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Tens of thousands of Brazilians have flooded the streets in the last two weeks, protesting bus fares as well as poor-quality health care and education and massive spending on new soccer stadiums. As Brazil prepares for the World Cup in 2014, Kojo explores what impact the protests could have on the country’s political and economic landscape.
- Fernando Duarte Brazilian journalist, contributor to the Guardian UK
- Peter Hakim President Emeritus, Inter-American Dialogue
MR. KOJO NNAMDIIt seems to have started with anger over a nine-cent increase in bus fares in Brazil, and I say it seems advisedly because even after officials in San Paulo and Rio De Janeiro rolled back the planned increase, protestors continued to flood the streets saying they're fed up with high taxes and poor public services like education and health care, and they're furious that in the face of deteriorating infrastructure, the country is spending millions on new soccer stadiums in preparation for next year's World Cup followed by the Olympics in 2016.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThe question now is what happens next in Brazil? Will the protest prompt meaningful change in one of the world's rising economic powers or will these protests peter out? Joining me in studio is Peter Hakim, president emeritus of Inter-American Dialogue. Peter Hakim, thank you for joining us.
MR. PETER HAKIMThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDISorry for the bad pun on petering out. 800-433-8850 is the number to call. How do you think the protests in Brazil will end? Can Brazil make some of the changes the protestors are demanding? 800-433-8850. Peter, first, why now? What's prompted Brazilians to flood the streets in protest, and did anyone see this coming?
HAKIMWell, that's the first thing. No one saw it coming, and in fact, if you took a poll among whether it's analysts or politicians, which country would be the least likely to have this kind of protest, Brazil would be among the least likely. I mean, it's a country that's been relatively successful in the past dozen years. Had a slight slowdown in its economy the past two years, but unemployment is still low, people are feeling good in Brazil, and this was a really big shock.
HAKIMAnd sure it was the 10-cent fare rise, but let me say that even the people that went out on the first night were surprised that they got a hundred people out there, and then it became a thousand and ten thousand and a million, and nobody expected -- and it wasn't over the 10 cents. Obviously, there's a lot of deep-seated unhappiness about the way the Brazilian government works, the way -- there's corruption, there's -- as you mentioned, lousy public services. There's crime and violence are rampant in Brazil. There's a lot wrong, but Brazil is still a country on the move basically.
NNAMDII've seen the Brazilian economy described as 30 years of stagnation followed by six years of economic growth, but as you pointed out, last year Brazil's economy reportedly only grew by about one percent, and inflation has reached six and a half percent. What does that mean for wages, and what do you think economic concerns contributed to the reasons people have taken to the streets?
HAKIMWell, it's sort of strange though when you look at the president of the country was going along at a 70 percent approval rating, despite the slowdown in the economy, the rising inflation. She was a sure bet to win the presidential election for reelection next year. It's hard to imagine that the state of the economy or somehow some kind of sense that things were going in the wrong direction or what triggered this outburst. I think there's a general feeling in Brazil of discontent, expectations rising faster than could possibly be met.
HAKIMRemember, this is a country that is one of the most unequal in the world, yet, in the past ten years inequality has really gone down significantly, poverty has diminished suddenly become a country with star power around the world. This is, in many respects an amazing success story, and in fact the protests reflect a lot about what's good in Brazil. The fact of a democratic country, the fact that people feel free to go out and protest and all on their government to change without getting in sort of political battles, without polarization.
NNAMDIOf course, the fact that the president has a 70 percent approval rating still means in a country the size of Brazil, that there are maybe 60 million people who are not that happy with how the president is performing.
NNAMDIJoining us now by phone from Brazil is Fernando Duarte. He is a Brazilian journalist and contributed to the Guardian UK. Fernando Duarte, thank you for joining us.
MR. FERNANDO DUARTEThank you for having me. Good afternoon.
NNAMDIFernando, the list of grievances cited by protestors is pretty long and somewhere just below corruption and bus fare, we've heard complaints about the very high cost of hosting the World Cup. You're covering the Confederations Cup, which is kind of a dress rehearsal for the global competition next year. What are you seeing?
DUARTEWell, I feel that these guys are basically not timing the process of the World Cup or the Confederations Cup. I think it happened pretty much as a coincidence. The bus fare riots were not -- even in the city that is hosting Confederation Cup games, San Paulo for example, obviously, there's a fantastic chance for them to be seen by and heard by a global audience. So it ended up being tied up. The thing is -- the thing that is surprising me the most is the amount of (unintelligible).
DUARTEThey're professing about everything. So for me, it's much more -- almost like a cathartic movement, than an organized movement. There are no leaders. There's nobody going, you know, climbing on a soap box and making a speech, and that could be awesome, but it also can be very dangerous because it's so easy for this to turn into some kind of mob. In some places, it has been quite destructive (unintelligible), for example, where I am now.
NNAMDIFernando, Brazil's successful bid to host the World Cup and to host the Olympics after that was widely hailed, as an opportunity as you just pointed out, for the country to showcase its achievements, a sign that the country had arrived, but these games are extremely expensive. Have you heard rumblings about that in your reporting?
DUARTEWell, I've heard stuff about that before, and obviously when Brazil was chosen in 2007 you could see a massive amount of money and a massive amount of public funds would have to be pumped into the budget. However, it's a precious chance. Football is very important in Brazil. I'm not saying that it's going to change people's lives, but a country like Brazil that needs to assert itself as an international state, needs an event like that. However, the way things are being done are not pleasing me and a lot of people.
DUARTEOkay. You do have stadiums, FIFA has a lot of demands, and they take away a lot of money without paying taxes, but it should do something for the infrastructure. It can actually build a legacy. The problem is the infrastructure works in Brazil are not (unintelligible) they're basically still on the drawing board, and that's going to be a problem because they're going to be left with a lot of stadiums, but no real changes for the population.
DUARTEThat is a point that some people are complaining about. But in terms of the parliament, you have to have that, you know, if you want to assert yourself in international scenarios. I mean, I see a lot of English people, you know, British people complaining about (unintelligible) but yes, there's poverty here. Yes. Several infrastructural problems. But, however, how are you going to, you know, change things? How are you going to start at least moving things around?
DUARTEPresident Dilma once said it's a good opportunity to develop things. I still think (unintelligible) but you shouldn't blame everyone on the World Cup. Not like the World Cup has ruined Brazil or something like that, and sometimes people forget, for example, that the budget for the Olympics in London was huge in a time where the government was cutting off their payments. So every country has a problem. Every country has an issue to deal with. Ours are big because Brazil's a big country. They're still learning to walk in terms of international development. But sometimes I see the international press trying to kick up the ladder. And this World Cup should remain kind of like an elite tournament that's being played only in Europe, instead of like reaching the countries that need it that most. And let's be honest, Brazil as being one of the spiritual homes of football, actually needs the World Cup.
NNAMDIOnto Andrew in McClean, Va. Andrew, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ANDREWYes. I just returned from Salvador de Bahia where I lived for four years, and I basically decided to return to the United States for the same reasons that a lot of people -- my friends, in fact, our industry is protesting over the past two weeks. In Salvador, they just completed a brand new stadium which they built in about two years, and just as an example of why people are focusing on the World Cup and the contradictions its demonstrating within the Brazilian society, Salvador has had under construction perhaps the shortest metro on the planet, something like two kilometers.
ANDREWAnd that Metro still is not working. It had been open and it's been under construction for 12 years. And the soccer stadium was built in two years.
NNAMDIAllow me to ask Peter Hakim, talk about daily life in Brazil, and what improvements people want the government to make. Obviously, you don't want a two kilometer train taking 12 years to build.
HAKIMWell, let me say that I think the football stadiums have become a good target because they're there, they're visible, they're under construction, and they illustrate what's wrong with public services generally. Brazilians tax too much, they overspend on the government itself, and the quality of services is inferior. Try to get from San Paulo downtown to the airport. It can take anywhere from two to four hours in traffic. It's just there is time and again the Brazilians have shown they can't quite do things at the high quality that they should be doing them for a county that's on the move like Brazil.
NNAMDIThat's one of the things that Fernando seems to be complaining about, that people in developed countries want these kinds of events only held in developed countries, so they are happy to see any kind of activity like that taking place in Brazil. But can you put this in some context for us? The opportunity to host these various sporting events crystallizes a broader philosophical question here. Should Brazil be viewed as a developing country still?
HAKIMWell, it's still a developing country from, you know, it's income per capita, the quality of many of its services, its industries, et cetera, but it's certainly made enormous progress over the past dozen -- the past 30 years depending how you want to count. Sure it's still a developing country. This is an enormous expense for Brazil, enormous task to get all this together, and there's no question that this puts Brazil on the map, but it costs a lot to get on that map.
NNAMDIAnd we're running out of time, Fernando. You only have about 30 seconds, but do you think that these protests will last for a long time or that they're ultimately going to peter out after the government makes some changes?
DUARTEWell, I hope that these last as people feel like. I'm not against protesting against the World Cup. They should be able to say whatever they want, and that's a very democratic conquest by Brazil. I don't think it's go away that easily, perhaps it might last for a long, long time. Lack of organization might be a problem, though. There was a message. They need some leadership, because that's the only way they're going to push some real pressure on the world, instead of just joining the police and the army (unintelligible). But the protest is legitimate and they should be applauded like...
NNAMDII'm afraid that's all the time we have. Fernando Duarte is a Brazilian journalist. He's a contributor to the Guardian UK. He joined us by phone from Brazil. Peter Hakim, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIPeter Hakim is president emeritus of the Inter-American dialogue. "The Kojo Nnamdi Show" is produced by Michael Martinez, Ingalisa Schrobsdorff, Tayla Burney, Kathy Goldgeier, Elizabeth Weinstein and Stephannie Stokes. Brendan Sweeney is the managing producer. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Natalie Yuravlivker is on the phones. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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