The world has turned its gaze to Brazil for several reasons this month. The Confederations Cup, a prelude to next year's World Cup, is underway. But protesters seeking divergent goals continue to take to the streets.
Locals, visitors, the government and teams alike were expecting to celebrate a football extravaganza here. Instead, President Dilma Rousseff has rolled up her sleeves and gotten to work during the Confederations Cup, which runs through June 30 and serves as a dress rehearsal for next year's World Cup.
While the players are hitting the fields, Brazil's president is sitting down with governors and officials from the country's major cities to take stock of the demonstrators' demands.
Glittering stadiums, grimy schools
Regardless of what emerges from the talks, it seems the president will be unhappy with the result. The protests that have rocked Brazil for more than a week have delivered a shock to the political class, Rousseff included.
Despite the sweeping economic boom in Brazil in recent years that has lifted millions out of poverty and into the middle class as well as establishing the country as a serious player on the international stage, other things have visibly been neglected. Few seem to have considered investing the newfound wealth in education or healthcare. That's why Brazil's major cities now feature dazzling temples to soccer that stand just a small distance from run-down primary schools.
While stadiums were being erected, many Brazilians were dying due to a lack of adequate health care. What's at stake is more than just inattentiveness to these problems. For many protesters hitting the streets, corruption is the other huge issue they want to see addressed.
The new middle class
"O gigante acordou," meaning "The giant has awakened," is a rallying cry for many protesters, who include students, secretaries, teachers and corporate leaders in places like Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Belo Horizonte and Fortaleza.
Notably absent are politicians and parties. When flag-waving members of Rousseff's ruling Worker's Party sought to join in on a march, they were shouted down with boos and whistles. It's clear that many Brazilians are frustrated with the political establishment, viewing it as interchangeable with corruption and economic weaseling.
The protest movement's demands do not fit neatly into a single ideology. One could say they represent the calls of a new middle class that wants to see its rights secured and that wants to know what is happening to the tax money it is paying.
Words instead of deeds
Dilma Rousseff, a former left-wing guerilla fighter, has promised to listen to the protesters' message. She has made a point of addressing the nation in a benevolent and compassionate tone, signaling acceptance of the movement while making suggestions and announcing talks. Thanks to her high level of approval in Brazil, that alone may have been enough in the past to appease the country. But now it seems that beautiful speeches are no longer enough.
Hasty promises to draft a national plan for reforming public transportation, improve administration and bring foreign doctors to Brazil have not been enough to calm the demonstrators.
"What's that supposed to do?" said one frustrated doctor in Rio de Janeiro. "We don't need people from abroad. There are enough doctors here. They just don't have enough opportunities to help people."
"It's good that she spoke," said one student in Sao Paulo after a televised speech from the president. "But she doesn't really have anything to say."
Looking for a breakthrough?
But Rousseff maintains that dialogue is the best strategy. Her problem is finding the right person to talk to. The protesters have very little organization and no political leader. And the movement's demands are so divergent and often so defined by local issues that they cannot be discussed at a single negotiation table in Brasilia, the country's capital.
The influential daily "Folha de Sao Paulo" urged the president to seek a major success in a highly sensitive area, like in education - a tall order, indeed. Doing so will take money, and suddenly financing seems rather scarce. The economy is no longer growing at a blistering rate, but inflation is rising. Some experts are beginning to whisper that the big boom has now subsided. And Brazil's finance minister has signaled that the country's coffers are no longer quite so full.
It is no wonder, then, that Brazil's president is not exactly in the mood for partying at the Confederations Cup. She has a clear dilemma on her hands.