June 17 (Bloomberg) -- As many as 20,000 Brazilians are expected to march in Sao Paulo today in what organizers vow will be the biggest yet in a wave of protests to rock Latin America’s largest economy in little more than a week.
Authorities are pledging to keep riot police at bay to avoid a repeat of clashes June 13 that left dozens wounded when rubber bullets and tear gas were fired upon activists protesting an increase in bus fares. Groups in three other cities -- Rio de Janeiro, Brasilia and Belo Horizonte -- are also taking to the streets today.
The demonstrations have grown larger and spread across the country as discontent about inflation and the economy mount, fueling dissatisfaction with President Dilma Rousseff. The president, whose approval rating slipped eight percentage points this month, was jeered at a packed soccer stadium over the weekend while inaugurating the Confederations Cup.
“An alarm has sounded,” Alexandre Barros, head of Brasilia-based political risk consulting firm Early Warning. “The average Brazilian doesn’t know what the government should do, but they feel their pockets being pinched.”
Soccer fans booed Rousseff for more than a minute as she was introduced in Brasilia at the June 15 opening of the two-week tournament, a warm-up to next year’s World Cup. The heckling intensified when Sepp Blatter, president of soccer’s governing body FIFA, admonished the crowd for not showing “respect.” A stern-faced Rousseff then cut short the moment with a single sentence declaring a start to the tournament.
The president’s political allies played down the significance of the jeering at a game where tickets cost more than $100 -- about a quarter of Brazil’s monthly minimum wage. Jose Guimaraes, leader of the ruling Workers’ Party in the lower house, told O Estado de S. Paulo newspaper that rowdy fans would’ve greeted any politician introduced the same way.
Rousseff’s office declined to comment.
Outside the Brasilia stadium, dozens of demonstrators blocked traffic and taunted patrons to protest the 30 billion reais ($13.9 billion) the government is spending on arenas and related investments to host the World Cup.
Blatter said groups were using the international media spotlight provided by the tournament to voice their grievances.
“Today is the third day of the competition, this will calm down,” Blatter said in an interview in Rio today.
The demonstrations in major Brazilian cities were started by a student group called the Free Fare Movement, which has advocated an end to bus fares since 2005. The marches have grown after television broadcasts of police battling activists and have since evolved into a catch-all for groups and individuals protesting everything from corruption and income inequality to environmental concerns and urban violence.
Underlying the dissatisfaction is a deteriorating economic outlook. Rousseff’s mentor and predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, is credited with helping lift 40 million people out of poverty while keeping prices tame during his eight-year term. Under Rousseff, the economy has posted its worst two-year period of growth in more than a decade, while inflation has risen to 6.5 percent in May, the top of the central bank’s target range.
Analysts in the latest central bank survey forecast growth of 2.49 percent this year.