With worldwide interest focused on the World Cup, Brazilians have been demonstrating their unhappiness about the state of the country and their daily lives.
Protests and strikes have been going on for a year; the biggest wave of demos since the 1990s when people took to the streets and brought down the then president.
In April an opinion poll found fewer than half of those Brazilians questioned thought it was a good idea for the World Cup to be held in their country.
There is anger the equivalent of more than 2.6 billion euros has been spent on stadiums, rather than on building and repairing infrastructure.
The protests were triggered by a rise in public transport fares, but the demands have expanded to include better education, better health care, better public sector management and the fight against corruption.
This is happening as Brazil faces a severe economic slowdown.
In 2010, GDP growth was 7.5 percent, but in 2013 it was 2.3 percent. This year, the United Nations expects only 1.7 percent growth.
Brazil’s current account deficit is a 10-year high and inflation in May, rose to almost 6.4 percent, despite several interventions by the central bank.
Many economists are critical of its tax system.
Brazil has profound economic inequalities. The seventh largest world economy in overall GDP terms, it ranks much lower in GDP per capita – by some counts it is 63rd.
However poverty has fallen markedly in the last few years.
The number of people living on US$2 per day was down from 21 percent of the population in 2003 to 11 percent in 2009. Extreme poverty – people living on US$1.25 per day – also dropped dramatically, from 10 percent in 2004 to 2.2 percent in 2009.
To better understand the social and economic situation in Brazil, euronews spoke to Paulo Rabello de Castro, an economist and the coordinator of the Efficient Brazil Movement. (Brasil Eficiente)
Patrícia Cardoso, euronews: “The protests have continued, despite the cancellation of public transport fare hikes, and plans to increase social spending. How can this conflict be resolved?
Paulo Rabello de Castro: “There is no solution to this conflict. The demonstrations which started in June last year, now involve basically young people, but you should understand that when they began those taking part were people from lots of different social backgrounds and of all ages – basically the middle classes – who were out there calling for a complete change in the way that every aspect of government is run, meaning the poor management of the health sector, of education, of urban mobility – public transport – they’re just not of a good enough standard. So, these are structural issues for the next government, I believe, and only the next election [in October] will bring fresh hope to the Brazilian people.”
euronews: “Some business people believe that this social discontent is an opportunity to move forward with reforms. But you’re saying what the government has announced already is not enough.”
Paulo Rabello de Castro: “Without a doubt. The government has taken an emergency approach. Their best-known programme is called the ‘More Doctors’ programme, which meant bringing in a large number of Cuban doctors. And those doctors are on contracts with salaries that are much lower than those of their Brazilian colleagues, which immediately created a lot of ill feeling.
“The discontent can be summed up in one phrase, ‘Brazil wake up’. That doesn’t mean that Brazil has not seen an increase in per capita income and millions of people are now more able to join the world of consumption. It’s not a situation of chronic poverty, but it’s only when millions do start to have better lives that they begin to realise how really very poor, very bad, the services are that they have been provided with, and that they can go out on to the streets and protest about that.”
euronews: “Do you think that these mass protests could are a threat to Brazil as a tourist destination?”
Paulo Rabello de Castro: “I don’t think so. Brazil is not a big tourist destination right now, although we know that Brazil is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. But tourism is first and foremost a service industry, and, as we are very weak in providing public services, Brazil still has to learn to provide the services that are necessary, in addition to the outstanding natural attractions that the country has for attracting tourists.”
euronews: “Will this tension effect the running of the World Cup?”
Paulo Rabello de Castro: “I don’t think so. There’ll be protests on a local basis, near the stadiums where the games are being held, but I don’t think that there is going to be a really huge [nationwide] protest.
“Brazil has been preparing for the World Cup in the usual way the country does things: kind of casual and last minute, but with great exhilaration and all the tourists who come from around the world will be welcomed with great warmth, great friendship and great affection. It will certainly be a big party, a big event.”