Clearly, I’ve been living under a rock because I only just became aware of the protests that have been filling Brazilian streets lately. (No, wait – I’ve just been busy birthing babies!) Now I’m noticing all the Facebook posts from my Brazilian friends, most of which are hugely supportive of the protests. One picture of a jam-packed street has the caption, “It’s not Turkey! It’s not Greece! It’s Brazil, leaving inertia behind!” An expat friend living in Toronto is pictured holding a sign that says, “We’re tired of hearing [from relatives back home], ‘You shouldn’t come back’.” Another writes, “The people are tired of having so many duties and no rights” and “The giant has woken.”
The protests started in response to a ten-cent fare hike on public transit in São Paulo. It may not seem like much, but in a country where the monthly minimum wage is CAD $316.47, that can add up pretty quickly. Public anger is completely understandable. Brazilians are sick and tired of living in a country with poor infrastructure, health care that’s hard to access, high illiteracy rates (average is 10%), widespread hunger, and poor quality of education. The money is there, but it’s not distributed for the benefit of the majority. That’s where it gets complicated, because the wealthy people can afford all those things listed above that are lacking in most of the country but don’t want to pay for the poorer people to have them, too.
Resentment has been festering for a long time. During the year I lived there, I heard no end of complaints about the situation and the government’s inefficacy and corruption and learned a whole new set of rules about how to survive.
::: This is a country where you can’t walk down the street carrying a purse because it could easily get slit and emptied when you’re not paying attention. Many people get robbed at gunpoint in front of their own houses, or just robbed, as I was, thankfully without a gun. You shouldn’t walk down a street if there aren’t several other people in sight – and never part of the same group, since they might be waiting to rob you, too.
::: This is a country where the buses take their time. Sometimes you wait 10 minutes or 40 minutes, even if you’re at the bus stop at the same time every day.
::: This is a country where it’s almost impossible to get change made for anything larger than a R$20 bill (CAD$10) because people carry so little cash, either for fear of robbery or for poverty.
::: This is a country where an upgraded car stereo has to be removed and hidden under the seat every single time you park the car, or else it will be taken while you’re in the mall.
::: This is a country where I’ve fallen asleep to the sound of gunshots in the neighbourhood, where some the children who came to the after-school program where I worked received their only hot meal of the day, where houses are built surrounded by walls that are lined with shards of glass.
::: This is a country where the postal service is completely unreliable and parcels go missing for months on end, often never showing up at their destination. (I once received a $200 reimbursement from Canada Post for a parcel that still hadn’t arrived after six months, but then showed up a year later. Who knows where it was in the meantime.)
Despite all this, the government of Brazil will be spending $30 billion on public works in order to prepare for the 2014 World Cup, not to mention the additional expenses for the 2016 Olympics, which come to an estimated $1 trillion. Never mind that 1.5 million people will be “relocated” (the poorest people, of course) and that an Indigenous cultural centre is being torn apart to make way for a Museum of the Olympic Committee. It’s despicable. What good are international sports tournaments if vast numbers of people continue to live in poverty? I hope these protests continue until Dilma Rousseff and the rest of the government take serious note and start reassessing their priorities because Brazil truly is a glorious place that deserves better than this.