Janeiro / Transformação do Rio de Janeiro and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Rio protests: what’s next?

  1. Monika says:

    Dear Julia, interesting post as usual. Thank you. Can you explain what you mean here “It will take, for example, a Congress-approved constitutional amendment to bring district representation to federal, state and municipal government — a necessary condition for political accountability.”? How would district representation cause better political accountability? I’d like to understand it better. Bjs Monika from Warsaw :)))

    • Rio real says:

      Politicians now are elected at large, not by a specific geographical district. This makes it hard for voters to demand continuing, loyal representation, and also for them to keep watch on their representatives. Politicians tend to be elected based on personal traits or narrow interests.

  2. Geoffz says:

    Soccer is a panacea for the masses! Perhaps hints at the underbelly of the problems but much like commercial TV/Sports…of any kind it distracts from thinking about the problems…which for the poor and underprivileged is enormous!

  3. PTRio says:

    “…the bus driver who lost control of his vehicle last April during an argument with a passenger, allowing it to flip off an overpass, wasn’t sufficiently prepared for his job, as is the case with most of his maniacal colleagues.”
    Maniacal indeed. There is usually at least one serious bus wreck in Rio, sometimes more, every single day. Drivers use their left hand to talk on their cell phone, the right for eating. That leaves….uh….none for driving and the buses in Rio have manual transmissions!
    It will be interesting this coming week to see if the protests continue to grow, or if they have peaked and will fade away. There is still no obvious leadership and no common demands among the various groups seeking to present their message through these protesters. There is power in protesting, but only if there is a clear message and positive demands. Governments are known to counter protests by inserting individuals and groups into the protests for the purpose of splintering and thus weakening their message. Maybe that is what is happening here.

    • Rachel says:

      “Maniacal indeed. There is usually at least one serious bus wreck in Rio, sometimes more, every single day. Drivers use their left hand to talk on their cell phone, the right for eating. ”

      If most employees in a given line of work seem maniacal, you gotta ask youself, ˜is it the employees or is it the line of work?”

      Well, what’s the root of this driver-madness? Two words: passenger quotas. How such an atrocity ever got under the radar is besides me… Seriously, these guys have the personal responsability of picking up 100+ non paying passengers and even MORE paying ones in each one of their shifts, as if they were Casas Bahia salespeople or something. As if they had ANY comtrol over who is on the bus stop.

      The results are obvious and predictable: stressed out drivers, speeding beyond believable and leaving non-paying passengers behind.

      Just google the O Globo series “Máquinas Mortíferas˜ or read this ( Maybe when the “big issues” simmer down we could protest about this on the local level here in Rio.

      • PTRio says:

        I honestly do not believe it is either the employee or the line of work in this case. For punk rock guitarists, I would have to say “line of work”. But for bus drivers, I find it difficult to believe most bus driver applicants are chosen for the job based on marking the “I want to terrorize passengers” box. Bus driving is not in and of itself an occupation favored by suicidal maniacs on a massive scale, only here in Rio it seems. So, that leaves passenger quotas. While I can understand (sometimes) quotas in jobs which do not involve public safety, setting quotas for bus drivers which force them to drive in excess of posted speed limits should be something the City government could remedy quite quickly by forbidding such quotas. That, in turn, raises the question of the Mayor and his father in law as a potential answer as to why this has not occurred. Potential corruption AND public safety rolled into one protest issue!

        I do see this as a “big issue”, though I cannot say whether it is a concern outside Rio or not. I read the O Globo online every day, and began sending a daily email to friends titled, “Today’s Bus Wreck in Rio” until it just became too sad and depressing. I should think bus drivers would be supportive of ending the passenger quotas, they are absurd on their face. As you point out, how can a bus driver control the number of passengers who will be at a bus stop at any given moment? It is a question of greed on the part of bus company owners and managers, and that is where government must step in to protect public safety. But, will the current Mayor support that?

        Brasilians are obviously in a protesting mood, and for good reason. Issues which involve corruption and public safety should be at the top of the list. I am going to get to work on my sign, “FORA QUOTA DE ONIBUS”. Effective protest involves coherent, realistic and reasonable demands which appeal to a broad base. I am not saying there are not already more than enough such issues to protest in Brasil, just that this certainly seems to qualify as another.

      • racdod says:

        PT, I never ever manage to go to protests because I work a 2-11p.m shift and would have my ass kickedto the curb were I to ask for a “civic duty day-off˜.

        Also, I’m off Facebook (shame on me, but it’s personal issues)

        So, if you did get that issue out there, and if more and more people did, I’d be forever grateful… 🙂

      • PTRio says:

        And, speaking of the Mayoral “devil”, Paes has come out in support of Federal subsidies to bus companies as a means of addressing transportation issues. Wonder where he got that idea?
        From O Globo:
        24/06/2013 13h48 – Atualizado em 24/06/2013 14h33
        Paes defende subsídio a transporte público em vez de incentivo a carros
        Prefeito do Rio participa de encontro com prefeitos de capitais em Brasília.
        Eles discutem o que pedirão à presidente Dilma em reunião nesta segunda.

        Nathalia Passarinho Do G1, em Brasília
        209 comentários

        O prefeito do Rio de Janeiro, Eduardo Paes (PMDB), defendeu nesta segunda-feira (24) que o governo federal deixe de dar incentivos fiscais para a compra de carros e passe a subsidiar o transporte público.

        Paes e outros prefeitos de capitais se reuniram em um hotel em Brasília para discutir projetos que serão apresentados à presidente Dilma Rousseff em audiência na tarde desta segunda.

        “Não dá para a gente continuar subsidiando transporte individual e não ter subsídio para transporte público. Cada dia entra mais carro no Rio, em São Paulo, e o trânsito cada dia fica pior. A pressão dos serviços está sob as prefeituras”, afirmou Paes, antes de participar da reunião com prefeitos.
        saiba mais

        Dilma recebe MPL, governadores e prefeitos de capitais nesta segunda
        Prefeitura do Rio estima prejuízo de R$ 1,5 milhão com vandalismo no Centro

        Entre 2008 e 2011, o governo federal reduziu e alíquota de IPI (Imposto sobre Produtos Industrializados) para incentivar a venda de veículos e estimular a atividade durante a primeira etapa da crise financeira internacional.

        No ano passado, a estratégia se repetiu, e iria retornar gradativamente ao percentual sem desconto, mas o governo decidiu frear o aumento da alíquota até o final do ano.

        Para Eduardo Paes, a política do governo deveria ser de incentivo ao transporte público e não de estímulo à compra de carros. “É preciso priorizar”, disse.

        Na tarde desta segunda, a presidente Dilma recebe prefeitos e governadores de capitais para discutir soluções para a insatisfação da população demonstrada nos protestos que ocorrem em todo o país.

        Os encontros refletem o pronunciamento da presidente à nação na última sexta (21), em que disse que iria receber “líderes” das manifestações e conversar com os chefes dos executivos municipais e estaduais.

        Segundo disse a presidente em pronunciamento no rádio e na TV na última sexta, no encontro com governadores e prefeitos, “o foco será: primeiro, a elaboração do Plano Nacional de Mobilidade Urbana, que privilegie o transporte coletivo; segundo, a destinação de 100% dos recursos do petróleo para a educação; terceiro, trazer de imediato milhares de médicos do exterior para ampliar o atendimento do SUS”.

        Eduardo Paes afirmou que também defenderá a ampliação do limite de endividamento dos estados, para que governadores e prefeitos possam investir na melhoria da qualidade do transporte público.

        “Eu diria que a qualidade do transporte é muito ruim. Você tem a questão dos preços, que foi o estopim dessas crises, mas o problema é muito maior que só os preços […] Você tem que permitir que os municípios possam se endividar”, disse. “O que a gente espera é, de fato, que decisões sejam tomadas”, completou o prefeito.

  4. Rio real says:

    Great discussion here, and I thank you very much for participating. First, we need to have information about the real costs of providing public transportation in Rio, to then decide who should pay for them. Gotta open the black box! And my sense is, as the days go by, that more and more bits of the story, more actual names, are being uttered. We’ll put those bits together and see what the puzzle really looks like. And it won’t be a puzzle any more.

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