By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – The center of Rio de Janeiro faced another violent day on Wednesday as more than 500 demonstrators stood in front of the city’s legislative building to protest the proposed austerity measures during the first day of the legislative year. Among the measures to be voted on by the legislators is the plan to privatize Rio’s water supply distributor Cedae.
Critics of the Cedae privatization plan, agreement set between the state and federal governments in return for federal aid, even found an ally among state representatives. “The governor negotiated alone in Brasilia and we do not have information on what was negotiated,” said Representative Carlos Osório, noting that it is impossible to close an agreement of this proportion without to legislators and the population first.
By mid-afternoon, the peaceful protest had quickly turned violent as the protest spread to other streets forcing storeowners and even a metro station to close their doors.
Police officers trying to disperse the crowd, who gathered outside the state legislative building, threw tear gas and used stun grenades. To some, watching from nearby office buildings, the scene was one of a battlefield.
“Disruption was total. Carioca metro was closed, shops were boarded up and traffic on Rio Branco paralyzed (especially when the bus was set on fire),” lawyer and British expatriate in Rio, Craig Allison, told The Rio Times.
Allison works from an office on the intersection between Avenida Rio Branco and Rua Assembleia and said the streets remained deserted for more than three hours due to fires, tear gas and the stand-off between police and demonstrators.
For Allison, who has been living in Rio since 2009, the dissatisfaction of residents with local officials has become more than evident. “Although this was a display of dissatisfaction by the more radical protesters, I think the widespread anger is evident and it is part of a wider sea change that is sweeping Brazil in the light of Operation Lava Jato. People have simply had enough,” he said.
Demonstrators, most of them public workers, complain that they have not been paid in months, suffering the consequences of chronic incompetence, fiscal mismanagement, and high-levels of corruption. “The irony was not lost on me that the policemen tasked with keeping the peace and the firemen putting out the fires are, in many cases, also yet to be paid!” concluded Allison.