Brazil protests run gamut from health care to World Cup
Photo: Girish Gupta

Brazil protests run gamut from health care to World Cup

Girish Gupta and Olivia Crellin
USA Today | Jun. 23, 2013 | Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Protests continued across Brazil on Sunday, capping a week of unrest that saw more than 1 million people marching across the vast country demanding an end to corruption and social inequity.

More than 60,000 marched over the weekend, and a major protest is scheduled next Sunday for the final in Rio of the Confederation Cup soccer tournament, a run-up to next year's World Cup and 2016's Olympic Games, which are being held in Brazil.

What began as a protest against a 7% rise in bus fares has ballooned to encompass long-simmering issues such as health care, education and corruption.

"We were a million people and we each had a different cause!" Cristal Moniz, 30, a teacher said of Thursday's massive demonstrations as she sat on the beach here at Copacabana.

Police, notably in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters. Videos spread online of protesters being beaten by police.

The protests, Moniz said, will continue, though activists need to regroup.

"We need to stop and think about what we're doing," she said. "We've had 500 years of problems. It's not all going to be solved overnight."

Bus fares were lowered to previous levels in response to the protests. President Dilma Rousseff appeared on national television Friday promising to improve public transportation, health care and education.

Protests continued across the country as Rousseff spoke, although the 65-year-old former Marxist guerrilla is not generally the target of them, partly because of her history.

However, Rousseff's typically high approval ratings, which have hovered in the high 70s, are slowly falling and she may face a challenge in the presidential election due in October 2014.

"I voted for Dilma and I believe in what she's doing," Moniz said. "But I think there are a lot of problems. I don't know if I'll vote for her again."

Others are more critical. Pedro Brown, 25, walking along Copacabana, said the president should be impeached. "At least people will be so shocked that the next government will respect the people," he said.

Many protesters sported high-end cameras, smartphones and trendy apparel, suggesting a middle-class uprising.

About 35 million people have been pulled out of poverty in Brazil over the past decade, creating a demanding middle class.

"To some extent, Brazil may be a victim of its own success," said Michael Shifter, president of the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue think tank. "The country's progress has created a growing middle class with high expectations for government performance."

Placards and chants across Brazil screamed widely different demands. The sports tournaments being hosted by Brazil have come in for major criticism with many decrying, for example, the $14 billion invested in the World Cup.

"We don't care about the World Cup. What we need is health and education," read one placard in Recife where protesters tore down posters advertising the tournaments.

Some protesters also were angry about legislation passed last week that would allow psychologists to treat homosexuality as a disorder or pathology. The so-called "gay cure" law was backed by evangelical pastor Marco Feliciano of the Social Christian Party. He recently called AIDS a "gay cancer" in a tweet.

Contributing: Léo Siqueira in Campinas