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Letter from Rio

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – 18/06/13 – as published in The London Evening Standard.

In Tunisia a flower-seller set himself on fire. In Turkey protesters gathered to protect a local park. Now in Brazil, an increase of 20 cents (£0.90) to the cities’ bus fares has brought tens of thousands of protesters to the streets of 23 major cities, including Rio de Janeiro, in the biggest protests to hit the country in the last 20 years.

“It’s not about the bus fare,” said Rogerio Luiz, a 45-year-old analyst. “We are tired of what is happening to the people: the violence, the corruption, poor healthcare, the high cost of living. We are not getting a service from our government.”

On Monday afternoon around 100,000 people took to the streets of Rio de Janeiro. Some had just left the office and were dressed in suits, while others in the packed crowd danced to brass bands, draped in Brazilian flags and holding flowers.

But this was no Carnival: this was the moment Brazilians woke up to the poor infrastructure and widespread government corruption crippling their country.

“We Brazilians have been watching all this corruption.  Sitting and waiting and doing nothing,” said Andre Castro, an engineering student. “When they raised the bus fare  it was the last straw. We could not wait any longer. Now we are making history.”

Indeed, Brazil has not seen protests on this scale for 20 years.

Police brutality last week in Sao Paulo left half a dozen reporters injured while “anarchist” protesters in Rio on Monday attacked riot police with homemade bombs and fireworks. Police retaliated with tear gas and rubber bullets injuring thirty.

Monday’s protest came after police used tear gas and rubber bullets on 3,000 protesters who had peacefully gathered outside the Maracana Stadium on Sunday night during the Confederation Cup game, Italy versus Mexico.

The renovation and proposed sale of the stadium to a consortium, which includes Brazilian magnate Eike Batista, has deeply divided Rio. In a city famed for its passion for football, protesters held up placards that read: “I give up the World Cup, I want money for health and education.”

For Joanna Carvalho, a restaurant owner, it was her fellow workers that brought her to the streets.

In tears she said: “All that I earn goes to the government. So, where is my money? It’s in the World Cup. I don’t want this for my people who work for me. I want a nice bus to bring them to work.”