Protests in Brazil have finally hit the country where it hurts the most: soccer stadiums. Three thousand protestors tried to reach Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday while Mexico and Italy were on its field disputing the Confederation Cup. Military police intercepted them, but not before their message reached some of the players.
Mexico team member Rafael Hernández said he was ashamed to go ahead and play the game while Brazilian youth were asking for better services. “I wish something like this [would happen] in Mexico,” he added, according to Spanish newspaper El País.
But besides this show of support, protesters also encountered strong opposition from the police. As they chanted “no to violence” and “we want education and health care,” officers kept them from reaching the stadium, reported Rio de Janeiro newspaper O Globo.
Brazilian website Terra said military police acted violently, with “a complete lack of professionalism in handling masses and citizen criticism.” The same portal said protesters alleged political corruption in the building of the stadiums, as Brazilian authorities spent double the budgeted amount.
Protests started on Tuesday, June 11, after the government announced a 20-cent increase in bus ticket prices ($0.10). Brazilians, mostly students and young workers, took to the streets, initially as a peaceful movement, later moving to full-on violent demonstrations in several cities, including Sao Paulo, which saw 100 injured and more than 250 arrested last week, and Rio de Janeiro, which sustained damages to public property, as reported to Brazilian newspaper Jornal do Dia.
Authorities reported that anarchist and violent groups joined the protests, causing the demonstrations to spiral out of control. President Dilma Rousseff herself was the object of whistling, the local equivalent of booing, at the inauguration of the Confederation Cup on Sunday at the Mané Garrincha stadium in Brasilia, when she attended a Brazil-Japan game. Rousseff has had a 75 percent approval rate in nationwide polling since rising to prominence as a presidential candidate in 2010; her approval rating has fallen 8 points since last week.
Rousseff called the protests “information terrorism” and denied the Brazilian government has financial problems. “Brazil has the lowest unemployment rate in the world today. The country is not only not going through a rough patch, it is fully solid. We have a fantastic rate of debt to GDP -- 25 percent, according to United Nations agency ECLAC. We are not spending more than what we have,” she told El País.
Brazilian protesters have called for another two demonstrations for Monday and Tuesday night.
Follow me on Twitter: @PReyMallen