RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Although the government is rolling back the bus fare increases it seems to have little effect on the protests sweeping the country. My perspective, along with many others, is that all this is a reflection of the lower and middle classes’ frustration with the very unequal wealth distribution in the county.
It is true Brazil has seen impressive improvements in lifting the poorest citizens out of extreme poverty, and into the so-called middle class. Last September the government proudly announced that for the first time ever over fifty percent of the country were “middle class” … But this is defined as people who live in households with a per capita monthly income of between R$291 (US$145) and R$1,019 (US$500).
At the same time, a recent survey of families by O Globo newspaper also reported many seeing expenses go up forty percent in the last year, despite the government’s official annual inflation figure of 6.5 percent.
The economic miracle happening in Brazil is helping the poorest in Brazil, but what these people in the ‘middle classes’ are seeing, is how much money is being made and spent – and where is it going? The sentiment is that the money is mostly going to the ultra-wealthy, through ingrained corruption schemes.
An example – which we can’t verify – is that I’ve heard the reason all these football stadiums had been delayed is to close the bidding process to ‘insiders’ (allowed after a certain point), and then further delays allow for expenditures to balloon – right up to the legal limit of fifty percent over budget… But that is speculation as far as The Rio Times is concerned.
What is clear is that economic inequality is a massive issue in Brazil, which will continue for some time. The finance minister for Brazil, Guido Mantega said in 2011 that it may take ten to twenty years for Brazilian citizens to have a standard of living similar to Europe. But the increase in luxury items like cars and ballooning property prices – and world class (and massively expensive football stadiums) is being seen on the streets today.
Basically the speed that Brazil is distributing its new wealth is not fast enough for those not in the upper-class. We see a increase in luxury cars driven by playboys (local slang for rich young men flashing their money) on the streets, and rampant consumerism of items like R$1,000 smartphones – but that is a month’s wage for half the country.
For much of last year there were labor strikes across most sectors; federal workers, university teachers, doctors and health care workers, bus and truck drivers, post office workers, bank workers, even police in Rio and Salvador just before the annual Carnival celebrations.
In 2011 there was a movement of protests to stop political corruption across Brazil. At the time reports indicated Brazil loses over $47 billion a year in tax revenue, public money and other areas as a result of the country’s widespread corruption.
We are seeing a continuation of that, and a signal that change has to happen faster for the larger proportion of the citizens in Brazil.