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Brazilians protest

Astrid Prange / jrbSeptember 6, 2013

Brazil's reform movement has stalled since the mass protests in June. But activists plan to hit the streets again on September 7, the country's independence day, in a new drive for change.

A riot police officer fires tear gas at violent demonstrators after clashes erupted following a march by Brazilian workers in Rio de Janeiro on July 11, 2013 in a day of industrial action called by major unions to press demands for better work conditions. Demonstrators on Thursday blocked roads and staged protest rallies across the country on the "National Day of Struggles" which was called by the country's five leading labour federations during last month's mass street protests to demand better public services and an end to endemic corruption. AFP PHOTO / CHRISTOPHE SIMON (Photo credit should read CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP/Getty Images)

"It will be the biggest protest in Brazil's history - 140 cities have already announced demonstrations!" That is the message the international hacker group Anonymous posted on Facebook.

"The streets will be so full of demonstrators on September 7 that my family will hardly find a place to stand," writes an activist from the alternative media group "Ninjas," which plans to report live on the protests via Facebook.

Ban on face coverings

How big - and anonymous - the protests will actually be remains to be seen. The state parliament of Rio de Janeiro reached an agreement on Tuesday (3.9.2013) to ban face coverings. That might deter some groups.

Even if the numbers of demonstrators are hard to predict, their reasons to protest are clear. Most of the demands of those who took to the streets during the Confederations Cup to protest the expensive stadiums for the upcoming soccer World Cup and to voice their dissatisfaction with corruption have gone unfulfilled.

Demonstrators protest the cost of public transportation (AP Photo/Nelson Antoine)
Protests against planned price hikes in public transportation have paid offImage: picture-alliance/AP

"The issues today are the same as they were in June - namely, corruption, education policy, healthcare and rising living costs," says Markus Fraundorfer with the Giga Institute of Latin American Studies in Hamburg. The demonstrations, he added, show that Brazilians are serious about reform.

Some attempts to introduce changes have been made, however. As a direct response to the mass protests, most cities have dropped their proposed price hike for public transportation. And in June, the Brazilian Senate approved draft legislation that classifies corruption as a serious crime with a minimum sentence of four years. The bill was 15 years in the making.

Resistance to change

The Brazilian parliament itself also appeared open to reform initially. After years of resistance, the policymakers agreed to a bill that in the future would see three quarters of all oil production profits invested in the educational system. The remaining 25 percent of the so-called "royalties" would flow into the country's chronically underfunded health sector.

But a closer look reveals a continued resistance to change. The promised billions of investments to expand public transportation have yet to surface; 12 of the 57 planned transportation projects for the World Cup are on hold. The corruption bill that passed the Brazilian Senate is stuck in its lower house, the Chamber of Deputies. And the referendum proposed by President Dilma Rousseff on pressing political reform, party financing and election laws has also gone nowhere.

A protester holds a banner for heath and education (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
Many are demanding funding for education, not for the World CupImage: picture alliance / AP Photo

A recent vote in the Chamber of Deputies shows how little the parliamentarians care about fighting corruption. The 513 members didn't dare to withdraw the mandate from a colleague, Natan Donadon, who had been convicted by a Brazilian court to 13 years in prison for bribery and gang involvement. The move on August 28 to protect Donadon saw the reputation of the Brazilian legislative body drop to a historic low.

Protesting against corruption

"The parliamentarians made an incomprehensible mistake," says Valeriano Costa, a professor of political science at the elite Campinas University. They made fools of themselves, he says, despite now having approved a ban on secret voting in both houses of the Brazilian Congress, the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies. "If it comes to mass protests against corruption on September 7, they will be targeted directly at the legislative branch," says Costa.

President Rousseff and her labor party PT, which has ruled the country for 10 years, could feel the brunt of these protests as well. Party leaders believe the protests will continue after the World Cup up to the national elections in October 2014, according to the newspaper "Folha de Sao Paulo."

A demonstrator holds a sign (Photo: REUTERS/Gustavo Vara)
And many are calling for an end to corruptionImage: Reuters

Brazil expert Fraundorfer with the Giga Institute agrees. "If the government does nothing, then what happened at the Confederations Cup could be repeated at the World Cup," he says. "If there is no break with the government as there was with the military dictatorship in the 1960s, then I'm optimistic and view Brazil as a modern country in many respects."