What began as a localized protest against rising bus fares last week in Brazil has become a national outcry, with hundreds of thousands of demonstrators challenging everything from government corruption and the rising cost of living to the billions of dollars invested in the World Cup and Olympic infrastructure.
More than 215,000 citizens took to the streets Monday night in over 40 cities and 12 state capitals in the second week of protests in the country. In Brasilia, the capital, protesters occupied the national Congress. In Rio de Janeiro, an estimated 100,000 mostly peaceful protesters marched, and a breakaway group attacked a state legislative assembly building.
The demonstrations started last week in São Paulo in protest of the increase in a single bus fare from 3 reals to 3.20 (roughly $1.40 to $1.50), but they went national when images of police brutality against the protesters in São Paulo spread rapidly across social media. Brazil's military police were shown beating unarmed protesters and firing rubber bullets and tear gas at peaceful protesters, passersby, and journalists.
A wave of national protests — the largest and most significant in over 20 years — soon followed, with marchers united under chants of "No to violence" and under banners declaring, "It isn't for 20 cents, it is for our rights" and "Who is the World Cup for?"
Brazil's public transportation is often slow, dangerous, and crowded, and these fare increases come at a time when Brazil's decade-long economic success has slowed dramatically. Inflation is on the rise and many basic services are woefully underfunded.
For years, the economy grew, the middle class expanded, and millions rose from poverty. After the country suffered through crushing hyperinflation in the 1980's and 1990's, inflation seemed to be finally under control.
But recently the economy has stalled, much-feared inflation is outside of targets, and rising prices on everything from food to transportation have made life more difficult for the average Brazilian.
It is this contrast, between the massive investment in Olympic and World Cup infrastructure, and the lack of investment in the basics Brazilians depend on in their daily lives, that seems to be sparking the unrest.
"The bus fare increase is just the straw that broke the camel's back," one protester in Rio de Janeiro said, "We're tired of the corruption, the violence and not getting the services that are our right."
(c) 2013 David Lavin. Originally published in The Atlantic Online.