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Brazil Protests Spark Concern Over World Cup, Political Stability

A man stands between bonfires lit by demonstrators as they clashed with police during an anti-government protest in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 20, 2013.
A man stands between bonfires lit by demonstrators as they clashed with police during an anti-government protest in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 20, 2013.
Brian Padden
In Brazil, anti-government demonstrations continue to grow in numbers and intensity as one million protesters took to the streets in over 80 cities, some clashing violently with police. Concern about the safety of the upcoming World Cup games is growing and the government’s options to resolve the crisis are limited.

The Brazilian government’s reversal of the transport fare hikes that sparked nationwide demonstrations has done little to appease the protesters.

While the demonstrations have been mostly peaceful, there have been incidents of violence and vandalism in some cities. In central Rio de Janeiro, 300,000 people marched and police afterwards chased looters and dispersed people crowding into surrounding areas.

The ongoing unrest is raising concerns about the political stability of the government led by President Dilma Rousseff and her Workers Party, known as the PT.  There is also growing concern about Brazil’s ability to ensure safety and security at the international sporting events it will host - the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics.
 
Riordan Roett is director of the Latin American Studies Program at The Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. He says the protests are being fueled by a middle class which has grown to 40 million people, and business centers in the south of the country that resent being heavily taxed to pay for government handouts to the poor.

“There has been a sense that the people who really run the country financially - the south and southeast - are getting the short end of the stick with lousy schools, terrible transportation, terrible medical care and a growing sense that Brasilia and the PT really don’t care about Sao Paulo, the south and the southeast of the country,” Roett said.

Carl Meacham, the director of the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, says there is little the government can do in the short term to address the protesters’ demands.

“The difficult thing is that in any democracy change is incremental. So it’s not like the government’s going to be able to have a solution for all of these problems from one day to the next,” Meacham said.

Roett says the socialist-leaning government of President Rousseff may be unable or unwilling to cut programs for the poor to appease the middle class, and this issue will be at the center of the 2014 presidential election.

“This provides a superb opening for the opposition after twelve years of PT government to come forward and say, ‘See we told you so. They don’t know how to govern. We are the opposition, we know do know how to govern. We did govern from 1994 to 2000s,’” Roett said.

Meacham says the $26 billion the government is spending on the World Cup and the Olympics will continue to be a source of anger. He expects major demonstrations to take place during the games.

“I think it’s very possible that these protests will be sort of a - not a sideshow, but they will definitely be part of the narrative of the World Cup,” Meacham said.

Brazil's economic uncertainty is also limiting the government’s options. After nearly a decade-long economic boom, the country's economy grew less than one percent last year and the annual inflation rate has climbed to 6.5 percent.

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