Brazilians take to the streets to protest corruption

Protestors+gather+in+S%C3%A3o+Paulo+on+June+18+demanding+better+government+services+and+an+end+to+rampant+corruption.

Protestors gather in São Paulo on June 18 demanding better government services and an end to rampant corruption.

Five. The number of World Cups Brazil has won is deeply ingrained in the Brazilian psyche. According to Alan Rothenberg, CEO of the 1994 World Cup organizing committee, there can be no greater boost to national pride than hosting the 2014 World Cup.

The national team has brought back the Felipe Scolari, who coached Brazil to its last win in 2002, and with a 57 million Euro ($74 million) transfer to Barcelona, Neymar, who now wears Pele’s number ten jersey, has emerged as the heir to Brazil’s dynasty of technical brilliance. Yet the biggest news from Brazil’s Confederations Cup, a dry run for the World Cup next summer, has been the protests.

In a nation where soccer players are demigods, the most celebrated Pele, the man of a thousand goals. Yet when the three-time World Cup winner recently urged his fellow countrymen to forget the protests  and instead focus on the soccer, protesters denounced him as arrogant and out of touch with the day-to-day issues that plague most Brazilians.

Under the leadership of President Luís Inácio Lula da Silva from 2003 and, since 2011, President Dilma Rousseff, Brazil achieved political stability and stunning economic growth to the point where Brazil now has the world’s sixth largest GDP. Nevertheless, major challenges remain.

When the government raised bus fares by 20 centavos ($0.09), Brazilian civil society exploded into uncontrolled fury. Thousands of Brazilians took to the streets in spontaneous protests in Sao Paulo June 6. Although the majority of the protests were peaceful, the police began a brutal crackdown June 13. Tear gas and rubber bullets only fanned the flames, and the protests escalated and spread quickly to the metropolis Rio de Janeiro and the capital of Brasilia among other cities.

Protesters lambasted the 28 billion reals ($12.9 billion) spent on World Cup preparations, rampant corruption, high taxes, 6.5% annual inflation and slowing economic growth. Armed with the slogan “a teacher is worth more than Neymar,” the protesters urged the government to focus on public services over sports and bolster spending on infrastructure, healthcare and education.

Although Rousseff was initially silent on the protests, she proposed a bold series of reforms aimed largely at accommodating the protesters June 24 . Rousseff proposed $22 billion in public transportation spending, mainly subway upgrades and increases in teacher pay. In addition, she promised to use oil revenue on education and healthcare. On the key question of corruption, Rousseff proposed harsher penalties for those caught and surprised many in her party by proposing a public referendum on political reform. Though the attempts at political reform will surely anger those in her own party who have profited from government largesse in the past, it clearly appealed to protesters, as the size of the protests has shrunk down the thousands since Rousseff’s announcement.

Before Rousseff’s statement, many of Brazil’s soccer stars came out in support of the protestors.

I want a Brazil that is fair and safe and healthier and more honest,” said Neymar.

After claiming the protests helped inspire him, Neymar scored two exquisite goals in two games against Mexico and Italy, leading his team into the finals. Jogo Bonito indeed.

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