By Maria Lopez Conde and Anna Kaiser, Contributing Reporters
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has unveiled a three-pronged plan to improve public services amid continued widespread demonstrations over the poor quality basic services and World Cup expenditures across Brazil. Rousseff addressed the nation in a prerecorded televised speech on Friday night, lauding the “peaceful and democratic voice from the street.”
“The direct message from the streets is peaceful and democratic. It demands systematic fight on corruption and to the diversion of public resources,” Rousseff said.
“If we take advantage of the impulse of this new political energy, we can do a lot of things better and faster that Brazil has still not been able to do because of economic and political limitations,” Rousseff continued, repudiating the violence that has characterized some protests.
“But, if we let violence let us stray from the path, we will not only be wasting a great historic opportunity, but also running the risk of losing a lot of things.”
In recent weeks, protests that began over a R$0.20 increase bus fare increase in a number of Brazilian cities grew into a much wider demonstration movement expressing discontent over the quality of public services, such as education, health care and government expenditures in international sports events.
Some demonstrations, in fact, turned to violence and vandalism. Last Thursday night, a massive demonstration took 300,000 people to the streets of Rio de Janeiro, with some groups later splintering off and attacking the buildings of the Prefeitura and Correios, as well as damaging banks, newspaper stands and traffic lights.
Television footage showed groups of people with their faces covered, armed with sticks and metal bars, throwing stones at police officers and battering buildings and wreaking havoc in Rio’s Centro. In Brasília, a violent mob attempted to break into the Itamaraty Palace, the office of Brazil’s Ministry of Foreign Relations.
Protests continued on Friday across Rio de Janeiro and other major Brazilian cities, but were much more subdued. Demonstrators took to the streets of Ipanema and Leblon and Barra da Tijuca‘s Avenida das Américas.
Protesters in São Paulo blocked access to the city’s international airport and the main roads that connect it to other cities.
In her speech Friday night speech, Rousseff sought to validate protesters’ demands after a day of large-scale protests, announcing her intention to meet with local and state officials to form a “pact” to improve public services.
The first focus will be on a National Urban Mobility Plan to increase public transportation coverage. The second focus involves education, with plans to gear all of Brazil’s royalties levied on petroleum production towards education.
Finally, Rousseff vowed to bring foreign doctors to Brazil to increase the country’s health system coverage.
“Brazil fought a lot to become a democratic country,” Rousseff, who was reportedly tortured as a dissident under the Brazilian dictatorship over thirty years ago, affirmed.
“And it’s also fighting hard to become a more just country. It was not easy to get to where we are, and it is not as easy to get to where many of those who went to the streets want to get. We can only make that a reality if we strengthen democracy – the power of citizens and of the Republic.”
Read more (in Portuguese).
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