By Ben Tavener, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – It was not so long ago that Brazilians would have thought twice about protesting, after two decades of suppression by the ruling military regime. Now, 26 years of democracy has given birth to a more vocal, tech-savvy generation of Brazilians capable of gathering impressive numbers of likeminded people using social media such as Facebook and Twitter.
Where people in other parts of the world have been busy “Occupying Wall Street” and ousting Arab World dictators, one topic dominates in Brazil: corruption.
On September 7th, Brazil’s Independence Day, more than 25,000 people took to the streets of Brasília, home of the Brazilian government, and in twenty other cities throughout the country to march against corruption and the impunity of politicians.
Last week’s October 12th public holiday saw 20,000 protesters take to the streets of Brasília, with 2,000 more in Rio and notable gatherings in cities up and down the country, from Goiânia to Florianópolis.
The cause was the same, and again they were convened not by political party affiliation or union membership but by social media groups, which are being seen as more capable of uniting diverse protest groups. Hundreds of thousands had confirmed their attendance on Facebook, with hashtags #marcha (march) and #corrupção (corruption) leading Brazil’s mid-week trending topics on Twitter.
Supporters are encouraged by these regular anti-corruption protests, sensing evidence of Brazilians feeling more in-touch with political life. Others are encouraged that their disdain for corruption may finally be heard and make a difference.
Helping with the momentum, President Dilma Rousseff has taken a strong, public stand against corruption, in recent months overseeing the standing-down of a string of ministers accused of corruption, as well as firing her top aide earlier this year.
Also, there has been progress with the popular anti-corruption Ficha Limpa (“Clean Record”) movement – which got the ball rolling for new legislation to stop politicians with serious criminal convictions from standing for elected government positions.
There has, however, been some criticism of the protests, particularly by those saying that the anti-corruption movement is not focused enough and is unlikely ever to bring tangible change to the country’s political landscape. Others say that the anti-corruption crowd is continually hijacking and blurring messages from other protests.
But political commentator Eliane Cantanhede says that no matter what happens, the anti-corruption protests should continue: “We spent many years complaining about how passive Brazilians are [politically], and now people are finally mobilizing, we should applaud that. But now people have started saying that it’s all for nothing,” she said, speaking to Globo TV News.
“I disagree. 20,000 people out in Brasília on a sunny national holiday is an extremely important political demonstration. Look at the Ficha Limpa project. Things are now happening and citizens should play their part in demanding an end to corruption,” she continued. “You’re not going to see an end to it, but you can improve things a great deal.”
Groups, such as the Movimento Contra A Corrupção (Anti-Corruption Movement) and Brasil Unido Contra A Corrupção (Brazil United Against Corruption), regularly post information about upcoming protests on Facebook and Twitter.
According to a recent survey by FIESP, Brazil loses over $47 billion a year in tax revenue, public money and other areas as a result of the country’s widespread corruption.