A Brazilian Autumn?


Miguel Borba de Sa in Jacobin:

Mark Bergfeld: How could a twenty-cent increase in bus fares spark protests in more than 100 towns and cities across Brazil?

Miguel Borba de Sa: In his book, The Road To Serfdom the Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek wrote that there are two areas that one cannot leave to the competitive principle: transport and the environment. Brazil’s bourgeoisie consistently fails to understand this.

In the last ten years transportation has become a lucrative business for the Brazilian elite and local government officials. Enterprises and corporations bid for local routes and lines. Local government officials cosy up to the bus companies for benefits.

Here in Brazil, transport costs cut into workers’ wages far more than other utilities such as electricity or water. Fares have risen faster than inflation. An average workers’ wage is 650 Brazilian real. A bus ticket is 2 real. This private-public relationship has broken down.

The movement we see on the streets today actually started in Porto Alegre. People protested the fare increase two months ago. The police turned violent. Public outrage followed and the hike was halted. Was it a victory? No! The money for the bus company was raised by exempting the local bus company from future tax payments. In Rio, for every real I pay for a ticket the local authorities adds the same amount in subsidies or tax exemption.

At the same time the huge infrastructure projects like the Confederation Cup, the Pope’s visit later this year, the FIFA World Cup have displaced poor people from the city center and, in many cases, even cut them off from public transport. Dissatisfaction and “unfairness” have been simmering on Facebook, in the popular neighbourhoods and among working class youths. Radicalization and marginalisation have gone hand in hand. Now there is collective rage.