Published On: September 9, 2013

Independence Day 2013

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Brazilians enjoyed a relaxing rest from their normal routines on Saturday to celebrate Independence Day. The military, marching bands, and local police and firemen among others participated in the traditional September 7th day parade in Curitiba, passing in front of the governor’s offices, Tribunal da Justiça, and City Hall in Centro Cívico.

Independence Day celebrations in any country are always an appropriate time for promoting patriotism. With the massive street protests in June that surprised Brazilians and the rest of the world, Brazilians could probably enjoy a little patriotism just now.

While most Brazilians said they were in support of the street protests in June, one inevitable reaction to such demonstrations is for people to be nervous. Large crowds often make people nervous, especially with the threat of violence. Some of the street protests have been marked by violence. In some cases, it was pointless violence by Brazilian youths in the destruction of private property, and in other cases pointless violence by police against the protesters.

Independence Day protest in Brasília (Photo: Felipe Dana)

Besides the threat of violence, another cause for anxiety arises because the protests were so unexpected. It raises the question of, Why now? While the complaints of the protesters were entirely legitimate, they weren’t new. Brazil’s problems with corruption and infrastructure – airports, roads, trains, hospitals, schools – have been widely documented and discussed for decades.

Watching the protests on TV, average Brazilians were forced to confront the question of why the protests were happening now. Had the country changed? Brazil is more prosperous and more educated than it has ever been, so why did people choose to demonstrate now?

Vietnam War protest in US

Another troubling element that surfaces with the protests is the generational divide. During the Vietnam War protests in the US in the 1970s, most protestors were young: high school and university students. Among Americans watching the Vietnam protests on TV, a generation gap opened up between young people who supported the protesters and their parents, who couldn’t understand why the demonstrators were so angry. Parents asked their teenage children, “Why are Buddhist monks committing suicide by setting themselves on fire to protest a war not taking place in their own country?” It remains to be seen if a generational division will be created by the continuing protests in Brazil.

The protests in Brazil have a clear anti-government message, as did the protests in the US during the Vietnam War era. Interestingly, today Americans are equally dissatisfied with their government, thanks to the economic Recession, two simultaneous foreign wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with another one on the horizon in Syria, and the Congress in Washington completely stagnant and ineffective. According to a recent Gallup poll, only 10 percent of Americans now have a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in Congress. This is the lowest percentage of confidence in the US Congress since Gallup started tracking the measure in 1973.

While the major protests in Brazil appear to be over, no one can predict if and when they will return. On Saturday, Independence Day, protests on a smaller scale were organized in Brazil’s major cities. Police officers in riot gear faced hundreds of demonstrators in Rio, arresting at least 24 people. As in the other cities, the protests were organized to challenge the military parades commemorating Brazil’s independence. People attending the parade, including children, suffered from tear-gas inhalation as the police tried to disperse the protests.

Curitiba

Hundreds of protesters in Maceió halted a military parade altogether and the security detail of Teotônio Vilela Filho, the governor of Alagoas, hastily removed him from the scene, according to televised reports.

In Brasília, protesters were dispersed by the police with pepper spray as they tried to get near Congress. Security forces, including police officers on horseback, tried to disperse the protesters. Amid the tumult, two photojournalists were attacked by police dogs, according to local news reports. One of the photographers, who works for the Reuters news agency, was injured and removed from the scene by the police, apparently so he could receive medical care, the newspaper Folha de São Paulo reported.

Many Brazilians would welcome future mass protests as they are not yet satisfied that the government is making significant progress. On the other hand, some Brazilians are tired of the disruptions the protestors create with snarled traffic and bank and government offices closing early on days when protests are planned. In Curitiba, no one enjoys looking at the windows of City Hall, half of which were broken by protesters in June and remain so.

Independence parade, Curitiba

Protesters and their supporters disagree on what the main objectives of the protests should be. While the government recently passed a bill in Congress, known as the Oil Royalties Bill, to allocate profits from oil revenue for increases in health care funding, some Brazilians say it’s not enough. Some support Dilma’s efforts to bring more doctors to rural and underserved areas, while others are against the arrival of Cuban doctors.

Many of the protesters want the protests to continue until Dilma and her political party, PT, (The Workers Party) are pushed out of power in Brasília. However, the protest group that started the protests in June, demanding the repeal of the bus fare hike, believes the protests should stop as the bus fare hikes have been repealed in a number of large cities. In Curitiba, the fare dropped from R$2.85 to R$2.70, although the fare on Sunday was raised.

Independence Day in Curitiba

In another concession to protesters, Brazil’s House of Deputies (Representatives) in Brasília voted last week to end the system of secret voting in the national legislature. This secret voting was one of the five specific reform items that Dilma told lawmakers to pass to meet demonstrators’ demands. Under current Brazilian law, senators and deputies vote on bills in secret. It’s only when a lawmaker specifically requests an open ballot that citizens know how their representative voted. The vote now goes to the senate, where it’s also likely to pass. The bill was first introduced in the Congress in 2006, but it took the mass protests to convince politicians to listen. Anti-corruption activists have long called for the end to the secret voting system that they say makes it impossible for citizens to hold politicians accountable for how they vote.

Thanks in part to these efforts, Dilma’s approval ratings rose almost 7 percentage points over the last month. The number of Brazilians who approve of her government’s performance rose to 38.1 percent in August from 31.3 percent in July.

Another emotional issue that Brazil’s mass protests have inflamed is, Will the image of Brazil be altered in the eyes of the world because of the protests? Will the world trust Brazil as a safe destination for tourism with the World Cup and the Olympics coming?

Perhaps the most pressing question at this time: Will the general atmosphere of life in Brazil – easygoing, happy, festive – be altered by the protests? Brazil is famous for its all-night parties, dancing, and singing. Brazilians could be called the world’s experts in happiness. However, massive street protests express the opposite – millions of people unhappy about their lives.

Brazil is now on the world stage thanks to its enormous economic growth and power. As the World Cup and presidential elections approach next year, the whole world will be watching. What everyone wants to know – is there a difference between everyday personal happiness and political happiness? Can Brazilians find a way to mix protests with parties? Can these conflicting ideas co-exist in the lives of Brazilians?

 

Curitiba

 

 

Michael Rubin is an American living in Curitiba. 

[Curitiba photos by the author]

 in Rio de Janeiro September 7, 2013. (Reuters/Ricardo Moraes)sh with riot police during a protest as they try to approach a military parade on Brazil’s Independence Day in Rio de Janeiro September 7, 2013. (Reuters/Ricardo

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