Brazilians angry over taxes, corruption take to streets

| Jun. 18, 2013 | Sao Paulo, Brazil

Published by USA Today

Protests sparked by a bus-fare increase have swelled into massive demonstrations of Brazilians—from the poor to professionals—who have been simmering over corrupt government services, crime and massive spending on soccer's World Cup.

"I'm not exactly here for the bus prices. I'm here mainly against the police violence," said Ana Oliveira, 27, doctor, carrying flowers. "In Brazil, we've got a lot of corruption and poverty. It's not a fair country. That's why we're here."

More than 100,000 people were in the streets Monday for largely peaceful protests in at least eight big cities. But demonstrators in Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte are accused of vandalism and violent clashes with police.

Sao Paulo police last week beat demonstrators and fired rubber bullets during a march that drew 5,000. On Sunday In Rio de Janeiro, police pushed a small and peaceful crowd out from outside a soccer stadium. Newspapers Tuesday ran headlines on clashes between demonstrators and police in Rio, Porto Alegre, Belo Horizonte.

Brazil has seen steady economic growth over the past several years boosted by rising exports of beef, soy and minerals under former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Da Silva increased government spending on infrastructure projects that created jobs and boosted welfare spending.

But his successor President Dilma Rousseff, a former Marxist guerrilla whom da Silva backed for office in 2011, has presided over a much different economic climate. Economic growth slowed to 1% in 2012 and inflation is 6%.

Rousseff acknowledged the demonstrations, saying: "Peaceful demonstrations are legitimate and part of democracy. It is natural for young people to demonstrate."

Many of the demonstrators are angry that Brazil is spending billions of dollars to host the World Cup in 2014 and Olympics in 2016.

In Rio, the confrontation between police and a small group of protesters dragged on late into the night. The group moved on the state legislature building from a 65,000-capacity stadium. Globo television network showed police firing into the air. At least one person was injured.

In the capital of Brasilia, about 200 people climbed onto the roof of the Oscar Niemeyer-designed Congress building. A cyberattack knocked the government's official World Cup site offline, and the Twitter feed for Brazil's Anonymous group posted links to a host of other government websites whose content had been replaced by a screen calling on citizens to come out to the streets.

In São Paulo, many of the protesters carried flowers against the violence that they say was caused by police in the city. Demonstrators insisted the protest is about much more than the 9 cent rise in bus prices.

Many protesters had high-end cameras, smartphones and trendy clothes and were cheered on by people from expensive apartments lining the routes in Sao Paulo.

"This country has been through a lot of corruption scandals and oppression from the police and this was the last straw," said Pedro Marshall, 16, a student walking down Paulista, the main thoroughfare. "Everybody's united. We're fighting for Brazil."

Jose Eduardo Fernandez, 45, who runs a media company, complained that infrastructure in Brazil is terrible and the cost of living is soaring.

"Taxes are very high and we don't get anything back. It's easier for me to stay at home with my kids, but I'm here because I want to change things," he said.

Contributing: The Associated Press