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The waves of protests against a bus fare increase in São Paulo is moving beyond the city limits and becoming a national movement.
The Free Fare Movement protests are against the fare increase from three Brazilian reais (1.40 US dollars) to 3.20 reais (1.50 US dollars) put into effect at the beginning of June. The demonstrations have been met with a volley of pepper spray, rubber bullets and tear gas from authorities, with hundreds of people arrested during a June 13 protest in São Paulo.
The movement has been dubbed the “Vinegar Revolt“, after the vinegar-soaked cloths that protesters use to protect themselves from the effects of tear gas fired by police. Journalist Piero Locatelli, who writes for the magazine Carta Capital, was allegedly arrested for carrying vinegar in his backpack while covering the protests on June 13, as seen in the YouTube video below.
The next protest, scheduled for June 17, has been ironically named “The March for the Legalization of Vinegar.”
In general, the protesters have been portrayed as “troublemakers” and “vandals” by mainstream media, but the very coverage by the media has been altered by the testimonies of citizen journalists that have taken the Internet by storm. Reports of violent aggression from police have spread across the blogosphere. The Tumblr blog feridosnoprotestosp.tumblr.com (meaning “injured in sp protest”) was created to denounce the use of violence against protesters.
On Twitter, the hashtag #pimentavsvinagre (#peppervsvinegar) has been used. Videos relating to the protests have also been shared on YouTube such as this one by Global Voices volunteer Raphael Tsavkko, which shows police violence on Augusta Street in São Paulo:
Anonymous Brasil's YouTube channel published a video with different images from São Paulo, calling its people to the streets:
Movements throughout Brazil
Since the June 13 protest ended in hundreds of arrests, people in other regional capital cities such Rio de Janeiro and Porto Alegre have taken to the streets, facing police retaliation. While this month's marches had have the strongest national and international coverage, they are related to other movements against bus fare hikes that have been ongoing in the country since last year.
In Natal, the capital of Rio Grande do Norte, a movement called the “Big Bus Revolt” started in September 2012 when youth occupied the bus stations and main streets of the city to protest against bus fare increases. This year, when the new mayoral administration tried again to increase fares, youth returned to the streets.
Just like in other capitals, the local media spoke of vandalism. The protest on May 15, 2013 was violently repressed by police as shown by this video on YouTube channel Coletivofoque:
Anonymous activists defaced the site of the Union of Passenger Transport Companies of the City of Natal (SETURN), a public transport company of the city, and posted a note inviting city residents to a protest on June 20.
In Porto Alegre, the capital of Rio Grande do Sul, citizens were able to overturn the decision to increase fares by taking to the streets in March 2013. After this pressure, the change was suspended by an injunction by the courts in April. However, there will be another judgement in two weeks which could overturn the injunction. The Association of Passenger Transporters (ATP), the company responsible for public transport in the city, is waiting on an appeal. The company's proposal is a fare increase from 2.85 Brazilian reais (1.32 US dollars) to 3.05 reais (1.41 US dollars).
To mount pressure against the increase, there was a march through the streets of the southern capital city on June 13. It was suppressed with tear gas and rubber bullets by the military brigade, as shown by the video posted on Coletivocatarse:
It was reported that there were protesters that attacked a garbage container and broke bus headlights and that a total of 23 people, among them 18 men and 5 women, were arrested this night, acccording to news website. A video posted by YouTube user Jeronimo Menezes shows armed police entering a bar in the region of João Pessoa Avenue and threatening regulars, asking them to point out who participated in the protest:
On the eve of the beginning of the Confederations Cup, the event which comes before the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, the struggle against bus fare hikes has shone light on the things that really matter, as journalist Luís Felipe dos Santos reminded:
O aumento da passagem é um pretexto para o padrão do Brasil como país emergente: o serviço encarece, mas não melhora. O ônibus ficou mais caro, mas não justificou esse aumento – continua lotando, continua matando os passageiros (como no Rio), continua atrasando. Como os ônibus, os imóveis também ficaram mais caros e não melhoraram. A saúde ficou mais cara e não melhorou. A educação ficou mais cara e não melhorou. Os preços dos ingressos de estádios de futebol encareceram e não melhoraram.
The bus fare hikes are just symbolic of the standard [of life] in Brazil as an emerging economy: services get more expensive, but do not improve. The bus got more expensive, but there is no justification – they are still overcrowded , they still kill passengers (like in Rio), and they are still running late. Like buses, housing is getting more expensive and not improving. And healthcare is more expensive and not improving. Education is more expensive and not improving. The prices of football tickets are more expensive and there is no improvement.
This post was written in collaboration with Débora Baldelli.