While the world has been watching Turkey, another country is experiencing revolt. That country is Brazil. Just like Turkey, it is relatively successful, economically speaking. Just like Turkey, the results of economic growth are divided very unequally. Just like in Turkey, a relatively small provocation is setting off a much bigger chain reaction. Unlike in Turkey, that provocation is a direct attack on living standards. But the anger exploding goes much deeper than that.
By Peter Storm
Brazil has seen strong economic growth, although this is slowing. In 2010, the economy grew by 7,5 percent; in 2011, the IMF ‘s estimate is 2,7 percent. Short-term slowdown is supposed to be followed by stronger growth in 2013, although, with IMF statistics, you can never tell. However, the parallel with Turkey, also a strongly growing economy moving into a slowdown but not quite in recession, is striking. Economies like Turkey and Brazil are becoming quite an important force in the world economy. What happens in these countries matters. Better watch out, and better be prepared to extend the hand of solidarity!
What is happening there, is revolt. In Turkey it was defence of the Gezi Park that provided the spark. In Brazil, it was the transport fares that drove people to the streets in anger. On 2 June, authorities in the metropolis of Sao Paolo brought the price of a single ticket from 1.40 dollar to 1.50 dollar. This comes in the context of an inflation of 15.5 percent. And it proved the proverbial last straw.
There were demonstrations on four consecutive days in the city, from 10 June onwards. On 13 June, 5,000 people protested. “The demonstrators were mostly university students, but the authorities said there were also groups of anarchists looking for a fight.” The idea that some students might be anarchists by conviction, that some anarchists go to college because they like to learn, apparently does not occur to either “authorities” or the BBC. And the ones most “looking for a fight” were above all the police themselves. They used teargas and rubber bullets against unarmed demonstrators of which, yes, some set fire to rubber and others attacked shops. That is what desperate people do if you make life even harder for them by rising prices of public amenities in a context of inflation. There were 55 people with injuries, and the number of arrests exceeded 200. “Police say they seized petrol bombs, knives, and drugs.” Sure. And yes, police acted with professionalism”, according to the state governor. Obviously. Repression, after all, is is their profession.
This was all reported on 14 June on the BBC website. The following day, the Guardian had more. Demonstrations in Sao Paolo, Rio de Janeiro, Porto Alegre and the capital Brasilia itself. 130 people temporarily detained, at lest 100 demonstrators hurt, 12 police agents injured as well. Sometimes police attacked basically nonviolent crowds. Sometimes, demonstrators showed their anger by painting graffiti, smashing windows, setting garbage to flames etcetera. Police say they attacked because demonstrators took another read than permitted, and threw things at the police. Police charges were ferocious, with rubber bullets, tear gas, truncheons. Even the mayor of Sao Paolo admits that police have not been following “protocols” and an investigation is being announced.
Why the anger? There is the rise of subway and bus tickets. But there is more. “It’s about a society that is sick of corrupt politicians not making good on their promises to make improvements… We want decent education, healthcare and transportation. That’s what the fight is all about”, according to a 24 year old witness of the protest.
It is the same story all over again: while economic growth is pushed, inequality grows. People protest, police attacks, and the revolt deepens and broadens. That is what we see happening in Brazil. If you want to see what the revolt and the repression looks like, check saladuprising.tumblr.com/ The name “salad uprising”, by the way, has a bizarre background: people took vinegar, usually used as salad dressing, to the demonstrations as an anti teargas measure. Police arrested them for that, because they say you can make weapons out of vinegar!
There is more going on in Brazil than protest against price rises. There is revolt in the countryside as well. Brazil has built its neoliberal capitalist economy on the back of slavery, land robbery and downright genocide of the indigenous population. The struggle against colonialism and for indigenous liberation is continuing. In this struggle, communities clash with all kinds of resource exploitation and infrastructural projects that are building blocks of neoliberal development.
In recent years, there have been actions against a giant dam building project at Belo Monte. This projects threatens to harm the lands and ecosystems on which indegenous communities make their living. There was an occupation of the building site on 28 May, not the first of its kind. There was a protest rally in the capital Brasilia against the project on 6 June.
In the meantime, a shrill light is shed on a colonial genocidal past that is, sadly, continuing. An official report has come to light on the treatment of indigenous people by the state institution responsible for state-indigenous relations. It contains a chilling series of horror stories. Thirty villagers attacked from the air by dynamite; 2 of them survived. Smallpox, a deadly disease, spread on purpose to get rid of people. The list goes on, exceeding 1,000 crimes specifically mentioned, on a 7,000 page text. The report was submitted in 1967, but ‘disappeared’, as did many of the victims. Only this Spring, it reappeared, a fate that was not granted to the victims themselves. In the meantime, the military dictatorship has gone, but terror instigated by landowners and agricultural capitalists against indigenous people and landless peasants is continuing. So, fortunately, is the resistance.
Indigenous people are confronting an enemy that is not just colonial but neoliberal. They are attacked and murdered, because they are in the way of profitable export-oriented agriculture, and of the giant infrastructure needed to feed energy to the fast-growing industry of Brazil. The same monster that drives prices of subway and buses to unbearable heights is driving the indigenous people from their lands. Demonstrating university students and occupying indigenous people are fighting different fights. But they are part of the same struggle, against a neoliberal state built on colonial foundations. Better watch out how that double struggle unfolds.
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This article Peter Storm wrote for ROARmag.org, where you can find an illustrated and slightly edited version, under the title: “In Brazil, a dual struggle against neoliberalism”.
For original see: