Brazil is experiencing its largest protests in more than 20 years, as more than 200,000 demonstrators take to the streets of Sao Paulo, Brasilia, Rio de Janeiro and four other major cities to rally on a range of social issues.
According to the Associated Press, the unrest began last week as a response to a 10-cent hike in public bus and subway fares that kicked in on June 1. But as dozens of protesters have written on signs and posted to social media since then, the movement is now “about more than 20 cents” -- it's about Brazil’s poverty, tax burden, political corruption, social services and a growing frustration with the expense of big-budget events like the 2016 Olympics and the World Cup.
“We don’t need the World Cup,” reads one popular protest photo that has been shared hundreds of times on social media. “We need money for hospitals and education.”
That’s a common criticism of the growing pains in the world’s fifth-largest country, where violent crime and a 21 percent poverty rate exist alongside outsized economic ambitions. Brazil's growing economy has boosted its stature, drawing in massive international events. At the same time, those spectacles can come with a profound (some say unjustified) price tag. The Olympics alone are expected to cost the Brazilian government at least $14.4 billion, according to its own estimates. That doesn’t factor in social costs like the skyrocketing price of real estate in Rio de Janeiro, which Amnesty International says has displaced some impoverished citizens of the city’s slums.
Brazil, of course, isn’t the only country at an uncomfortable, developmental crossroads. Turkey has suffered waves of violent mass protests over the last three weeks, initially sparked by construction in an Istanbul park. Protesters in both countries have promised solidarity on social media -- maybe because they share a common enemy. Reuters’ Margarita Noriega tweeted that demonstrators in both countries have been sprayed with a tear gas manufactured in Brazil.
Also as in Turkey, a photo has emerged showing heavily armored riot police using pepper spray on a young woman, who clearly poses no threat to them. This photo below, from Rio de Janeiro, has been circulated widely, fueling perceptions that police are behaving with unnecessary violence.
But, as often happens during massive demonstrations that take over public spaces, some protesters have gone too far, as well. A photo of a protester standing before vandalized ATMs in a Rio bank may help explain why some police may see the demonstrations as dangerous – an impression that, in such protests elsewhere, has sometimes extended to onlookers, as well.
As the week goes on, it's not clear how protesters and police will shape one another's behavior. We'll be watching events closely, so do check back.