I hate politics. Right now, though, I feel like I have no choice but to talk about the political climate and protests happening in Brazil. As Americans, I feel like we've become overloaded and overwhelmed with information. We either are unaware of global issues or we choose to block them from our consciousness.
But I can't do that this time. The movement going on in Brazil right now is my reality. I'm living it.
Yesterday afternoon, I witnessed a peaceful march sitting in a cafe. There were people my age, the elderly, and families with strollers. It was inspirational to see thousands of people in white marching with Brazilian flags and signs demanding change from their country.
Late last night, I went to my friend's apartment next door as another wave of protests began. It was peaceful at first – just like the one I saw earlier that day. All of a sudden, we heard loud noises. People started running. The police opened fire nearby – I think at the park where I go for my morning runs. Some violent protesters lagged behind after everyone else had left to make a blockade. The blockade, made of trash and smashed telephone booths, was right in front of my friend's apartment. The vandals set it ablaze. The smell of sulfur was strong. After they were gone, the military police arrived and proceeded to put out the fire. We watched from the 7th floor. Luckily, no one was hurt, and it was just a small incident... but one of many going on around the country.
Here's what I've been seeing in Brazil for the past month...
The children in the school where I volunteer at are at risk of dengue because of the mounds of trash and foul water outside of their cafeteria.
On the way to the beach, I walk pass a millions' country club. It has a private hangar for all of its members' yachts. There's a condominium that's being built that will have fingerprint recognition for the doors and a revolving garage for its residents. This building also overlooks favelas that lack running water and security for its residents. The taxes here are incredibly high. I think Brazil is in the top 12 of countries with the highest taxes. Interestingly enough, their "literacy and math skills of Brazilian 15-year-olds ranked 53rd out of 65 countries, behind nations such as Bulgaria, Mexico, Turkey, Trinidad and Tobago, and Romania."
The federal universities are top notch, but the public schools are inadequate at preparing students for higher education. Quality foreign language programs, for example, are only for those who can afford private institutions. The public health care system isn't taking care of its elderly. My Brazilian mom recently fractured her arm, and the system is making her life difficult. The public transportation here is unreliable and dangerous. I've experienced the bus system firsthand... Here's how it works in Salvador: you enter the bus from a door at the rear, pay a cashier who will let you pass a turnstile (YES A TURNSTILE ON THE BUS), and then topple into a seat while the bus is speeding forward. I've had multiple experiences where the bus started moving as people were barely stepping through the door – once with my friend and once with an elderly woman. Public infrastructure (at least in Salvador) is a mess – you can sprain your ankle walking on the sidewalk and the city's international airport is flooding from water leaks.
Last but not least, government corruption is rampant and widespread. There are so many public issues that need to be addressed...But let's be honest. Do these issues matter? Are education and healthcare really necessary for a society to flourish? The answer, at least according to the government, is a resounding no.
Instead, Brazil will be pouring $13.3 BILLION into the 2014 World Cup. That's not saying anything about the 2016 Olympic Games. The Confederation Cup is going on right now, so all the stadiums of major cities have undergone million dollar renovations. These stadiums are now ready for all 12 games that will be played during the Confederation Cup. I pass Salvador's stadium, Arena Fonte Nova, every time I go to service learning. It's a magnificent piece of architecture situated in front of a beautiful lake. It's right before you get to the favelas.
In my opinion, I think that a nation is responsible for taking care of its citizens. It's responsibility is not to build up a false global image while things fall apart behind closed doors. Negligence like this can't go on. That is why people are now taking to the streets. Protests are now breaking out protest in over 100 Brazilian cities. A price increase in bus fare was the straw that broke the camel's back. The Brazilian people are finally fed up with a broken system and misplaced priorities on behalf of the government. People of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds – but especially the middle class – are taking to the streets by the thousands. It's the biggest protest Brazil has seen in almost 20 years. It's been a long time coming.
Do I sound angry writing this? Yes, I am. But the funny thing is… I have absolutely no right to be angry. This is not my country. I'm only living here for 7 weeks. Others are here for a lifetime. I'm making observations looking in as an outsider. Others are suffering the system firsthand.
I hope with all my heart that Brazil will begin to change for the better. The only thing that I wish for is peaceful demonstration on behalf of the police and the protesters. There are terrible photos of police brutality involving tear gas, rubber bullets, and physical violence… the list goes on. But at the same, there exists a minority of radical protesters that's looting, vandalizing, and marring the cause of the majority. Please stop. Obviously the news media will fixate on this. Obviously the police cannot allow this type of behavior. Violence will overshadow this movement for change.
Boa sorte to all my friends here in Brazil and everyone else involved in the protests. And good luck to the political leaders who have the duty to serve their people. The giant has awakened. #OGiganteAcordou
Want to read more? This is one of the most comprehensive articles I found in English.