Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff is meeting with protesters, mayors and governors today to discuss measures in response to a two-week-long street clamor for improved transport and public services and against corruption.
Rousseff is receiving leaders of the Free Fare Movement before meeting with state and city authorities, according to her agenda. Brazil’s largest street marches in two decades are scheduled to continue this week, with protesters today blocking roads near the southern port of Santos. Yesterday, families staged protests in Brasilia, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, painting Brazil’s flag and signing a petition for authorities to do more for children.
“In Brazil demonstrations are associated with chaos,” said Raquel Fuzaro, a 41-year lawyer and mother of two who helped organize the event in Brasilia via social media sites. “We came with our children to show that this is a peaceful movement.”
Two women were killed during a protest this morning in the town of Cristalina, near Brasilia, according to the federal highway police. The two victims were occupying a highway just past 7:00 a.m. local time when they were hit, bringing the total number of protests deaths nationwide to four. The driver of the vehicle has not yet been found, according to the police.
The two women were among a group of roughly 400 demonstrators calling for improvements including better street lighting and recognition of land ownership, newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo reported. Protesters demanding lower bus fares today also blocked the access road to the port of Santos, the country’s biggest, according to Globo’s news portal G1.
The weekend’s biggest disturbance was in Belo Horizonte, where police had to restrain tens of thousands of demonstrators who massed outside the stadium hosting a Confederations Cup match between Mexico and Japan. Police estimate over 5,000 protested in Salvador, where Brazil played Italy. Demonstrators also camped outside the Rio beach-front apartment of state governor Sergio Cabral.
While 40 million people emerged from poverty over the past decade, rising inflation and discontent over public services contributed to an eight percentage point fall in Rousseff’s approval rating to 71 percent in June from March, according to a poll commissioned by the National Industry Confederation. The survey of 2,002 people from June 8-11 had a margin of error of two percentage points.
Brazil’s stocks, bonds and currency are being battered by an emerging markets sell-off after economic growth missed estimates made by analysts for a fifth straight time in the first quarter. The world’s biggest emerging market in 2012 after China posted its second-worst economic performance in 13 years while inflation this month breached the 6.5 percent upper limit of the government target range.
The Ibovespa stock index fell 1.5 percent at 3:58 p.m. and was down 24 percent this year, the worst performer among 18 major equity markets. The real gained 0.6 percent.
In her first public appearance in three days, Rousseff on June 21 vowed to harness the student-led movement’s energy for faster and more equitable development. A former member of the Marxist underground that battled the 1964-1985 military dictatorship, she also urged Brazilians to refrain from violence that she said embarrasses the nation.
“If we let violence take us off our path, we will not only be wasting a big historic opportunity, but also will be running the risk of losing a lot,” Rousseff said in nationally televised address.
Demonstrators now face the challenge of sustaining their momentum after Rio and Sao Paulo revoked a 20 centavos (9 cent) bus fare increase that first triggered the unrest three weeks ago.
In a sign of how much the movement has since grown, protesters this weekend fielded a range of grievances, from teachers marching for better pay to gay-rights activists opposing a bill to allow medical treatment for homosexuality. In Rio, demonstrators lined up hundreds of soccer balls on the beach to draw attention to the nation’s murder victims.
The protests come as Brazil hosts the two-week Confederations Cup, a test run for next year’s World Cup that has become a symbol to many protesters of misplaced priorities in a country where 21 percent of the population still lives below the poverty line.
Rousseff, 65, has defended the spending on stadiums, saying it will improve public infrastructure and the investments will stimulate economic growth. In her address to the nation, she called on her compatriots to organize a peaceful World Cup and show visitors the same hospitality and respect that Brazil’s national squad and citizens have received around the world for decades.
The appeal to nation’s love of soccer may not win over those in the streets. A poll among demonstrators in Sao Paulo by Datafolha found that only 10 percent would support Rousseff if she seeks re-election next year.
The demonstrators’ preferred choice is Supreme Court Chief Justice Joaquim Barbosa, who has won popular acclaim for presiding over a landmark corruption case against members of the ruling Workers’ Party. The nation’s first black chief justice had 30 percent support in the Datafolha poll, which had a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points. An additional 27 percent said they’d cast blank ballots or nullify their votes.
Rousseff “ignored what the protests were about,” Rogerio Redondo, a 58-year-old engineer, said at a march along one of Sao Paulo’s main avenues on June 22. “She was too concerned about justifying the World Cup when she could have announced an effort to investigate whether there’s been corruption. She missed out on a big opportunity.”