By Maria Lopez Conde, Senior Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – Discussion of a Senate bill that would change Brazil’s penal code to include harsher sentences against those who engage in vandalism during protests has been postponed until after the FIFA World Cup, Agência Brasil reported this week.
The news comes just three days after the federal government said it would no longer support any of the two anti-vandalism bills that are up for discussion in Congress. Earlier this year, President Dilma Rousseff’s aides had made it clear that the president wanted to see the anti-vandalism bill in the Senate passed before Brazil hosts the international soccer tournament this June and July.
“[President] Dilma [Rousseff], listening to society, as is good practice in any democratic government and listening to the government, to its areas, reached the conclusion that it is not for us to make a new law regarding protests,” Gilberto Carvalho, Minister Secretary-General of the Presidency, told reporters on Thursday, May 15.
“It’s a gesture in which the president reaches out to society with her hand in the sense that she is trusting that there is maturity and there are conditions so that we can have a demonstration without violence,” he added. There is a chance the anti-vandalism bill might reach a vote in the Senate on May 21st, but without the president’s support, the bill will likely die.
The controversial bill, which considers wearing masks while engaging in vandalism an aggravator, also increases penalties for damaging private or public property. Perpetrators could receive high fines and up to a five-year prison sentence. The bill’s effort to implement harsher punishment has divided lawmakers in Congress.
“What is being proposed with that text is to transform protests into a crime qualifier and that is not acceptable. If there are abuses at protests, we already have laws for that. Someone went too far at a demonstration, put him in jail, reprimand him and that’s it,” Senator Randolfe Rodrigues (PSOL), told Agência Brasil. Both Rodrigues and Rio de Janeiro Senator Lindbergh Farias (PT) have rejected the bill.
Its supporters, however, claim Brazil’s penal code needs to adapt to the country’s new challenges. “Brazilian society is outraged in the face of escalating protests have slipped into a box exacerbated violence,” its first proponent, Senator Armando Monteiro (PTB), said.
The Senator who drafted the latest version of the proposal, Pedro Taques (PDT), told Agência Brasil that the anti-vandalism bill does not “regulate protests and only establishes penalties for those who commit crimes.”
If approved, the law would also hand out eight to twelve-year prison sentences for individuals who damage city buses and public transportation facilities. According to Senator Romero Romero Jucá (PMDB), 286 buses have been set ablaze during demonstrations in Brazil since June 2013, when a large protest movement in response to an increase in bus fares and to large expenditures on World Cup stadiums sent millions to the streets in Brazil.
Smaller, though frequent, protests have gripped cities across the country since. A few of those turned violent and included clashes between police and protesters, as well as damage of public and private property.
The specter of additional protests during the international soccer event – similar to those that occurred during the Confederations Cup last year – has authorities scrambling to enhance security ahead of the World Cup. On May 4th, the Brazilian army announced that close to three thousand soldiers trained to combat terrorism and chemical warfare will service Brazil’s capital city, Brasília, during the international tournament.
The anti-vandalism bill was another effort to keep violence at protests at bay during the World Cup as “Não Vai Ter Copa” (There will not be a World Cup) movement strengthens in Brazil. Last Thursday, May 15th, anti-World Cup protests were scheduled in fifty Brazilian cities. Thousands of members from the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) and student organizations joined in on the protests. Those groups have promised to continue protesting during the World Cup.