Public protests in Brazil, initially in response to a rise in bus fares that has since been rolled back, have expanded to scores of cities across the country and a million demonstrators.
The turmoil has provoked a government response including pepper spray, rubber bullets, and tear gas. The priorities of Brazil’s government, notably President Dilma Rousseff, do not appear to reflect those of ordinary Brazilians.
The unrest comes as the country is due to host — to its greater glory as a rising world power — a visit by Pope Francis this month, the World Cup soccer tournament next year, and the summer Olympics in 2016. Brazilians realize that these events can reflect well on their country.
But they don’t want the cost of these things to come out of spending on basics such as education, health care, housing, and transportation. The now-revoked 2 percent rise in bus fares was the relatively tiny trigger of the revolt.
Meanwhile, Brazilians have seen reports that Olympic preparations — which have already cost $47 million for new stadiums that were supposed to be funded by the private sector — are going to cost the government another $30 million.
At the same time, 21 percent of Brazil’s 190 million people live in poverty, many of them in rural areas and in Rio de Janeiro’s notorious hillside slums. The government is only haltingly addressing this problem, preoccupied as it is with planning for its upcoming events.
Brazil’s popular unrest joins that of such countries as Egypt, Turkey, Sweden, and Tunisia. In all of these cases, social media have made mobilizing crowds easy.
America’s Occupy movement, ostensibly prompted by problems in the United States, fizzled out inconclusively last year. Conservatives’ efforts to spur public indignation over the cost of President Obama’s overseas travel at a time of budget cuts have not struck a spark. But in Brazil, a rising power finds itself wracked by social turmoil.