SAO PAULO – About 50,000 protesters energetically returned to the streets of Brazil’s biggest city Tuesday night, a demonstration of anger toward what they call a corrupt and inefficient government that has long ignored the demands of a growing middle class.
The protests were well organized via social media and mostly peaceful, like those the night before that drew 240,000 to the streets in several cities to demonstrate against the shoddy state of public transit, schools and other public services in this booming South American giant. Many railed against a gap between Brazil’s heavy tax burden and its notoriously poor infrastructure.
Demonstrations have ballooned from initial protests last week called by a group complaining about the high cost of a woeful public transport system and demanding a rollback of a 10-cent hike in bus and subway fares.
While the protests have grown, reversing that fare hike remains the one concrete demand emanating from the streets. The rest, so far, are expressions of deep anger and discontentment – not just with the ruling government, but with the entire governing system. A common chant at the rallies has been “No parties!”
“What I hope comes from these protests is that the governing class comes to understand that we’re the ones in charge, not them, and the politicians must learn to respect us,” said Yasmine Gomes, a 22-year-old squeezed into the plaza in central Sao Paulo where Tuesday night’s protest began.
Although Brazilian demonstrations in recent years generally had tended to attract small numbers of politicized participants, the latest mobilizations have united huge crowds around a central lament: The government provides a woeful public sector even as the economy is modernizing and growing.
The Brazilian Tax Planning Institute think tank found the country’s tax burden in 2011 stood at 36 percent of gross domestic product, ranking it 12th among the 30 countries with the world’s highest tax burdens.
Yet public services such as schools are in sorry shape. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development found in a 2009 educational survey that literacy and math skills of Brazilian 15-year-olds ranked 53rd out of 65 countries, behind nations such as Bulgaria, Mexico, Turkey, Trinidad and Tobago, and Romania.
Many protesting in Brazil’s streets hail from the country’s growing middle class, which government figures show has ballooned by some 40 million over the past decade amid a commodities-driven economic boom.
They say they’ve lost patience with endemic problems such as government corruption and inefficiency.