By Dave Sewell
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Brazil prepares for strikes as economic juggernaut stalls

This article is over 10 years, 7 months old
Brazil’s rulers hoped that economic growth would increase their political power—yet furious protest has erupted at continuing inequality, writes Dave Sewell
Issue 2360
Huge protests in Brazil last month
Huge protests in Brazil last month (Pic: Semilla Luz on Flickr)

Concessions from the government have not stopped Brazil’s wave of protests. 

Tens of thousands marched to the stadium during an international football match last week. And some of its biggest trade unions have called for a general strike next week.

President Dilma Rousseff met with Free Fares protest movement leaders last week and agreed to spend billions on improving transport, health and education. 

She also promised a referendum on reforming the corrupt political system.

Brazil is set to host the 2013 Confederations Cup, the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Rio Olympics. This was meant to herald its entry into the premier league of global powers. Instead the events have become a lightning rod for discontent. 

Brazil has relatively low unemployment after 20 years of growth, but millions still live in poverty in vast urban slums next to the new stadiums. Violent, militarised police, that were also deployed against the recent protests, keep them down.


Recent government housing reforms have doubled rents and pushed working class people further out of large cities. This is one reason why public transport has been such a flashpoint.

Economic success allowed Rousseff’s predecessor, former union bureaucrat Luis Ignacio da Silva, make his Workers’ Party (PT) seem the natural political vehicle for Brazilian capitalism. 

Its left wing origins and links to unions kept a lid on opposition.

By the time Rousseff took over the economy had begun to stall, despite the billions her government ploughed into stimulus packages. 

The PT’s political hold was fracturing too. Former environment minister Marina Silva mounted a surprise electoral challenge to defend Brazil’s environment and indigenous culture—and came third with 20 million votes. Now Rousseff’s popularity stands at 30 percent, while 82 percent supported the protests.

The PT’s grip on power now relies on alliances with small client parties—some very right wing.

A reactionary evangelical pastor  has captured the human rights commission—and is set to redefine homosexuality as a “disease” to be “cured”. Thousands marched against this bigoted law in Brazil’s major cities.

The right, including fascists who attacked the left, has tried to hijack the new protests. 

The bitterness of ordinary Brazilians at the “left” government gives the right an audience. But the anger could breathe new life into hopes for change in South America.


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