On the first day of the Carnegie Council's Global Ethics Dialogues in Rio de Janeiro, the city, along with many of Brazil's major metropolitan areas, was the site of a massive "social manifestation" aimed at expressing widespread public discontent. More than 100,000 protesters turned out in both Rio and Sao Paolo, and estimates of 10,000-40,000 are also being reported in Belem and Salvador as well. The demonstrations are being characterized as a reaction to a proposed bus fare hike, but are also focused on a range of related issues about public transportation, infrastructure, and social services.
The protests underscore the relevance of the Dialogues' dual focus on corruption and sustainability. One media account quotes a participant as saying, "It's about much more than [a hike in bus fare]. It's about a society that is sick of corrupt politicians not making good on their promises to make improvements." Many protesters carried Brazilian flags, the motto of which had been abbreviated from "Order and Progress" to "in Progress." The benefits of progress, the symbol indicates, are not being fully shared by all Brazilians.
The people I have spoken with point to any number of public works programs intended to develop the nation's infrastructure and wonder aloud about the transparency of the financing and question the benefit to the working class. This is especially striking in Rio, where numerous construction projects related to the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics are currently underway. The popular sentiment here seems to be the concern that Brazil's rapid growth over the past decade has not been effectively directed at the public benefit.
Transportation, health, and education are areas where substantive, transparent investments would bring more tangible benefits. Instead, the protesters assert, government funds are squandered and mismanaged. Access to a robust, low-cost public transportation network is an important social good for Brazil's students and working classes, but there remains a sizable gap between their vision of a sustainable and egalitarian urban society and actions of the current government.