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.