Sao Paulo, Brazil: forceful protests sparked by bus fare price hike.
By SIMON ROMERO
NEW YORK TIMES. Published: June 13, 2013
RIO DE JANEIRO — Protests by an increasingly forceful movement coalescing against increases in bus fares shook Brazil’s two largest cities on Thursday night, the fourth time in a week that activists have taken to the streets in demonstrations that have been marked by clashes with security forces.
The protesters, mainly university students but also activists from leftist political parties, appear to be loosely tied to an organization called the Free Fare Movement, which advocates sharp decreases in public transportation fares or doing away with the fares and financing transit through tax increases.
The protests have been notably unruly in Brazil’s largest city, São Paulo, where police officers arrested dozens of protesters on Thursday night. The police fired rubber bullets and tear gas in São Paulo’s old center on Tuesday night to disperse thousands of protesters, who tried to shut important avenues. Several journalists were also injured, including two reporters hit in the face by rubber bullets fired by the police. The police also arrested at least three journalists covering the protests, prompting rebukes from press-freedom groups.
In Rio de Janeiro on Thursday, more than 1,000 demonstrators halted traffic at rush hour on a heavily congested avenue; on Tuesday night, rock-throwing protesters here damaged churches and historic buildings. Similar protests have also unfolded in smaller cities, including Porto Alegre in the south, Goiânia in the country’s central region and Natal in the northeast.
The free-fare movement has held protests against bus-fare increases in different parts of Brazil in recent years. The latest demonstrations have crystallized around resistance to new fare increases, making it the latest in a sequence of campaigns of dissent over public transportation dating to the Vintém Revolt of 1879, when protesters in Rio de Janeiro challenged Brazil’s monarchy over fares for trolley cars. “The hike in bus fares were the spark for this to happen,” said Maurício Santoro, an adviser here to Amnesty International. “Public transportation in Brazil is expensive, unsafe and poorly managed, especially impacting poor commuters who have no choice but to rely on these systems.”
The protests come at a delicate time for political leaders as they are grappling with concerns over high inflation and sluggish economic growth, and are trying to promote Brazil as a safe and stable destination in advance of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics, which will be held here.
São Paulo’s mayor and governor were in Paris this week to lobby for the city to be chosen as the site for an international fair, the World Expo 2020. The governor, Geraldo Alckmin, called the protesters “thugs” and “vandals,” insisting that the fare increase would not be revoked.
Marcelo Hotimsky, a student who has taken part in the protests, said they were an expression of frustration. “There are serious issues about mobility and life in the city,” he said. Asked about violent episodes in the protests, he said, “There is a great attempt to make those who go to the protests look like rioters to discredit us.”