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(en) Alt. media: In Brazil, a dual struggle against neoliberalism
Tue, 18 Jun 2013 11:43:05 +0300
In Brazil, students and the indigenous may be fighting different fights, but they are
ultimately part of the same struggle against the neoliberal state. ---- While the world
has been watching Turkey, another country is experiencing revolt: Brazil. Just like
Turkey, Brazil has recently experienced relative success in economic terms. But just as in
Turkey, the spoils of this economic growth are divided extremely unequally. Just like in
Turkey, a relatively small provocation has sparked a much more widespread chain reaction.
Unlike in Turkey, that provocation is a direct attack on living standards. But the anger
exploding as a result of it appears to run just as deep. ---- Brazil has seen strong
economic growth in the past decade, although this is slowing. In 2010, the economy grew
7.5 percent; for 2011, the official IMF estimate is 2.7 percent.
This temporary slowdown is supposed to be followed by stronger growth in 2013, although,
with IMF statistics, you can never tell. However, the parallel with Turkey — also a
rapidly developing economy gradually moving into slowdown — is striking. Economies like
Turkey and Brazil are becoming quite an important force in the world economy. What happens
there matters to the rest of the world. Better watch out — and better be prepared to
extend the hand of solidarity when it is needed.
Right now, what is happening in Brazil and Turkey is revolt. In Turkey it was the defence
of Gezi park that provided the spark. In Brazil, it is transport fares that drive people
to the streets in anger. On 2 June, authorities in the metropolis of Sao Paulo raised the
price of a single fare from $1.40 USD to $1.50. This hike, moreover, is being made in a
context of 15.5 percent inflation. And for thousands of Brazilians, it proved to be the
proverbial last straw. From June 10 onwards, the city was rocked by four consecutive days
of demonstrations and riots. On June 13, 5.000 people took to the streets and clashed
violently with police.
According to the BBC, “the demonstrators were mostly university students, but the
authorities said there were also groups of anarchists looking for a fight.” The idea that
some students might be anarchists by conviction, and that some anarchists go to college
because they like to learn, apparently does not occur to either “authorities” or the BBC.
And the ones “looking for a fight” were above all the rabid police troops themselves, who
used excessive amounts of teargas and rubber bullets against mostly unarmed demonstrators,
some of whom did attack shops and set fire to tyres. But that’s what desperate people do
if you make their lives even harder by rising the prices of public amenities in a context
of rapid inflation.
Overall, more than 50 people were left injured and the number of arrests exceeded 200.
According to the BBC, “police say they seized petrol bombs, knives, and drugs.” Sure. And
yes, “police acted with professionalism”, according to the state governor. Obviously.
After all, repression is their profession.
All of this was reported on the BBC website on June 14. The next day, the Guardian had
more. Demonstrations in Sao Paolo, Rio the Janeiro, Porto Alegre and the capital Brasilia
itself; 130 people detained; at least 100 demonstrators hurt; 12 police officers injured
as well. At times, police attacked entirely non-violent crowds. At times, demonstrators
displayed their anger by painting graffiti onto walls, smashing shop windows, setting
garbage on fire, and so on.
According to police, they decided to attack because the protesters took a different route
from the one agreed upon with authorities, and because they threw objects at police. The
police charges themselves were ferocious, replete with rubber bullets, tear gas and
truncheons. Even the mayor of Sao Paulo was forced to admit that police have not been
following “protocol” and announced an official investigation.
Why the anger? Of course there’s the price hike for subway and bus tickets — but there is
more. “It’s about a society that is sick of corrupt politicians not making good on its
promises to make improvements…” said one 24-year-old protester. “We want decent education,
healthcare and transportation. That’s what the fight is all about.” It is the same story
all over again: while the state pushes for economic growth, inequality grows. People
protest, the police attack, and the revolt deepens and broadens.
But there’s more going on in Brazil than protests against the rising price of
transportation. There is revolt in the countryside as well. The fact remains that Brazil
has built its neoliberal capitalist economy on the back of slavery, land robbery and
downright genocide of its indigenous population. The struggle against colonialism and for
indigenous liberation continues unabated. In this struggle, communities clash with all
kinds of resource exploitation and infrastructural projects that form the building blocks
of neoliberal development.
In recent years, numerous actions have taken place against a giant dam project at Belo
Monte. This project threatens to harm the lands and ecosystems on which indigenous
communities depend in order to make a living. On May 28, there was an occupation of the
building site — not the first of its kind. On June 6, meanwhile, there was yet another
major protest rally in the capital of Brasilia.
In the meantime, a shrill light is shed on a colonial and genocidal past that, sadly
enough, continues today. Recently, a previously unpublished report by the state
institution responsible for indigenous relations surfaced detailing the state’s treatment
of indigenous people, and containing a chilling series of horror stories — ranging from
thirty villagers being attacked and killed from the air with dynamite, to the purposeful
spreading of smallpox, a deadly disease, in order to get rid of people. The list goes on,
exceeding 1,000 crimes specifically mentioned in a 7,000 page text.
The report was submitted in 1967, but “disappeared”, as did so many of the victims. Only
this spring, it reappeared, a fate that was not granted to the victims themselves. In the
meantime, the military dictatorship has gone, but the terror instigated by landowners and
agricultural capitalists against indigenous people and landless peasants continues
regardless. So, fortunately, does the resistance.
In Brazil, the indigenous people are confronting an enemy that is not just colonial but
neoliberal. They are attacked and murdered because they are in the way of profitable
export-oriented agriculture, and of the giant infrastructure needed to feed energy to
Brazil’s rapidly developing industries. The same neoliberal monster that drives the prices
of subway and bus tickets to unbearable heights is driving the indigenous people from
their lands; marginalizing the poor in the favelas; and keeping millions of young people
out of university and out of work — just as it prioritizes investment into useless World
Cup stadiums over investment in much-needed schools and hospitals.
In this sense, demonstrating university students and occupying indigenous peoples may be
fighting different fights, but they are ultimately part of the same struggle — the
struggle of humanity against neoliberalism, and of the self-liberating people against an
oppressive state apparatus built on racist and colonial foundations. Better keep an eye on
how that dual struggle unfolds in the coming weeks, months and years.
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