It began in São Paulo on June 6 with a march of only 500 people protesting against an increase in bus fares. Since then, however, it has grown into a conflagration of discontent. On June 17, 200,000 people protested in Rio de Janeiro, Belém and about 20 other cities, and by June 20 some 1.4 million protesters had taken to the streets in more than 120 cities. Protesters danced on the roof of the congress building in the capital Brasília, creating images that have since been broadcast around the world. They are the tour dates of a popular uprising that newspapers are presenting as proudly as they do the victories of the Seleção. The people are agitated, and the political world is afraid.
President Dilma Rousseff has felt that ire directly; she was booed during the opening of the Confed Cup in mid-June and her approval rating has plunged by 27 percentage points. In a hastily arranged televised address, she promised reforms and held out the prospect of a referendum. The bus fare increases were reversed, as was a scandalous draft law that would have given corrupt lawmakers immunity from prosecution. Some €19 billion ($26 billion) in new funding for public transportation was suddenly approved. And now the first corrupt lawmaker, who had managed to delay his trial by three years, has been arrested. The government has been literally tripping over itself recently in its hurry to answer to the people.
On the other hand, almost 200 members of the National Congress are under investigation. One lawmaker, who is accused of murder, allegedly dismembered his political rival with a chainsaw. Another moved $10 million earmarked for a road construction project to an overseas bank account. A third politician is thought to have ordered the abduction of three priests who had campaigned on behalf of the landless.
Today the Congress is probably the most despised institution in Brazil. Some analysts depict it perched on the edge of a cliff, with lawmakers who look like rats falling into the abyss while demonstrators force their way into the building from the other side. ''Brazil has perhaps never before been under the command of people who were quite as arrogant as Lula, Dilma Rousseff and the barons of the PT," my AFP (Agence-France Press-French News Agency) colleague, from Brazil, told me yesterday, in reference to Rousseff's party, the Partido dos Trabalhadores, or "Workers' Party."
These are hard times for the PT. It is in a glass house and cannot be throwing stones. Although the left, the traditional voice of the people, is in power, this traditional alliance has been shattered and trust gambled away since the Lula administration was involved in a bribery scandal. And trust was always its greatest asset.
Now people in the streets are saying that everyone in government is a thief, regardless of his or her party affiliation. Brazilians today are faced with a fundamental breach of trust. A new civil society is defending itself against the very principle of politics, against representation by political parties. They are trying to protect themselves against institutional corruption.
One can only hope that the protests will continue, because they are an expression of civil society-- important exercises in democratic awareness.
The demonstrations are continuing. The country's labor unions, which include most PT members, organized yet another day of strikes and marches on Thursday. Brazil's Workers' Party is mobilizing against itself at the moment, so as to resume its position of leadership.
Even the middle class, in particular, has been showing, with its largely peaceful protests, that it wants more than refrigerators and cars. Instead, it wants the rights of a civil society, which include public services in return for taxes paid: a decent healthcare system, roads, public transportation and schools.
Ironically, it was the governing Workers' Party that believed stimulating consumption would be enough. But now the economic miracle is waning. The government debt is higher than it's been in 18 years, Petrobas, the largely state-owned oil company, is practically bankrupt, and inflation is rising. The people are afraid.
But nothing has moved the public in recent years as much as the "Mensalão" scandal, a criminal operation that, together with the governing PT and government-owned businesses, had bribed several lawmakers to push large, lucrative projects through the Congress.
In a fiery speech, Joaquim Barbosa, appointed to the country's highest court by Lula, demanded that it was time to clean out the pigsty. Barbosa has been celebrated as a hero since then, as someone who stands for the values of democracy. People are saying that he would be elected immediately if he ran for office. By now, 74 percent of Brazilians want those behind the bribery scandal go to prison immediately.
By Guylain Gustave Moke
With the help of: Vanessa Lima(AFP Correspondent in Belém)