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Brazil protesters weigh president's promises

Rousseff pulls out all the stops in speech to empathise with protesters - but many wonder if words are enough
Last modified: 22 Jun 2013 20:51
Brazil has witnessed its largest demonstrations in 20 years as it gears up to host the football World Cup [EPA]

A lot was riding on President Dilma Rousseff's speech on Friday night.

It was only about 10 minutes long, but it was packed full of promises and reminders of her priorities and her past.

She said she would direct 100 percent of oil proceeds to education. 

She pledged to import thousands of doctors to expand public health care.

She also promised to meet  protest leaders, convene mayors and governors, and prepare a national urban transportation plan.

Manna from heaven, it would appear. These are all the things protesters have been calling for, except that medical students we spoke to said they prefer better domestic resources over an influx of Cuban doctors.

A tall order

The president's promises are a tall order in a country that has seen major economic slowdown compared with the booming growth of just a few years ago.

Also, it's not clear if these measures alone will calm down protesters, rioters and looters who fill the streets every day now across Brazil.

Besides, many here would say she can't implement all of these things, and that a lot of these issues were already on her agenda.

In a bid to show at least an understanding of the movement, Rousseff also mentioned her past.

"My generation fought hard for the voice of the streets to be heard. Many were persecuted, tortured and died for it," she said.

She was clearly referring to herself too; she was imprisoned and tortured during Brazil's military dictatorship that lasted from 1964 until 1985.

It's not clear if she still has street credibility as a revolutionary, but she was once a Marxist guerrilla.

Now, she oversees a government that most Brazilians are convinced is rife with corruption.

'We don't want the World Cup'

The tensions are taking place against the backdrop of football's Confederations Cup, something of a dress rehearsal of next year's World Cup.

Protesters are clearly using this event as a high profile stage to air their anger at the lack of better public services.

There were celebrations when Brazil won the rights to host the World Cup in 2007.

Now you hear that people don't even want to host the cup and see it as a huge waste of money.

One protester grabbed the hand of Al Jazeera camerawoman Julia Galiano-Rios as we fled tear gas on Thursday night and said: "Tell the world we don't want the World Cup."

Weeks ago such an expression would be almost unthinkable in the world's most famous footballing nation, something Rousseff addressed in her speech.

"It is also imperative that I mention a very important topic that has to do with our Brazilian soul and our manners," she said. "Brazil, the only country to have participated in every World Cup and a five-time world champion, has always been very well received everywhere. We must give our friends the same generous welcome we have received from them… Brazil deserves to, and will, host a great World Cup."

But if mass protests and riots take place again during next year's tournament, it could be an ugly picture for a country trying to show its accomplishments on the world stage.