Rousseff admits protestors grievances, praises democracy and meets Lula da Silva
As the threat of massive protests in Brazil’s major cities continues, President Dilma Rousseff early Tuesday tried to defuse the situation by acknowledging the need for better public services, more responsive governance and at the same time praising Brazilians commitment to a strong democracy.
Speaking the morning after more than 200.000 Brazilians marched in over a half-dozen cities, Rousseff said her government remains committed to social change and is listening attentively to the many grievances expressed at the demonstrations.
“Brazil woke up stronger today” Rousseff said in a televised speech in Brasilia. “The size of yesterday’s demonstrations shows the energy of our democracy, the strength of the voice of the streets and the civility of our population.”
Monday’s demonstrations were the latest in a wave of protests over the past two weeks that have fed on widespread frustration with poor public services, police violence, government corruption and lavish expending in stadiums to host the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.
The protests, organized mostly by university students through snowballing social media campaigns, marked the first time that Brazilians have taken to the streets on such a large scale since economic volatility and a corruption scandal led to the toppling of ex-president Collor de Melo in the early 1990s.
The demonstrations started as small protests in a few cities against an increase in bus and subway fares but quickly ballooned into a national movement after police fired rubber bullets at protesters in Sao Paulo last week in clashes that injured more than 100 people.
Rousseff said she valued the peaceful spirit of those who took to the streets democratically, “in a demonstration that exceeds the traditional mechanisms of institutions, political parties and trade unions” and are a direct message to the rulers at all levels.
The president added she celebrated seeing so many youngsters and adults, grandchildren, fathers and grand fathers all together with the Brazilian flag singing the national anthem and demanding a better country.
“The demands for better schools, hospitals, quality public transport and at a fair price, for the right to influence government decisions and repudiating corruption and the misuse of public monies are evidence of the intrinsic value of democracy”, added Rousseff.
“My generation knows how much it cost to achieve this”, said the president in reference to her youth when she was a militant of groups combating the military dictatorship and for which she spent two years in jail and was tortured.
Finally she said the government was committed to social transformation and to listen to ‘the voice of the streets’ and recalled that this effort helped 40 million Brazilians climb out of poverty.
Eager to ease tensions and prevent future protests, officials in at least five cities, including important state capitals such as Porto Alegre and Recife, announced plans on Tuesday to lower bus fares.
But demonstrations continued in a few cities around the country, including Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, where thousands gathered in front of the city’s landmark cathedral in what protesters hoped would be a final push persuading local officials to cancel the bus fare increase.
Sao Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad, a prominent figure in Rousseff’s Workers’ Party, said in a meeting with leaders of the protest movement on Tuesday that he is considering a cut in bus fares but needs to find ways to compensate for the loss in revenue.
Even if Haddad does cede, it remains unclear if that would be enough to halt the protests, given that protesters have embraced so many other causes.
Later in the day Rousseff travelled to Sao Paulo to meet with Haddad and former President Lula da Silva, her predecessor and political mentor, and important power broker in Brazilian politics.
The unrest comes at a delicate time for Rousseff, whose administration is struggling to rein in high inflation and get the economy back on track after two years of sluggish growth.
Polls show Rousseff remains widely popular, but her approval ratings have begun to slip in recent weeks for the first time since taking office in early 2011.