Violence in São Paulo

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It’s a Saturday morning. The opening day of the Confederations Cup, a major soccer (football) event that this year is hosted in Brazil. Everything these days, seems to be hosted or related to Brazil in one way or another. But today is different. I’m having breakfast in one of my favourite spots that has a communal table. We sit across from  a 20 something girl, who I never met before but we start to chat about the topic “du jour”. The protest and subsequent violence that’s erupted last Thursday night in the center of the Capital of the largest state of Brazil. The reason for the protest, a 20 cent (10 cents US) increase in the public transportation fares. It is clear from our conversation that it is not about 20 cents. 20 cents is little in the major scheme of things. Her breakfast costs probably 100 times more than 20 cents. But there are millions of 20 cent reasons that have people fed up. And it has taken a long time to get Brazilians to be really upset. By and large, they have been indifferent, at least reaction-wise to what has happened in the country plagued by corruption, bureaucracy and populist policies.

The first large protest against the government, quickly turned into a violent encounter between protesters and police. And it became so because, as in all of this events, there’s always a small group of vandals that take to the steers and take advantage of the situation to create havoc. I barely saw the newscasts in the aftermath of the chaos. And this is not a recount of what I saw on TV or read somewhere. I was there just by chance as I made my way to a lecture in a design school. I saw it, a rather small amount of people who decided to trash the streets, set garbage bins on fire and destroy everything on their paths. Police forces responded very violently, injuring people, firing rubber bullets and tear-gas. But beyond the violence that threatens to spear again over the coming days as more and larger protest have been scheduled all across the country, lies the real motivation for this movement.

Government role includes creating infrastructure and the conditions for the economy to develop. They have to provide the population with the basic services, which should include education, health and affordable public transportation. But as in many countries in Latin-America, Brazil suffers from excessive taxes, bad health services and education and decrepit infrastructure. Further more, the conditions to create a favourable business environment are also beyond belief, with a policy of red tape to open small businesses that can break even the most patient person.

Is the government to blame for this conditions? Of course it is. But blame is not limited to the government but to everyone here as well. The majority, not to say all of the population, has really no idea how much taxes they pay. Ask anyone on the street what was the tax rate on the pizza they ordered today and nobody has an answer. Taxes can be up to 50% of the purchase price of a given item, yet nobody really knows. And worse, most don’t even bother to ask. So how can someone demand to get clear accounts, when not even the very basics of the taxation system are understood. Yes, spending billions of dollars organizing three major sporting events (confederations cup, World Cup and Olympics) is an outrageous proposition given that there is not even the infrastructure to host them. Just imagine what 2016 will bring to Rio de Janeiro, a city already over stressed in their airport capacity with no event going on. It is great that Brazil will host so many events but it is an opportunity for the country to grow, yet many have used it as their own opportunity to grow…their wallets. A real shame.

Paraphrasing (and not quoting) a movie that features some excellent writing and most recently President Obama: “Democracy is hard, advanced citizenship is hard”.  Brazilians need to learn, need to question, need to demand but at the same time they need to be accountable for Brazil. Protesting in the streets is a legitimate right.

Brazil, lets demand clear accounts but lets be accountable. Lets ask for better governments but vote for them. Lets demand better use of taxes, but lets question them and pay for them. Lets demand better education but lets learn.

Lets protest but lets respect.

Brazil deserves better. Brazil will be better.

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