Last month, Brazil’s cities saw large protests that started over bus fare hikes in São Paulo but swelled into overall discontent over corruption and government failures in public services. At its height, more than 1 million people turned out on June 20 to protest poor medical and educational services, high cost of living, and wasteful spending around the World Cup and Olympics.
Like other mass social protests erupting elsewhere in Turkey, Bulgaria, Greece, Spain, the Arab world, etc., these protests were characterized by the involvement of a newly vocal middle class and spread rapidly through social media. Dilma Rousseff’s government rushed to respond by capitulating to some of the protesters’ demands, including accelerated investments in hospitals and medical services in rural areas and an additional US $23 billion for urban public transportation. But in a contradictory nod to austerity, the government paired these additional spending promises with a generic commitment to fiscal responsibility.
It’s unclear how these hasty and muddled government and legislative responses will play out in reality, and whether they will respond to the needs of the middle class that now feels empowered to demand more, especially in the run up to next year’s presidential elections.