By Lisa Flueckiger, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The nationwide protests of June and July may have abated, but in their wake have come a series of cause-driven acts that continue to spiral into violent clashes between police and protesters. Tuesday night witnessed another spate of incidents following a protest in Cinelândia.
Whether teachers campaigning for better working conditions or doctors against the importing of overseas professionals, the common threads remain bringing disruption to the city and their fight to a wider audience, discontentment with the government, and, increasingly, the participation of members of the Black Bloc movement.
In each case, numbers have ranged from a few hundred to tens of thousands. Often starting peacefully, the group claiming responsibility for much of the subsequent destruction comes under the Black Bloc banner, a strategy that emerged in Germany in the late 1970s in response to police violence.
“Black Bloc is not a group, it’s a strategy to fight against capitalism and social oppression,” a Rio member, wanting to be identified simply as Amarildo, told The Rio Times. “We are outraged at the system, we fight against the government, corruption and police oppression.”
The 36 year-old has seen ‘member’ numbers rise rapidly in recent months with people from all ages and classes joining the cause. The Black Bloc RJ Facebook page has received more than 50,000 ‘likes’ since June, although several of its founders were recently arrested and charged with inciting violence.
“They want to be heard and to improve Brazil,” Rafael Alcadipani, a researcher at the Fundição Getúlio Vargas Institute, told The Rio Times. “They want to draw attention to current problems.”
Most recently, those protests have centered around Rio’s state and municipal school teachers and their ongoing strike for better pay and working conditions in the face of new regulations that were being hurried through parliament.
They may have been overturned, but Luiz Paulo Correa e Castro, from the teacher’s union SEPE, told The Rio Times; “[The teachers] demand an end to the low wages and the system of meritocracy in both networks”, and welcomed the presence of the Black Bloc in their fight despite buses being set on fire and buildings attacked during last week’s protest. Eyewitnesses at the time reported seeing Black Bloc members protecting teachers from the police.
“Any person or group can participate in our actions or demonstrations, provided they follow our guidelines,” continues Castro. “[We] point out that much of the violence that has marked the last protests came from elements that infiltrated the demonstrations, such as secret officers of the Military Police or more radicalized groups that blend right in the middle of peaceful protests to provoke and cause riots.”
‘Amarildo’ considers the violence and vandalism to be tools of propaganda, a means to voice their discontent, insisting it is directed against the government and capitalism, hence the attacks on banks and international companies.
“We don’t break things to destroy, but to show our dissatisfaction. We put the trash cans on fire as barricades, to hinder the police from getting at us,” he claims.
Followers of the Black Bloc have also been outspoken about the 2014 World Cup, whose over-budget expenses fanned the flames of public discontent during the Confederations Cup. “During the World Cup there will be as many protests as we can to show the world the absurdity of the World Cup in Brazil. The cup will be held for the elite and not for the people in Brazil,” argues Amarildo.
Tuesday’s Teachers’ Day public holiday promised to be one of the largest protests of recent weeks, but Sepe officially ended the action shortly after 8pm, hours after a decision was made to continue the strike. SEPE explained that the day’s protest should “raise awareness to the Carioca public of the importance of public education and its quality… We also want to express repudiation against the police violence in recent demonstrations.”
Once again, however, the protest ended with a pitched battle in Centro and around Cinelândia between police and several hundred activists. By 9PM, several streets were thick with tear gas and the smoke from fires set in the roads, whilst bank windows were left smashed and several arrests were made.