Largest demonstration in Salvador’s history marred by police violence
Nefertiti Altan contributed to this report
JIHAN HAFIZ, TRNN CORRESPONDENT: Tensions are high in Brazil’s northeastern state Bahia as the Free Pass movement spreads throughout the country.
Here in Salvador, Brazil’s third-largest city, preparations are underway for the San Juan Festival, but also, and most importantly in the country, the FIFA Confederations Cup. This week, Nigeria is playing Uruguay in Salvador’s new stadium, which the government spent $15 million to prop up for the World Cup. Here in Pelourinho, the historic district, you can see the area’s heavily decorated in preparation for the influx of tourists, as well as those who are coming to watch the game.
But what will be happening today is also a massive demonstration that plans to surround the stadium. What began as a small demonstration in São Paulo over a 20-cent hike in bus fare morphed into a nationwide movement for social change and government accountability.
This is the reason the Free Pass movement was sparked here in Brazil. Public transportation in Salvador costs $1.40 to ride the public buses. And $1.40, although that doesn’t seem much, does not get you a transfer, and you can only ride the bus once.
Another reason people are protesting the issue of transportation: here in Salvador, for example, there are over a dozen bus companies, and nearly all of them are privatized. The demands of the protesters include nationalizing public bus system, the public transportation system, and allowing disabled and students to go on to ride the buses for free.
ADRIANA ALBERT, PROFESSOR: The main starting point is the issue of public transportation, because this issue is connected to the larger issue of a right to the city. A right to the city is connected to the struggle against the socio-racial exclusion that exists in our country.
HAFIZ: Salvador’s bus system is the main source of public transportation for hundreds of thousands of commuters. Mounting frustration over the daily commute, its complex routes and expensive bus fares has driven many residents to sympathize with the protester movement. It has also become the connecting point for which protesters are voicing broader demands.
PROTESTER: We’re talking about rights to the city as a whole, to rights as citizens, for rights to housing, to security. Much of public space is occupied by private enterprises. You have shopping malls. You have private condominiums for rich people. And so this kind of private enterprises are really invading the city, invading the public spaces, and nobody can say anything about it.
HAFIZ: The leaderless movement has awoken the masses in Bahia. Salvador is a prime example of the inequality and neglect protesters have been raging about.
SONIA, TEACHER: The Brazilian people are a people that suffer a lot. But it is a pure suffering. But we are warriors. We are fighters. We fight for what we believe in. I want to see my 16-year-old son with a good education. I don’t want his son to be born and see Brazil this way.
HAFIZ: Infuriated by the lavish spending projects the government is funding–the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics–their demands include public audits of government spending and accountability.
PROTESTER: This PEC 37 is related to the criminal investigation of the public prosecution, because this proposal of amendment to the Brazilian Constitution tries to limit the criminal investigation of the public prosecution in Brazil. Therefore we are completely against the PEC 37, because it is against of the Brazilian society.
HAFIZ: Young Brazilians have been at the forefront of the Free Pass movement, mobilizing without leadership and spearheading online activism. It was social media networking that sparked the protests. Following the violent clashes in São Paulo last week, social media websites blew up with images of police brutality. The violent scenes went viral immediately, provoking an estimated 1 million Brazilians to hit the streets in 80 cities on Thursday, making it the largest show of unrest in Brazil since the 1980s.
PROTESTER: I am fighting for my rights. Everyone here is fighting for our rights, because Brazil is a very corrupt country. The politicians are robbing people more and more and we got tired of it. We are waking up to fight for our rights.
HAFIZ: As the march kicks off, confusion over which route to take to the stadium frequently halted the March. As thousands headed in one direction, thousands of others headed toward one of the downtown’s main avenues leading to the newly built stadium. As shots rang out, the clashes began.
So now the police are shooting–they’re shooting tear gas and sound bombs, buckshot, and people are fleeing down the alleys. But strangely enough, the police are also wandering around the neighborhood–you can see behind me. And people are just taking cover down all the alleys.
But they started shooting when mass men started to approach the perimeter around the stadium. The police originally cordoned off the stadium by a kilometer. So they weren’t going to reach the stadium to begin with, ’cause it was already cordoned off.
But this starts the revolution here in Salvador, obviously. This is now a pattern of clashes between the police that’s happened in all the major cities now and have come here to Salvador.
Military and riot police shot volleys of tear gas into the marching crowds. Many flee, while others remain in defiance.
PROTESTER: We are children of the revolution. They can’t escalate against us. No one can escalate against us. We are taking our country for us. This is our country. See what they’re doing. They’re repressing us. But no one will continue to be repressed.
HAFIZ: Twenty-four hours before the game between Nigeria and Uruguay, authorities in Salvador heighten security around the stadium and major tourist sites, calling in riot and military police to corner off the perimeter leading to the stadium. Despite this, protesters managed to attack vehicles of FIFA representatives, sparking fears the games could be canceled as a result of the protests.
For hours, police units went back and forth clashing with protesters. But the violence only further ignited the masses.
PROTESTER: Okay. So shit’s going to happen. Look at that, like, bombs. They just–they want to kill people. Like, we don’t have education. We’re just fighting for a better education, for safety. We cannot go out in the streets with our cell phone because we can get robbed. Kids are killed here every day. So we just want justice. We want a better life. That’s what we’re fighting for.
PROTESTER: The people are fighting in São Paolo and Rio de Janeiro. We are united. We are going to build this movement up together.
Nefertiti Altan contributed to this report.
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