By Ben Tavener, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Nearly a month of countrywide protests amidst the global spotlight of hosting (and winning) the FIFA Confederations Cup has left Brazil reeling. The crowds at the protests have significantly reduced in size however, with last Sunday’s Maracanã Stadium protesters outnumbered by the 6,000 police on site to maintain order.
While the government has reacted already by rolling back the rise in public transport fares, as well as the controversial constitutional amendment, PEC 37, Brazil is waiting to see what happens next.
Protesters speaking to The Rio Times outside the Maracanã on Sunday said an end to the protests was not in their plans: “The people have woken up; that scares the government. We have seen we can get change by coming to the streets and we will keep protesting until we get what we want,” said Jefferson, 21, from São Gonçalo.
Cátia, 36, from São Paulo vowed: “This is not over. The government is spending billions on stadiums when we need investment to improve our appalling health and education systems.”
President Dilma Rousseff has attempted to placate protesters by setting out five pacts for greater transparency, extra cash for public services, and a plebiscite (popular vote) on political reforms, which she has rushed to Congress for further action: “Taking into account this energy that we’ve seen at the protests, I would like to be able [to have political reforms already working in 2014],” the president said.
For ruling parties, the quicker the prickly question of political reform and the plebiscite is handled, the better, given next year’s crucial elections, and to that end, politicians have rushed to show they are cleaning up Brazil’s politics: fast-tracking anti-corruption legislation that had previously stalled in government for years.
The country’s Supreme Court has also jailed a serving congressman, Rondônia deputy Natan Donadon, forcing him to serve a prison sentence handed down in 2010 for corrupt activities – the first such case for 25 years.
According to a poll by Datafolha, the President’s approval rating has now slumped from the 55 percent to just thirty percent and would not win a presidential election in the first round if held today. It also showed Rio state governor Sérgio Cabral and city mayor Eduardo Paes would also be lucky to be re-elected, with approval ratings crashing to 25 and 30 percent respectively.
A report in O Globo highlighting massive, mismanaged and ineffective government spending may come into the cross-hairs. The report states the country’s government structure spends a staggering R$611 billion (US$274 billion) annually, including 39 ministries – far more than the fifteen used to govern the United States, for example.
Fernando Holanda Barbosa, professor of economics at Rio’s Fundação Getúlio Vargas, said the federal government should consider cutting “half the ministries” to save money for other areas: “These structures should be returned to what they’re meant for: providing a service to those who have to pay for them, not meeting politicians’ needs.”
The wave of mass demonstrations seems to have peaked for now, since over a million people were estimated to have taken to the streets in Brazil’s state capitals on Thursday June 20th. If more protests are to come, the Pope’s visit for World Youth Day (WYD) from July 23rd – 28th seems like a likely time.