Read it on Salon
Nelson Mandela: A life in pictures
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
SAO PAULO (AP) — In some of the biggest protests since the end of Brazil’s 1964-85 dictatorship, demonstrations have spread across this continent-sized country and united people from all walks of life behind frustrations over poor transportation, health services, education and security despite a heavy tax burden.
More than 100,000 people were in the streets Monday for largely peaceful protests in at least eight big cities. They were in large part motivated by widespread images of Sao Paulo police last week beating demonstrators and firing rubber bullets into groups during a march that drew 5,000.
There was some violence, with police and protesters clashing in Rio de Janeiro, Porto Alegre and Belo Horizonte. The newspaper O Globo, citing Rio state security officials, said at least 20 officers and 10 protesters were injured there.
Monday’s protests come after the opening matches of soccer’s Confederations Cup over the weekend, just one month before a papal visit, a year before the World Cup and three years ahead of the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The unrest is raising some security concerns, especially after the earlier protests produced injury-causing clashes with police.
In Sao Paulo, Brazil’s economic hub, at least 65,000 protesters gathered Monday at a small, treeless plaza then broke into three directions in a Carnival atmosphere, with drummers beating out samba rhythms as people chanted anti-corruption jingles. They also railed against the matter that sparked the first protests last week — a 10-cent hike in bus and subway fares.
Thousands of protesters in the capital, Brasilia, peacefully marched on Congress. Dozens scrambled up a ramp to a low-lying roof, clasping hands and raising their arms, the light from below sending their elongated shadows onto the structure’s large, hallmark upward-turned bowl designed by famed architect Oscar Niemeyer. Some congressional windows were broken, but police did not use force to contain the damage.
“This is a communal cry saying: ‘We’re not satisfied,’” Maria Claudia Cardoso said on a Sao Paulo avenue, taking turns waving a sign reading “#revolution” with her 16-year-old son, Fernando, as protesters streamed by.
“We’re massacred by the government’s taxes — yet when we leave home in the morning to go to work, we don’t know if we’ll make it home alive because of the violence,” she added. “We don’t have good schools for our kids. Our hospitals are in awful shape. Corruption is rife. These protests will make history and wake our politicians up to the fact that we’re not taking it anymore!”
Protest leaders went to pains to tell marchers that damaging public or private property would only hurt their cause. In Sao Paulo, sentiments were at first against the protests last week after windows were broken and buildings spray painted during the demonstrations.
Police, too, changed tactics. In Sao Paulo, commanders said publicly before the protest they would try to avoid violence, but warned they could resort to force if protesters destroyed property. During the first hours of the march that continued into the night there was barely any perceptible police presence.
The Sao Paulo march itself was a family affair: A group of mothers received a rousing cheer when they arrived at the plaza where the march began, brandishing signs that read “Mothers Who Care Show Support.”
“I’m here to make sure police don’t hurt these kids,” said Sandra Amalfe, whose 16-year-old daughter chatted with friends nearby. “We need better education, hospitals and security — not billions spent on the World Cup.”
Officers in Rio fired tear gas and rubber bullets when a group of protesters invaded the state legislative assembly and hurled rocks and flares at police. But most of the tens of thousands who protested in Rio did so peacefully, many of them dressed in white and brandishing placards and banners.
In Belo Horizonte, police estimated about 20,000 people took part in a peaceful protest before a Confederations Cup match between Tahiti and Nigeria. Earlier in the day, demonstrators erected several barricades of burning tires on a nearby highway, disrupting traffic.
Protests also were reported in Curitiba, Belem and Salvador.
Marcos Lobo, a 45-year-old music producer who joined the protest in Sao Paulo, said the actions of police during earlier demonstrations persuaded him to come out Monday.
“I thought they (the protests) were infantile at first because of my preconceived notions,” Lobo said. “Then I saw the aggression.”
Another protester, Manoela Chiabai, said she wanted to express her dissatisfaction with the status quo.
“Everything in Brazil is a mess. There is no education, health care — no security. The government doesn’t care,” the 26-year-old photographer said. “We’re a rich country with a lot of potential but the money doesn’t go to those who need it most.”
In a brief statement, President Dilma Rousseff, who faces re-election next year and whose popularity rating recently dipped for the first time in her presidency, acknowledged the protests, saying: “Peaceful demonstrations are legitimate and part of democracy. It is natural for young people to demonstrate.”
Brazilians have long accepted malfeasance as a cost of doing business, whether in business or receiving public services. Brazilian government loses more than $47 billion each year to undeclared tax revenue, vanished public money and other widespread corruption, according to the Federation of Industries of Sao Paulo business group.
But in the last decade, about 40 million Brazilians have moved into the middle class and they have begun to demand more from government. Many are angry that billions of dollars in public funds are being spent to host the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics while few improvements are made elsewhere.
Associated Press writers Jenny Barchfield in Rio de Janeiro, Marco Sibaja in Brasilia and Jill Langlois in Sao Paulo contributed to this report.
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
Mandela is accompanied by his former wife Winnie, moments after his release from prison February 11, 1990 after serving 27 years in jail. (Reuters)
In this February, 1990 photo, shortly after his release from 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela, gives the black power salute to the 120,000 supporters packing Soccer City stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg. (AP Photo)
Nelson Mandela showed his passport in February 19, 1990, shortly after his release from prison. The South African government authorized an application for himself and his wife Winnie - (Juda Ngwenya / Reuters)
In this July 27, 1991 photo, Cuban President Fidel Castro, and Nelson Mandela gesture during the celebration of the "Day of the Revolution" in Matanzas, Cuba. (AP Photo)
In this July 4, 1993 photo, President Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela listen during Fourth of July ceremonies in Philadelphia during which Clinton presented the Philadelphia Liberty Medal to the African National Congress president and South African President F.W. de Klerk. (AP Photo/Greg Gibson)
President of the African National Congress Nelson Mandela acknowledges cheers from the crowd as he prepares to unveil the ANC's official election platform in 1994. (AP Photo/David Brauchli)
African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela greeted residents of Mmabatho in March 1994, during a visit after the nominal homeland came under South African control following the ousting of the former President Lucas Mangope. (Reuters/Howard Burditt)
South African President Nelson Mandela smiles with actor Sidney Poitier at a press conference in Cape Town in 1996. Poitier played Mandela in the film "One Man, One Vote" (AP Photo / Sasa Kralj)
South African President Nelson Mandela waves to crowds as he sits next to Queen Elizabeth II in a an open carriage on the way to Buckingham Palace.(AP/Louisa Buller)
Chairman of the Constitutional Assembly Cyril Ramaphosa, left, holds up a copy of the country's constitution which was signed by President Nelson Mandela, in December 1996. (AP Photo / Adil Bradlow / POOL)
Nelson Mandela at a news conference in Johannesburg in February 2000. (AP Photo / Denis Farrell)
South African rugby captain Francois Pienaar, right, received the Rugby World Cup trophy from President Nelson Mandela also wearing a South African rugby shirt, after South Africa defeated New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup , in 1995. (AP Photo / Ross Setford)