MIKE FOX: Hundreds of thousands of students and teachers marched across Brazil on Wednesday, in a national education strike against cuts to federal university funding.
Henry Bill McQuade, Junior, UFSC Student: Today is historic. People are organizing for education across the country. We’re here to stop the privatization of education and workers rights.
The protests were some of the largest yet against the government of far-right president Jair Bolsonaro. They came two weeks after Bolsonaro’s new education minister announced a 30% budget cut at federal universities and high schools.
In Rio de Janeiro, the march stretched on for blocks. In Sao Paulo, hundreds of thousands occupied Paulista Avenue.
VANIA CRISTINA, SAO PAULO STUDENT: They are cutting federal university funds. We need to make noise. We need to show people the importance of science and education. As people have said, they have money for guns, but not for education. People will fight for education.
MIKE FOX: At the Federal University of Santa Catarina, students began to march early across campus early.
CECILIA BRANCHER, UFSC STUDENT UNION: Today is really important because it’s the beginning of the process of mobilizations against the cuts and the freezing of federal funds.
MIKE FOX: Cecilia and others say the cuts will slash funding for research and grants and put some programs on the chopping block.
CECILIA BRANCHER, UFSC STUDENT UNION: This is going to impact the lives of thousands of students and not everyone will be able to continue to study.
MIKE FOX: President Jair Bolsonaro and finance minister Paulo Guedes have been pushing the privatization of state infrastructure and industry. Guedes’s own sister Elizabeth, is the Vice-President of the National Association of Private Universities. Teachers and students fear that these cuts could be a first step toward an attempt at privatizing public education in Brazil.
ROBERTO FERREIRA DE MELO, BIOCHEMISTRY PROFESSOR: The university has never been under such a threat. Right now, there is a serious risk that all of this investment could be eliminated, in a short period of time.
MIKE FOX: The people here, though, are rising to the challenge.
JACQUES MICK, SOCIOLOGY PROFESSOR: The issue of education is unifying many important sectors of Brazilian society. It’s not just the universities where this is happening right now. It is involving public and private schools, and it is reviving the student movement in high schools and at universities.
MIKE FOX: Students are planning to mobilize en masse again in mid June, together with unions across the country, for a national strike against the pension reform, which is now under debate in Congress.