Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff condemned the use of violence by a minority of demonstrators who she said are embarrassing the nation and threaten to undermine gains made since the return of democracy.
“If we let violence take us off our path, we will not only be wasting a big historic opportunity, but also running the risk of losing a lot” we’ve already accomplished, Rousseff said in a nationally televised address. “We can’t live with this violence that embarrasses Brazil.”
Rousseff has struggled to get ahead of a movement that has swept Latin America’s biggest economy over the past two weeks. Today’s remarks were her first since June 18, when the former Marxist guerrilla vowed to listen to “the voices of the street,” a promise she repeated tonight.
As she spoke, hundreds of protesters blocked the highway to Sao Paulo’s international airport, forcing police to beef up security. In Rio de Janeiro, protesters marched peacefully in the beach-side neighborhood of Leblon to the home of Governor Sergio Cabral. Elsewhere in the city smaller groups battled police and sacked storefronts.
In her address, delivered from the presidential palace, Rousseff said that her government would maintain order and urged Brazilians to reciprocate the warm hospitality the country’s soccer squad has for decades received abroad and organize a peaceful and orderly World Cup next year.
“With respect, warmth and happiness we should treat our guests,” Rousseff said.
Rousseff didn’t outline new policy action in the nine-minute speech but instead repeated a pledge to earmark for education 100 percent of the royalties Brazil stands to earn from offshore oil finds.
She said she’d meet with protesters to listen to their demands and tap their energy to pursue a pact with local authorities to deliver improvements in public transport. She also endorsed a plan to bring thousands of doctors from abroad to improve the quality of health care at state clinics.
After watching last night from the presidential palace crowds gather in what was the biggest mass protest yet, Rousseff today met with members of her cabinet to discuss emergency measures to quell the violence and seek solutions to demands for better education, health care and other public services.
“Brazil struggled a lot to become a democratic country and it’s struggling a lot to become a more just country,” she said tonight.