Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The protests continue apace, and the protesters seem to be growing in number. Brazilian media of all types are having a feast day if not a feeding frenzy. Why all this tumult over an increase in bus fares that is one twentieth (1/20 or five percent) the cost of one draft beer? Are they kidding?
The protesters are not kidding; more surprisingly, neither are the press. The Brazilian Fourth Estate (press), traditionally allied with the First and Second Estates (clergy and nobility) against the Third Estate (commoners), were uniformly willing to attack the protests and the protesters on various fronts—economic (the rise in bus fares is less than inflation, so get real)—political (the protesters are vagabonds, ne’er do wells, spoiled brats)—and philosophical (violence is deplorable, so is encouraging it).
But then the São Paulo police made one very big mistake—they injured (some seriously) fifteen journalists who claim they were out there doing their jobs. The press has come together to condemn this vicious attack on freedom of speech and freedom of the press; similarities are drawn to the perils of working journos abroad, in notorious Middle-eastern Squares.
As a corollary to this, some thinking members of the press have begun to wonder just what the protests might be all about. And most of them have come to the conclusion in our title above: it’s not about the twenty centavos.
It’s not really another Arab Spring, although the ire of the protesters was equally directed to the Mayor and the Governor, one from PT and the other from PSDB. Both are obsessed with power but they’re certainly not autocrats in the Middle Eastern sense, or even in the Bolivarian South American sense.
Nor is it really another “Occupy” movement, although the list of things being protested is amazingly diverse, and there are few positive proposals. Tellingly, protesters here do not call for all bankers to be thrown in jail, the one unifying theme of all “Occupy” movements in the United States.
So, what is it all about? The Curmudgeon suggests taking it in historical and current context. Historically, the best Brazilian equivalent is when, in the early 1980s, then President Collor declared that the Brazilian auto industry did not make “carros” (cars) but rather “carroças” (horsecarts)—and he was completely right. Most cars then sold had been designed in the 1960s and even before. First world prices for third world goods angered people.
For current context, look around. Simultaneously with the “20cent” protests, lots of Brazilians protested against the immorally overpriced football stadia built with taxpayer money; at the games themselves, the allegedly popular Dilma was roundly booed. Some commentators think this is symptomatic of a more generalized discontent among the newly emerged middle class, who are tired of having third world services (healthcare, education) and paying first world prices. The Curmudgeon agrees. What’s the solution?
You read it here before–the solution is Lula. Lula led 40—50 million people out of subsistence survival into the middle class. This created a desire for more, and more isn’t forthcoming these days. Dilma hasn’t a clue as to how to deal with these emerging discontents. In 2014, Lula will say he has not just one clue but several, and if you vote for him, he’ll implement them. People will believe him. And he will be elected.
Michael Royster, aka THE CURMUDGEON first saw Rio forty-plus years ago, fetched up on these shores exactly 35 years ago, still loves it, notwithstanding being a charter member of the most persecuted minority in (North) America today, the WASPs (google it!)(get over it!)