Brazil: A technology advisor witnesses first-hand the biggest protests in 20 years that swept the country.
by Nitin Dahad
[Editor's note: Nitin Dahad, working as a technology specialist advisor with the British Government's Technology Partnerships Unit, recently witnessed first-hand the biggest protests in 20 years that swept the country. He filed the following story from Brazil on Sunday, June 30.]
SÃO PAULO, Brazil -- Brazil is in the news of late. By coincidence, I ended up witnessing the wave of protests while in the country on business. The trigger for the protests was a 20-cent rise in bus and train fares in São Paulo, but this ended up being just a symbol of what the general public throughout the country has been unhappy about. The people protested, and it seems that their protests have been heard by those in power -- for example, the 20-cent increase was retracted, and another law that was being considered was rejected.
But it appears a groundswell of public opinion wants more fundamental change and action. The demands are for appropriate investment in healthcare, education, public services, and infrastructure. I've seen a real bitterness about the injustice of billions of dollars being invested in the stadiums for the football's World Cup Tournament in 2014, with little in the way of benefits for the Brazilian public in return, and with little or no legacy planning, according to people I have spoken with in the business world.
That's why the Confederations Cup venues were particular targets before and during football matches that took place during this tournament in June, as this is seen as the precursor to the FIFA World Cup next year.
Even in my business meetings, many senior people said it was about time something was done. You can sense this from everyone you talk to. From the day I landed in Brazil, there were protests right near my hotel. A huge number marched past my hotel on the first day -- there were reportedly 70,000 people on that march in São Paulo on June 17.
Then a few days later, reportedly, a million people were on the streets protesting across several cities in Brazil. That evening I recall it was a major achievement to return to our hotel in Porto Alegre (in the south of Brazil -- the home to Brazil's only semiconductor foundry, Ceitec), as my last meeting of the day was in a government-related building, and it was a struggle to emerge from the building and the traffic gridlock that started as early as 4:30 p.m.
Everywhere I traveled, police presence was strong and people were talking about the injustice of the money being spent on the World Cup stadiums with very little public payback. But despite the pictures you might have seen in the media, I have to say most of protests that I came across appeared peaceful (however, I was nowhere near any football stadiums so I did not witness the pre-match violence that has been reported widely).
Even in some instances where vandals were intent on creating disturbances, I heard stories of protesters helping police to point those vandals out, to ensure that their cause was heard properly without it being diluted by the actions of the vandals.
Such has been the determination of the protests. Reports of planned protests appear on a daily basis.
Brazil in a nutshell
Brazil is a country of around 200 million people, making it the fifth most populous in the world after China, India, the US, and Indonesia in that order. It also has a young demographic -- the median age is around 30 years; hence the "uprising" occurred through means such as social networks, as has happened elsewhere in the world over the last two years. The country has three levels of government -- federal, state (there are 26 states and one federal district), and municipal.