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Brazil: Student Protests Against Bus Fare Increases in Piaui

All links lead to Portuguese language pages except when otherwise noted.

Since the beginning of the year, thousands of students have been protesting against the increase in bus fares in the city of Teresina, the capital of the state of Piaui. The demonstrators are forcefully kept down by the RONE (specially trained troops) of the Military Police. They have reacted by setting fire to at least one bus, and dozens of students have been arrested.

Photo of the first days of the protest, students ransack a bus in response to the police violence. Photo by Regis Falcao (permission granted for use)

Photo of the first days of the protest, students ransack a bus in response to the police violence. Photo by Regis Falcao (permission granted for use).

The protests, however, had begun back in August 2011 and there was a short truce at the end of the year because of the Xmas and New Year festivities, as the blogger Filipe Saraiva explains:

Desde o dia 29 de agosto, uma segunda-feira, estudantes e moradores de Teresina fazem manifestação por qualidade no transporte público municipal. Serão agora, 5 dias consecutivos de manifestação. O estopim do ato foi o aumento do preço da passagem no apagar das luzes do dia 26 de agosto, sexta-feira, que elevou a tarifa para R$ 2,10 [O valor anterior era de R$ 1,90 – Nota GV].

Since Monday, 29 August, Teresina students and residents have been demonstrating about the quality of the city public transport. We’ve now had five consecutive days of demonstrations. The trigger for this reaction was the increase in the bus fares in one fell swoop on Friday 26 August, when the fare price was increased to R$2.10 [the previous fare price was R$1.90 – GV note]

The blogger goes on to explain that the Teresina buses have been running without further tendering since 1988, and since 1994 a spreadsheet has been used to justify increases. Yet no local resident has seen it and it has come to be seen as fictitious.

Every year there are peaceful demonstrations, with the exception of the 2005 protests, when the police opened fire on students, who responded by setting fire to the buses in the city streets. The protests aren’t only about the increase in fares, but also about the upkeep of the buses:

Teresina é uma cidade pequena, esse aumento não se justifica!
Uma mãe que ganha um salário mínimo não tem condições de pagar essa tarifa absurda.
Ônibus lotados.
Ônibus atrasados.
Ônibus sujos.

Teresina is a small city, there’s no reason for this increase!
A mother who earns a minimum salary has no means of paying this ridiculous amount.
Overcrowded buses.
Late buses.
Dirty buses.

In 2011, the Piaui Public Ministry managed to get a court order to agree to put a stop to the fare increase and insisted on carrying out an audit of the doubtful spreadsheet, but the city council ignored the passing of this ruling. So the protests started again in the midst of the police violence. There were also denunciations of police infiltration into student groups who accuse the police of pinpointing the movement leaders to arrest them, in an effort to dismantle the protests.

This year, history repeats itself

According to the journalist Renato Rovai, after the measures promoted by the mayor Elmano Ferre of the PTB (Brazilian Worker Party) – ‘increase in bus fares and integration of casualties into the local public transport’, ‘Teresina streets have become a war zone’ and ‘the students have been treated like criminals by the local media’.

The blogger Romulo Maia opens up about the police violence, and has also produced a series of videos about the protests:

Polícia Militar truculenta. Fotos e vídeos mostram jovens sendo pisoteados pelos coturnos da tropa de choque. Spray de pimenta no rosto de manifestante sem reação. Bomba de efeito moral em gente sentada. Bala de borracha também. Intimidação. Celulares quebrados. Dedo na cara. Gritos autoritários.

The Military Police uses the upper hand. Photos and videos show young people being kicked by the shock troops. Pepper spray in a demonstrator’s face with no reaction. Tear gas used on people who were sitting down. Rubber bullets too. Intimidation. Mobiles broken. Fingers pushed in faces. Police shouting.

Video from the user AcessePiaui shows images of police repression on the second day of protests:

Dozens of students have been arrested since the beginning of the protests, and as well as the Military Police, extra security guards contracted by the Teresina Urban Transport Companies Union are also keeping the students down.

For the photo journalist Regis Falcao ‘it’s worth the fight’:

Os métodos são válidos e a realidade do movimento não é aquilo que você vê de longe.
Incomoda? sim, muito! e deve incomodar! parar o trânsito, atrapalhar a ida e vinda de terceiros faz parte. Infelizmente não há como ser brando quando a questão é tão séria.
Restam duas opções: continue criticando o movimento, os “estudantes arruaceiros” do conforto de sua casa, do frescor do ar-condicionado de seu carro, alienado pela própria ignorância, pela própria falta de vontade de fazer alguma diferença no mundo, acorrentado pelo seu comodismo vergonhoso ou vá pra rua e veja com quantos gritos se faz uma mudança.

The methods are valid and the reality of the movement is not what you see from afar. Is it annoying? Yes, very! And it should annoy! Stopping the traffic, getting in the way of third parties as they come and go is a part of it. Unfortunately it’s impossible to take it lying down when the issue is so serious.
There are two options left to us: carry on criticising the movement, the ‘unruly students’, from the comfort of your home, or your air-conditioned car, separated by your ignorance, by the lack of will to do anything different in the world, chained to your own shameful self-indulgence, or go to the street and see how getting together to protest makes a difference.
Student hit by shrapnel from police bombs. Photo by Leonidas Freire J (@leofreirejr), on TwiPic. More photos of the protests can be seen here.

Student hit by shrapnel from police bombs. Photo by Leonidas Freire J (@leofreirejr), on TwiPic. More photos of the protests can be seen here.

Regis Falcao shared a number of his photos in his Facebook album, in which he calls the students ‘outraged’, like Igor Prado, who posted photos on the fourth day of the protests. Sinesio Soares posted a photo of law student Lucas with his face covered in blood after being savagely beaten by the police.

On Facebook, some users, like police officer Gilberto Carlos de Sousa, criticised the demonstrators:



The blogger Herbert Sousa criticised the demonstrators too:

A população de Teresina ficou atônita com a onda de terror patrocinada por partidos reacionários de esquerda, que tem como ideologia o Stalinismo.

The Teresina population was astonished at the wave of terror sponsored by reactionary left-wing parties, with their Stalinist ideology.

Vice magazine published a series of photos about the protests on the second day, in which one could see the police hitting unarmed and peaceful protesters. And the Centre for Independent Media published a number of photos on the second and seventh days of the protests here, here and here.

The journalist and blogger Leonardo Sakamoto comments on the inability of the police to accept the rights of the people to protest:

No Brasil, há governos que não entenderam que o direito de protestar é parte da democracia. E que o povo não serve apenas para votar a cada quatro anos, pagar impostos e fornecer mão-de-obra barata. Mas, como se vê pela notícia acima, o Estado nos lembra diariamente que não somos cidadãos mas gado, que pode, eventualmente, ser marcado para identificação.

In Brazil, there are governments which did not understand that the right to protest is part of a democracy. It’s that the people aren’t only of use to vote every four years, pay taxes and provide cheap labour. But, as you can see from the news above, the State reminds us daily that we aren’t citizens, but cattle, who can even be branded for identification.

The protest on 10th, the seventh of the series, may have been the most violent of all and was called #MassacreTeresina and #DiadoLuto (Mourning Day). The profile @contraoaumento (against the protest) which has been gathering information about the protests and helping in its coordination, states:

@Contraoaumento: São 17 presos na Central de Flagrantes. Cada fiança é de R$ 6.220,00, o que totaliza R$ 115.740,00. #contraoaumento #massacreteresina

@contraoaumento: 17 were arrested in Flagrantes Central. Each bail is R$6, 220.00, which adds up to a total of R$115,740.00 #contraoaumento #massacreteresina.

Students and even journalists were attacked by the Piaui military police. The user YouTube akase51 posted a video showing the extent of the police violence against the peaceful students on the seventh day of protests:

Other videos showing the exact moment when the military police started to attack the students can be seen here and here.

On Twitter, there were criticisms of the police too, with accusations of extreme violence, and to the politicians and to the media, accused of being favourable to the repressions and revolt, as expressed in the tweet by Daniel Solon, UESPI professor:

@Daniel_Solon: Neste momento, o Piauí tem 16 presos políticos. Foram criminalizados por lutar #contraoaumento da passagem de ônibus.

@Daniel_Solon: At this time, Piaui has 16 political prisoners. They were criminalised by fighting #contraoaumento (against the increase) of the bus fare.

The students will stand trial by the state.

Cornered students being attacked by the police. Photo taken from the CMI site – Centre for Independent Media. Copyleft.

The journalist Daniel Santini compiled a list of other cities which had undergone public transport increases and criticised the lack of public investment in the sector, as well as incorrect decisions by politicians, like the President Dilma Rousseff.

And the journalist Renato Roval states that the number of arrested students, which he calls ‘political prisoners’, has reached eight. Their names are on his blog.

The tags #Contraoaumento and #ContraoaumentoTHE continue to be frequently used by demonstrators and interested parties for spreading information, videos and photos. The sites #Contraoaumento and Forum Estadual em Defesa do Transporte Publico are a constant source of news.

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