Brazil/Dilma: A Lesson in Democratic Governance

Dariela Aquique

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff
Dilma Rousseff. Photo:

HAVANA TIMES —The events recently witnessed in Brazil constitute a rare phenomenon indeed: a wave of protests without ringleaders or defined political slogans which, though causing some material damage and regrettably leaving behind two dead, was, for the most part, non-violent.

For nearly ten consecutive days, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in 107 different cities of the immense South American nation, answering the call to take part in a protest rally divulged through social networks. No political parties, no grassroots organizations, led these actions.

Spontaneously, and for the first time in the history of the country (unaccustomed to events of this nature), the people of Brazil organized a massive, nationwide protest. No few people were caught off guard, wondering how this could happen in a country that has experienced considerable economic growth and has worked to reduce social inequality.

Why are people taking to the streets now? It’s simple: improvements are never quite enough and, one day, the people awaken from their lethargy and apathy. Suddenly, citizens become aware that, like any other group of people in the world, they have the power to protest, to demand further improvements and insist that their rights be respected.

A 20-cent rise in the price of public transportation was what sparked off the protests, rallies and even the shutdown of entire sectors. But this was just the trigger for more significant aims, such as driving home deficiencies in the country’s public health and education systems.

This led to public condemnation of government corruption and calls for the dismissal of several mayors and governors. Suddenly, the improvement of people’s quality of life and accountability for the costs of the 2014 World Cup became the chief demands of the protesters.

How can the country invest so much in a sporting event, in constructing colossal stadiums, when countless people are living in abject poverty?

All of this demonstrates that speeches and promises aren’t enough, that the people need to see evidence that those in power have the political determination to change things in the country. And that is precisely what President Dilma Rousseff has given the people.

The Brazilian leader has given her country and the world a lesson in governance. From the beginning of the protests, she maintained that the people had the right to express themselves freely and that the government was duty-bound to hear their demands.

Her conciliatory speech, “my obligation is to hear the voice of the streets,” appeased protesters. Immediately, the price of public transportation was restored. And, then, the president convened the country’s governors and mayors to debate an agreement with the protesters.

It is worth pointing out that the police tried to contain the protest, but did not attack the protesters. According to official sources, the victims were a 54-year-old cleaning woman with high blood pressure who suffered a heart attack when an explosive went off and an 18-year-old man who was run over by a car, driven by a businessman currently sought by the authorities.

In its response to the protests, Brazil was nothing like Chile, whose police repressed student rallies and showed no interest in any kind of agreement. Nor did it remind us of Colombia, where peasants were attacked and the authorities were deaf to all appeals.

We should all learn from Brazil, which accepts the right of its people to protest, without interpreting it as a coup d’état or an anti-government gesture (even though, on occasion, some people become extremely violent and anarchic). Political leaders around the world should learn from Dilma and the lesson in democratic governance she’s given us.

Dariela Aquique

Dariela Aquique: I remember my years as a high school student, especially that teacher who would interrupt the reading of works and who with surprising histrionics spoke of the real possibilities of knowing more about the truth of a country through its writers than through historical chronicles. From there came my passion for writing and literature. I had excellent teachers (sure, those were not the days of the Fast-track Teachers) and extemporization and the non-mastery of subjects was not tolerated. With humble pretenses, I want to contribute to revealing the truth about my country, where reality always overcomes fiction, but where a novel style shrouds its existence.

2 thoughts on “Brazil/Dilma: A Lesson in Democratic Governance

  • Thank you for your detailed report on the protests in Brazil. The reports in the English language media tend to slant toward perspectives not necessarily reflecting the realities in Brazil. The main view is that these events started as a protest against the cost of hosting the World Cup and have now grown to include protests against government corruption.

    You did not mention the anti-corruption angle, so to what extent do you think this is a significant part of the protest?

    While I accept your report that the police have indeed used force to control the protests, I am highly sceptical of your claim this was entirely unprovoked. I have seen videos of protests in Canada, the US & Europe in which large groups of peaceful protesters willingly provide cover for smaller groups of violent activists. This tactic was widely discussed during the Occupy protest movement. A recent court case in Toronto involved a man arrested at a G20 protest. The man claimed he was innocent & peaceful and that the police attacked him, He filed police brutality charges against one officer. During the trial of the police officer on these charges, video evidence was introduced which clearly showed the man taunting police, throwing bottles and rocks at the police and violently resisting arrest. In short: protesters often lie about what happened and intentionally provoke police violence as a part of their broader political strategy.

    In the video link you provided, the police are seen using clubs on protesters who appear to be fleeing. However, we do not see what happened prior to that moment: were the protesters engaged in violence to which the police responded? Also visible in the video, one of the protesters can be seen running toward the police and kicking one of the officers. That’s hardly peaceful behaviour.

    You commented on how the protests started as one thing and now seem to be moving in a number of different directions, including toward greater violence. That is to be expected when mass protests occur and political activists get involved. The tactics they employ are intended to provoke violence and move the protest toward greater polarization.

    From what I read, President Rousseff is trying to calm things down, which is good, but it’s not yet clear if it will be enough.

  • I’m sorry Dariela, but there has been much disinformation spread all over this. I’d be impossible to me to get too deep on it with a mere comment, but in a nutshell:

    1 – ‘without ringleaders or defined political slogans’ – all of this was started with the MPL from São Paulo, whose historical demand is for free, public, collective urban transportation, with a very concrete demand: against the rise of the bus and subway fees. With the mediatic approval and criminal editorials for the military police (yes this aberration exists here) to ‘act vigorously’ against those ‘vandals’, they were beaten to pulps. After a journalist from a big corporate paper was hit in the eye with a rubber buller in June 17, things turned from water to wine as these protests gained visibility, but with an reactionary piece of spice added to it: dangerous slogans appeared. There’s a charge* here which sums up accuretly this ‘turn of the cards’ – – but right now social movements are gaining momentum, so the tides may be turning again.

    2 – ‘for the first time in the history of the country (unaccustomed to events of this nature)’ – Brazilians are falsely attached with a ‘peaceful’ tag. Nothing could be further from the truth. Since colonial times, many blood has been shed and many rebellious heads rolled in these lands. The Prestes’ Column of ’35, the campaign for Direct Elections in the 80’s, just to name a few nationwide protests in recent history.

    3 – ‘this led to public condemnation of government corruption and calls for the dismissal of several mayors and governors’ – after the ‘coxinhas’ took major participation shouting demagogic slogans against corruption, the VAST majority of calls for dismissal was aimed at… the President herself. No matter that governor Alckmin is responsible for the military police in the São Paulo, for the white reactionary middle class Dilma and the Worker’s Party are responsible for everything! They are somehow similar to the Tea Party loonies.

    4 – ‘how can the country invest so much in a sporting event, in constructing colossal stadiums, when countless people are living in abject poverty?’ – of course, this has been tackled before by the social movements… when ‘the giant was sleeping’. But then they were ignored – the removal of indigenous people near Maracanã, the social hygiene that took the home of 11.000 families away, the sell-out of the stadium to the likes of Eike Batista, the brutal repression in Pinheirinho… all these ‘small’ problems were generally avoided like the plague during the June protests.

    5 – ‘it is worth pointing out that the police tried to contain the protest, but did not attack the protesters’ – I’m sorry but this is just wrong. I don’t know your sources, but this video – – is just an example of ‘routine’ repression during the protests. My sister was in Brasilia in the opening of the Confederations Cup. The police suddenly started to throw tear gas and pepper spray at the mass outside the barrier, at random. They were doing nothing – nothing I repeat.

    6 – ‘without interpreting it as a coup d’état or an anti-government gesture’ – please, I saw fascists asking for military intervention – much like the ’64 coup – with my own eyes!

    7 – No, there wasn’t ‘only 2’ dead. When the slums in Rio (the Nova Holanda favela) protested, BOPE – you know, the fascist police organization famed on the ‘Elite Squad’ movie – did not fire rubber bullets at them, but REAL ones, leaving 13 dead. Sure there’s a different police ‘treatment’ when the poor rebels and the middle/upper class rebels.

    Anyway the President throwed a card in the game calling for a plebiscit on political reform just yesterday. The situation is delicate, to put it mildly. I’ll finish with Zhou Enlai’s famous quote from when Nixon and Kissinger visited China, about what he though of the Paris Spring of ’68 (some think he was reffering to the French Revolution, but this Confucionist piece of wisdom still prevails) back in ’72: ‘it’s too early to say’.

    * charge translation:
    1 – ‘Revoke the price raise! This fee is a theft!!!’ ‘That’s right!’
    2 – ‘Down with corruption!’ ‘Brazil has awaken!’ ‘We want healthcare and education!’
    3 – ‘Impeachment for Dilma!’ ‘Less taxes!’ ‘Playstation 4 for R$1000,00’ ‘We want the military in power!’ ‘Let’s save the middle class!’ ‘Joaquim Barbosa for president!’ ‘Let’s sing the national anthem!’
    4 – ‘Boy, this works better than riot police!’

Comments are closed.