A police strike in Brazil’s northeast and protests in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo last night marked what social movements said was the start of nationwide demonstrations four weeks before the World Cup.
The federal government yesterday dispatched armored trucks and National Guard troops to quell looting in Recife after police temporarily walked out of the job in one of the 12 cities slated to host the world’s most-watched sporting event. Protesters marching in opposition to the tournament clashed with police in Sao Paulo. Globo TV showed masked youths burning street barricades and hurling stones in Brazil’s biggest city.
“People can complain, protest, dispute -- that’s legitimate democracy,” Justice Minister Jose Eduardo Cardozo told reporters last night after traveling to Recife. “What’s not legitimate is creating panic, disturbance, discomfort and damage to Brazilian citizens.”
The World Cup has become a test for President Dilma Rousseff ahead of elections in October. Workers may threaten to disrupt the event with more strikes while street demonstrations may escalate as they did last year, Joao Augusto de Castro Neves, an analyst at political risk consultancy Eurasia Group, said.
“If there’s a case like last year of police brutality or a fatality, that could get into negative spiral,” Neves said by phone last night. “These protests could gain a similar scale as they gained last year.”
Protests took place in at least 12 cities throughout Brazil yesterday, according to Globo TV. Police deployed pepper spray and used nightsticks against demonstrators from the landless movement in Brasilia, according the website of the news organization. Prison workers in Bahia state, where host city Salvador is located, went on strike as well.
At least seven people in Sao Paulo were detained following demonstrations that included teachers protesting for better pay, according to a posting on the military police’s Twitter page.
In Recife, the police said they would end the strike to prevent further violence after schools and shops shut down out of concerns for safety, Globo’s G1 website reported.
Last June, a bus fare increase sparked Brazil’s biggest demonstrations in two decades, bringing 1 million marchers into the streets to demand better transport, health and education services. The protests occurred during the Confederations Cup, a warm-up event for the monthlong World Cup that begins June 12, and drove Rousseff’s popularity to an all-time low.
While the president’s support among Brazilians improved after protests subsided, it started to fall again in late March.
In a Datafolha inquiry published May 9, 37 percent of those surveyed said they would vote for Rousseff in October, down from 44 percent in February. The poll suggested she would not win in the first round, when a candidate must poll better than the total of her challengers.
The social unrest has prompted World Cup sponsors to seek assurances from Brazil’s government that it has a plan to deal with protests, Thierry Weil, the marketing director for soccer’s governing body FIFA, told reporters last month. Last year’s protests took authorities by surprise, and Brazil’s federal and city governments have told FIFA and sponsors that they are ready for any repeat this time, he said.
“Brazil will know how to receive well those who visit for the World Cup,” Rousseff said at an event yesterday in Brasilia. “We are capable of putting on the Cup of cups.”
Brazil is spending about $11 billion to host the tournament. The 12 new and refurbished stadiums cost 8 billion reais ($3.6 billion), or about 40 percent more than originally budgeted. Eighty percent of Brazilians say that money spent on the stadiums could have been put to better use, according to a MDA survey commissioned by the National Transport Confederation in February.
Rousseff in a campaign spot aired yesterday on the radio by her Workers’ Party said the government faces challenges of modernizing Brazil’s infrastructure while improving the quality of its health care and education. Speaking alongside her predecessor and former union leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Rousseff vowed to protect workers’ salaries and combat inflation that has remained above target throughout her term.
“My government always will be one of growth and stability,” she said.
To contact the reporter on this story: David Biller in Rio de Janeiro at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Andre Soliani at email@example.com Randall Woods