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Hearts but not minds in Brazil protests

While wanting better healthcare, education and an end to government corruption, for most the protests are too violent.
Last modified: 13 Feb 2014 02:13

In a battle of hearts and minds, the protest movement in Brazil still has the hearts of the people, but has completely lost the minds. Let me explain what I mean.

Brazilians are not a happy people right now. Go to the streets and ask anybody if they think the country should be spending more money to get ready for the World Cup, and I bet you'll find nobody who does.
 
Prices keep going up in Brazil – Rio and Sao Paulo are some of the most expensive cities in the world – but most will tell you salaries and improvements in public services have not kept up.

To get a sense of the mood on the streets, don't go to one of the dwindling street protests. Just go to a bus stop.

That's what I did on Monday when I spent a couple hours talking to everyday, frustrated commuters at a bus stop in central Rio.
 
"Last week, I had to take four busses to get home because there was a bus shortage," Solange da Silva said. "The metro was completely full. It was hell."

Amaro Luis Santos called the city buses, "horrible" because they didn't have air conditioning while the city was going through record high temperatures.
 
Added Hernado Antonio: "Everyday the bus is packed. We have to stand all the way. And the buses are always delayed and we're late for work. It's not good."

Adding to the pain, on Saturday the city bus fares just went up by 10 cents.
 
But it's not just buses in Rio. All over Brazil there is a deep sense of apprehension. Not by everybody, but by enough to matter.

Of all the commuters I interviewed on Monday, not one was optimistic with the state of the city or what the future holds.

In that way, the basis of the original protest movement – better healthcare, education, end to government corruption, apprehensions over World Cup spending - still very much resonates in the heart of most Brazilians.
 
But here is how many said they would take to the streets to protest: Zero.

Why? They all told me the protests in recent months had become too violent. Last Thursday, Santiago Andrade, a TV news cameraman, was killed when a protester fired a flare that hit his head and cracked open his skull.

Police have been no angels either, particularly in Rio where they're mostly viewed with caution, especially by the poor.

Dwindling numbers

The riot police all over Brazil have been quick and aggressive with the tear gas and many journalists and protesters have been injured at the receiving end of the rubber bullets and gas.

But the protests in recent months have dwindled, except for a regular presence of a loose knit group called Black Blocs.

When I interviewed a member late last year in Sao Paulo, he was quick to say they're not an organised group, but are simply using an aggressive tactic to do vandalism against corporate interests as a way to confront police repression. Fair enough.

But as the majority of Brazilians have sat back and watched the protests deteriorate into clashes - which now have turned deadly – they are saying they want no part of it.

Not those so-called tactics, not the police, none of it.

That is why instead of seeing one million people on the streets at protests, like last year, you're now seeing 500.

But don't mistake that for apathy or that all is well on the home front. It's not.

Their hearts are in it. But so long as there is violence, on any side, their heads are not.

When the everyday folks at that bus stop in central Rio say they're going to the streets, it's back on.

Until that time comes, it's not.

Follow Gabriel Elizondo on Twitter @elizondogabriel