Protests in Brazil and Their Repression

Children and adults have taken part in the protests. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)Children and adults have taken part in the protests. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

Trained according to US military doctrine, Brazil’s military police, an inheritance from the dictatorships of the 1960s, have been intensely repressing protesters in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Since the beginning of this year, the principal streets of São Paulo, one of the biggest cities in the world, have been taken over by hundreds of protesters demanding a return to zero-cost public transportation. This action was taken due to a 17 percent rise in the cost of fares.

In the middle of 2013, thousands of protesters took to the streets after the first price hike of 20 cents (in Brazilian reals), protesting both the hike and the poor quality of public transportation. During that same time, the issue of excessive government expenditures prior to the 2014 World Cup and the Olympic Games planned for 2016 was emerging.

The first protest was attended by more than 20,000 people. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)The first protest was attended by more than 20,000 people. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

During 2014 Christmas festivities, the government of São Paulo announced an increase in the cost of public transportation from 3 to 3.5 Brazilian reals. The same thing happened in 17 of the 27 state capitals of Brazil, with hikes ranging from 2.7 to 20.9 percent.

“Things are looking more and more like they did during the dictatorship. Civil and military police are an inheritance of the dictatorship. Some of them received training from the mercenary company called Academi and SWAT-Dallas.”

In São Paulo, the hike was accompanied by a benefit package of 48 types of free passes for low-income students. It was a demobilization strategy, according to Mario Constantino, a member of the group Anti-Capitalist Youth, because the passes were made available to a small percentage of youth only. “The government thought that with the end of the year festivities, people wouldn’t mobilize. At the same time, it made a type of monthly free pass available to low-income students, but this didn’t respond to the movement’s central demand which is the right of access to the city and to be able to move freely,” he told Truthout.

During January 2015, there have been at least six large protests. In the first protest, more than 30,000 people gathered and the government acted rapidly and with excessive violence to break it up. “They have a historical fear. The protests that we did in 2013 and 2014 were massive . . . and they are afraid that this could grow,” Marcela Fleury, a member of the Free Territory Movement, told Truthout.

Another member of the Free Pass Movement (MPL), who only identified herself as Patricia, told Truthout that movement is a right, and thus, transportation should be free. “Traveling around São Paulo is very expensive compared to people’s incomes. Here, only those who can pay for transportation have access to the city. One can only live here if one can pay for rent and food. It is an exclusive city. Transportation should be free because it is a right to have access to free movement.”

Human Rights Violations

During the fifth protest, people walk through middle-class areas. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)During the fifth protest, people walk through middle-class areas. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

In the majority of the protests, the modus operandi of the military police has been to break them up as quickly as possible, which has led to a series of human rights violations against protesters. There have been arrests and people wounded by rubber-coated bullets and gas canisters that are shot directly at the bodies of protesters. “The government continues to criminalize social protest, and this is a violation of the universal right to protest. They don’t want people in the streets. They are afraid because these protests are challenging the power and privileges of an economic elite that has been created in Brazil,” Eloisa Samy told Truthout. Samy is a lawyer in Rio de Janeiro, and was detained along with 22 other protesters in 2014 during the World Cup. She was accused of belonging to an armed group, and resorted to requesting political asylum in Uruguay. Currently, Samy’s case is being tried in Brazilian courts, together with those of other protesters accused of the same crime.

US Military Doctrine

In all the protests, there are hundreds of military police. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)In all the protests, there are hundreds of military police. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

“Things are looking more and more like they did during the dictatorship. Civil and military police are an inheritance of the dictatorship. Some of them received training from the mercenary company called Academi and SWAT-Dallas,” Samy said.

Prior to the events of the 2014 World Cup, at least 22 military and federal police were trained by the US company Academi – previously Blackwater – to contain acts of “terrorism.” This term alludes to the US concept of security in its “war on terror,” where the enemy is found within the citizen population, and must be attacked using all possible means, according to the counterinsurgency manual of the United States (FM-3-24, MCWP-3-33.5). “The concepts of the ‘enemy’ and of ‘terrorism’ are the base of a type of security with a large ideological component, according to US military doctrine. It is a logic of commercialization, of privatization and outsourcing of security and, thus, of violence,” researcher Esther Solano Gallego told Truthout.

“We are living in a time of extreme exclusion and the bourgeoisie is afraid that the people will take to the streets.”

Academi is considered the biggest private army in the world. Since its inception – just after 9/11 under the Blackwater name – it obtained private security contracts with the administration of George W. Bush, for a total of more than $1 billion, according to Jeremy Scahill in his book Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. Two years after its creation, the company, responsible for the deaths of 17 civilians in Iraq, changed its name to Xe Services in an effort to clean up its reputation. In 2010, when it was sold to a group of private investors, it changed its name again, this time to Academi.

Young man with poster, which reads, Young man with poster, which reads, “Police officers also pay transport.” (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

Another specific case is that of the state of Espirito Santo and Marcos Do Val, an ex-military member of the 38th Battalion of the Brazilian Infantry. He received training from Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) forces in the United States and was one of the strategists who coordinated the repression of protesters in 2014. “In Espirito Santo, he is a well-known figure. He participated in the [crackdown against] protests in 2014. It is known that he has close ties to the state and to security groups in the United States. He brings military and police personnel here to give trainings in our country,” Joao Lyrio, who was present for and documented the protests in Espirito Santo, told Truthout.

Do Val doesn’t just have ties with SWAT, says the Brazilian writer Ana Ligia Lira, who recently published a book titled A Brazilian in the SWAT, which is based on Do Val’s career. He also worked in the United States, China, France, Italy, Portugal and Brazil with entities including NASA, the FBI, the Navy SEALS and the Vatican.

Police officers prepared a dispersion strategy, shooting directly at the people. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)Police officers prepared a dispersion strategy, shooting directly at the people. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

It should be mentioned that the training of SWAT teams is done in order to carry out high-risk operations that are outside of the capacity of regular officials, such as the rescue of hostages, fighting against terrorism and operations against heavily armed criminal groups. Do Val has converted private security into big business, and now gives courses to military police from various countries, through the private company that he founded, Police Training International Inc. (CATI), which is considered the first and only multinational police training business in the world. He also gives courses to wealthy Brazilian businessmen, and has given courses together with members of the Rio de Janeiro Police Battalion of Special Operations and Tactics, a division of the military police in São Paulo.

“What we are living in Brazil, and more specifically in the city of São Paulo, is that the Brazilian elite are taking away the societal right to health care, to education and to public transportation, with tendencies toward privatization.”

“It is members of the military who are in the streets and they are trained to kill, trained for war. They don’t know how to deal with peaceful disturbances and their superiors who are giving the orders are directly responsible. Being black or poor here is synonymous with being dangerous, with crime. And now those who protest in the streets have reached the level of terrorist,” Samy said.

The protests have also been accompanied by an endless stream of music groups, which do not consider themselves terrorists. “There are no terrorists here; I am not a terrorist. I am fighting and my weapon is my music,” musician Fernando Iza told Truthout.

According to Fleury, the police look to create a context of fear and terror so that people will stop going to the demonstrations, because a crisis situation is beginning to develop, and the government doesn’t have the ability to respond. “Right now, there is a water crisis in São Paulo and unemployment is rising. To this, we add the rise in the cost of transportation, and that’s why we are taking to the streets.”

Extreme Right-Wing Politicians in a Leftist Government

Heavily armed military police disperse the protests. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)Heavily armed military police disperse the protests. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

The discontent of the protesters is directed at both the local and federal governments. According to Samy, the government of Dilma Rousseff is defending the interests of the economic groups that control Brazil. She also said that today one can’t even speak of a progressive government; she thinks that the Brazilian people have lost faith in the institutions, in the Worker’s Party and in the other political parties, just as they’ve lost faith in the government itself. “We are living in a time of extreme exclusion and the bourgeoisie is afraid that the people will take to the streets. Justification is provided for police and repression, but nothing is being said about the crisis that is being lived in the country. The people of Latin America should know that a left-wing government does not exist here,” she said.

The controversial changes to the political structure made by Brazil’s president have not only provoked discontent in different social sectors in the country, but among a good part of the people who gave her their vote as well. The first signs of structural changes came with the naming of ministers – done in the first month of Rousseff’s second presidential term – who historically have represented more conservative sectors of Brazilian society.

The military police protecting the companies. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)The military police protecting the companies. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

For example, the position of treasury minister will be filled by Joaquim Levy, the former director of Bradesco Asset Management, the investment bank of the Bradesco organization. Known as a “Chicago boy” for receiving his education at the University of Chicago, he was the director of the Federal Reserve in Brazil and formerly worked for the International Monetary Fund (IMF). His position in defense of neoliberal policies, in alignment with the theories of Milton Friedman and George Stigler, are evident in his interviews and opinion articles.

Katia Abreu – a businesswoman, rancher and senator who is one of the primary defenders of extreme right positions in the National Congress – was named to head the Ministry of Agriculture. And the minister of cities will be Gilberto Kassab, the ex-prefect of São Paulo, harshly criticized by popular urban movements during his two terms between 2006 and 2012, for promoting billion-dollar projects that led to the displacement of thousands of families.

According to Mario Constantino, the government was elected as if it was left-wing, but it continues with neoliberal policies. “They promised a series of things, but the worst is that the ministry is made up of people well-known by the Brazilian people to be extremely right-wing and it will be disastrous. We are seeing that the same political economy of the right-wing governments is being implemented now,” Constantino said.

The Protests Will Continue

The protesters are demanding that public transportation should be free. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)The protesters are demanding that public transportation should be free. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

The indignation of the protesters is increasing, and mobilizations threaten to gain strength. “What we are living in Brazil, and more specifically in the city of São Paulo, is that the Brazilian elite are taking away the societal right to health care, to education and to public transportation, with tendencies toward privatization,” said Patricia from the Free Pass Movement.

According to Heudes Cassio, also of the Free Pass Movement, the movement for cost-free transportation has not negotiated with the federal government and it doesn’t plan to. “The Free Pass Movement does not have dialogue with the government; our conversations are in the streets. Our demand is clear, against the fare and against the rate hikes,” Cassio told Truthout.

Youth arrested without any justification. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)Youth arrested without any justification. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

“We are here to bring down the fare, and we are looking to get everyone involved, because this is just the beginning. Our purchasing power has fallen; now we can’t buy more than what we could before – and it costs us much more to pay our rent,” Marcela Fleury said.

Fleury said that they will not be co-opted by the government, as other movements have been neutralized through negotiations. To the contrary, she argues that the slogan is clear: “No fares!” “If we don’t receive a clear response, the movement could radicalize. The refrain of the Free Territory Movement is the construction of popular power,” she added.

It is February, and three protests have taken place on the outskirts of the great São Paulo metropolis, along with another mega-demonstration. All were accompanied by the Tactical Forces of the Military Police, as well as by personnel trained during the World Cup, called the Battalion for Large Events, better known as “Robocops.”