Brazil Protests Persist After Cities Revoke Fare Increase

Banks fortified security and authorities blocked access to public buildings in Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia as protesters pledged more demonstrations for lower bus fares.

In Rio de Janeiro, fences were put up around the governor’s palace, while banks boarded up their branch offices, after several were looted during the week-long protests triggered by a 20-centavo (10 cent) bus fare increase that authorities revoked yesterday. In the nation’s capital, barriers went up and parking lots were cleared around Congress to prevent a repeat of attempts to storm the building.

Some of the demonstrators joining in the nation’s biggest protests in more than two decades today vowed to remain on the streets to demand free public transport, better public services and combat corruption. The approval rating of President Dilma Rousseff’s government has fallen eight percentage points since March, mostly over growing discontent with rising inflation, according to an Ibope poll published yesterday.

Facebook events have been created for demonstrations this afternoon in more than 100 Brazilian cities, including Sao Paulo and Brasilia. On the Rio de Janeiro event page more than 255,000 people confirmed their attendance. “It was never just about 20 cents,” the event page said.

’Direct Action’

“We created a culture of mobilization and direct popular action that can be used for many other issues,” Mayara Vivan, a 23-year-old member of the Free Fare Movement that helped organize the protests, told reporters in Sao Paulo today. “We will continue fighting for free transportation, that’s our banner.”

Authorities in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro yesterday said they were scrapping bus fare increases even as they struggle with strained budgets to pay for the cuts. Starting June 24, bus and subway tickets in Sao Paulo will cost 3 reais ($1.35), reversing the 20 centavo increase that took effect this month.

In Fortaleza, in the country’s northeast, police yesterday battled an estimated 25,000 demonstrators who gathered outside the stadium where the national soccer team was hosting Mexico to protest excessive spending ahead of next year’s FIFA World Cup. Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to repel the crowd, some of whom responded by throwing stones.

‘The Giant Has Awakened’

Inside the soccer stadium, fans held up signs denouncing corruption and bearing what’s become the student-led movement’s rallying cry: “The giant has awakened,” a reference to Brazil’s national anthem. Soccer legend Pele, in a video, called on people to “forget all this confusion that’s happening in Brazil” and refrain from booing the national squad.

Brazil’s striker Neymar, the star of the 2-0 victory over Mexico, took another tack. He supported the protests on his Facebook page, writing “I too want a Brazil that’s more just, more secure, more healthy and more honest.”

The administration of Rousseff, who was jeered at a packed stadium June 15, was surprised by the protests that reached a peak June 17 when more than 200,000 people marched in 12 cities, according to her secretary-general Gilberto Carvalho.

The Ibope poll, which interviewed 3,758 people June 6-7, before the protests began, and had a margin of error of plus or minus two percentage points, showed an increase of 10 percentage points, to 57 percent, of those who disapproved of Rousseff’s fight against inflation.

Jailed, Tortured

Rousseff, who was jailed and tortured for taking up arms against Brazil’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship, pledged earlier this week to listen to the “voices in the street.”

The crisis comes as emerging markets are being battered by investors and Brazil struggles to recover from its second-worst economic performance in 13 years. Latin America’s biggest economy is forecast to grow 2.49 percent this year after expanding 0.9 percent in 2012.

The real plunged 1.17 percent against the dollar as of 1:15 p.m. Brasilia time, its fifth consecutive drop. The Ibovespa stock index fell 0.43 percent as investors abandon emerging markets on expectations the Federal Reserve will begin tapering an $85 billion per month bond-buying program that has helped keep interest rates down. The index has slid 23 percent this year.

Some of the protests last night turned violent. The 13-kilometer (8-mile) bridge connecting Rio with sister city Niteroi was closed during rush hour as riot police tried to block a violent group working their way to the thoroughfare. They instead tried to set fire to a bus with the driver inside.

Since the start of protests, several state capitals, including Cuiaba and Porto Alegre, have reduced bus fares.

Rio de Janeiro mayor Eduardo Paes said the decision to cut fares will cost Rio, the host city of the 2016 Olympic Games, as much as 500 million reais a year. Earlier in the day Sao Paulo mayor Fernando Haddad said that freezing fares at 3 reais would cost 2.7 billion reais in annual subsidies by 2016.

A bill working its way through the Senate that would cut taxes for public transport companies could provide some relief as well.

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