In the past couple of years people inside and outside of Brazil have been speaking of the nation as a sleeping giant that has awoken. The recent protests against corruption, taxes, poor public services and the high cost of living have made this image seem all the more real. In the past week hundreds of thousands of people from all walks of life have taken to the streets of multiple Brazilian cities to demand change. It began as a protest again a city bus fare hike in São Paulo, but it has grown to be much more.
What’s causing this seemingly sudden backlash against ingrained corruption? There are certainly many factors, and I welcome comments on any I don’t mention, but here are a few that come to mind.
First, in the past two decades higher education has become a reality for millions in Brazil, and many more young people are educated at that level than ever before. Though educated fools are common, it’s harder in general to fool the well-educated.
Second, the Internet is contributing to the protests in two ways. One is that now Brazilians have access to a world of information they never had before. Aside from news from alternative sources, they can exchange ideas with people around the world. Even more simply, they can log on to online stores around the world and see how much cheaper goods are in those countries than their own. Another way that the Internet is contributing is through organization. The recent protests were announced and spread through social media. So far as I can tell, Facebook and Twitter were the main tools at work.
Third, with slightly more disposable income in recent years, and a currency that has been relatively stable and strong, more and more Brazilians have been traveling internationally to go shopping. Their time in other countries is exposing them to another standard of living, including lower costs and greater public security than they see in their home cities.
Fourth, in the past several years many thousands of Brazilians have been returning to their homeland, having spend years or even decades living in other nations. Their children are often foreign-born and educated (up to the point of their return). These folks more than any others can see the glaring issues in Brazil, having been away for a while.
My question, as indicated in the title of this post, is whether the giant will be lulled back to sleep. Last night the president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, tried to sing the nation a lullaby through a televised address to the nation in response to the unrest. I was unimpressed, but as an outsider my opinion certainly matters less than that of Brazilians. Friends and family in Brazil have been expressing disgust with her comments today on Facebook and Twitter, leading me to believe that people aren’t buying what Ms. Rousseff is trying to sell.
As encouraging as the protests have been, despite the minority who have resorted to violence and vandalism, I have my doubts about the movement as a whole. It is an uprising that lacks concrete demands (aside from the original demand to decrease bus fare) and defined leadership. Unless these two factors change in the short run, I fear that the movement as a whole with lose cohesion and life will return to “normal.” That, I believe, is a result that only the present powers that be in that country wish to see.
See Also: The Vinegar Revolt