Brazilian protesters take a break as more security hits the streets
By Ben Brumfield, Marilia Brocchetto and Shasta Darlington
SAO PAULO, Brazil (CNN) — After a chorus of cries for social justice echoed through the streets of Brazil for days, protesters called for a time out Wednesday. Despite the anticipated lull in street marches, the government will beef up security with the deployment of elite police officers and firefighters.
The protests, which started over a hike in bus fares, have had some effect.
On Wednesday, the city of Sao Paulo announced that the hike in bus fares would be reversed, state media reported.
In addition, a handful of states have passed laws to lower the price of a city bus ticket since protests began, and politicians elsewhere showed signs of bending to the public pressure, saying they may also notch fares back down.
Sao Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad had earlier warned that eliminating the fare hikes would mean less investment in other areas, but in the end erased the increases.
Protesters say the poorest are being short-changed while the government spends the large bills on new stadiums and glitzy infrastructure for the soccer World Cup Brazil is hosting next year and the Olympic Games coming in 2016.
They complain that corruption is driving up the costs.
The country’s investment in those projects includes money for health and public transportation, Deputy Sports Minister Luis Fernandes has said.
“There is absolutely nothing contradictory between organizing a World Cup and investing in health and education,” he said.
But such assurances have not been enough for protesters, who will crank marches back up Thursday. Tens of thousands have confirmed online that they will take to the streets once more cry to out against high taxes and living costs, and for better health care and better education.
Bigger, more festive
Wednesday’s day off is nothing out of the ordinary for Brazilian protesters, who also took Saturday and Sunday off. But it stands in glaring contrast to the loud, voluminous demonstrations that reverberated across several cities a day earlier.
Crowds originally protesting bus fares grew into multitudes decrying social injustice on Tuesday as broad avenues filled to capacity for blocks.
There were over 200,000 confirmed participants, according to the main organizer, the Free Fare Movement.
The protests come amid the soccer Confederations Cup tournament, a friendly array of matches, in which the host country, Brazil, plays against a small group of national teams from around the globe. The cup serves as a precursor to the World Cup.
The National Force, made up of specially trained firefighters and police officers, will deploy to states hosting the games, the Ministry of Justice said late Tuesday.
The government has stressed that the force’s mission is to mediate and not repress.
Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, told peaceful protesters Tuesday that their message was being heard.
She praised them as active participants in democracy and said her government is committed to “social transformation.”
Police for the most part stood back, and the atmosphere has grown festive and loud, with throngs singing and beating drums.
“It actually reminded me of Carnival in Rio,” protester Fernando Jones said. “All along the avenue, people supporting the cause kept switching their lights on and off in their offices and shouting their support from the windows.”
Path of rubble
But hidden in the peaceful multitudes were bands of rowdies, who kicked down doors and broke windows; looted shops, tipped over cars and set them on fire.
It left a trail of rubble down the protest routes.
Amandeep Gill woke up to the smoldering aftermath Tuesday morning.
The American, who lives and works in Rio de Janeiro, took video of smashed store fronts as he arrived at his workplace and posted it to CNN iReport.
Smoke rose out of looted shops. Across the street, a row of ATMs stood bashed, with their electronic guts hanging out.
His colleagues saw the trouble ignite the night before from their office window, they told him.
“They witnessed a car set on fire in front of our building,” Gill said. “They told me they were worried that the building would catch on fire.”
While asking police to back off from peaceful protesters, Dilma has condemned “isolated and minor acts of violence,” telling police to confront them “with vigor.”
Gill’s colleagues in Rio won’t let vandalism keep them off the streets.
Shasta Darlington reported from Sao Paulo; Mariano Castillo wrote from Atlanta; CNN’s Micheal Pearson, Marilia Brocchetto and Ben Brumfield also contributed to this report.