Squatters, police clash in Rio de Janeiro; 5,000 evicted
April 20, 2014

Squatters in Rio de Janeiro clashed with police last week after a Brazilian court ordered the eviction of nearly 5,000 people from buildings they had occupied.

More than 1,000 police officers arrived on Friday to move people out of the buildings and parking lot owned by the telecommunications company Oi. The move came amid preparations for the World Cup from June 12 to July 13.

Some squatter families left peacefully, but many others fought police with rocks and Molotov cocktails and set fire to parts of a building, four buses and a police cruiser, police said. The vehicles of local TV stations were also attacked.

Officers used tear gas, stun grenades and pepper spray to disperse the families.

"When the police arrived, some of them asked us to remain calm but others started pushing us around," squatter Drielo Almeida told TV Globo’s G1 internet news portal. "Now I am crying because I have nowhere to go to. I have no place to live."

Rodrigo Moreira said faced a choice of squatting or starving.

"With the money I earn I could either pay rent or eat. That is why I came here," he told G1.

Police spokesman Claudio Costa told the Globo TV network that the “eviction was successfully completed in three hours,” but that groups of people continued clashing with police in surrounding areas.

During the clash, five police officers, three children and four squatters were injured and taken to nearby hospitals where they were treated for bruises and smoke inhalation and discharged.

Costa said police detained more than 20 people, some for attacking police officers and others who tried to loot a supermarket and shops in nearby neighborhoods.

The O Globo newspaper said its reporter Bruno Amorim who was covering the eviction was taken into custody but released hours later.

Brazil correspondent Zoe Sullivan reported for Al Jazeera in January that 78 families’ homes in Camaragibe were appropriated by the municipal government to make way for an expanded urban transit hub set to serve international guests to the World Cup. Sustainable housing advocates around the globe have for decades blamed preparations for international sporting events for displacing locals, despite the promised — but often unrealized — economic benefits derived from injecting foreign capital into a local economy. China, by way of example, reportedly barred scores of Beijing residents from protesting land-grabs, and the resulting displacement, required to make way for new Olympic facilities.

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Photos via Reuters

Rio fare protesters seize main station & let commuters travel for freeFebruary 7, 2014
After street protests, station invasions and turnstile vandalism, Rio de Janeiro’s free public transport movement finally got what it wanted for a few hours on Thursday night with a takeover of the city’s main train and bus hub.
Thousands of commuters were shepherded through demolished ticket gates at the Central do Brasil station amid a violent confrontation over proposed fare rises that resulted in fires, arrests and disruption of transport networks.
The station in downtown Rio echoed with police percussion grenades and the protesters’ celebratory samba drumming as they seized control of the main bank of ticket machines.
Close to a thousand people joined the passe livre (free pass) march, sparked by the announcement by the city mayor, Eduardo Paes, that bus fires will rise from 2.75 reais to 3 reais (£0.75/US$1.25) on Saturday.
That may seem cheap compared with London or New York. But for a daily commuter on a minimum monthly wages of 724 reais a month it leaves transport costs at more than a sixth of income. Bus price rises were the spark for massive protests that expanded to cover dozens of other issues and brought more than a million people on to the streets of 80 cities in Brazil in June 2013. At the time the ticket hikes were postponed but the issue is once again on the agenda. 
Although Thursday’s protest was far smaller than last year’s it was more focussed and the organisers’ tactics appeared to take the large ranks of police by surprise.
After marching peacefully from the Candelaria area dozens of activists from the Black Block group sprinted off and entered the station before police could close the gates. They smashed turnstiles, waved flags and entreated commuters to enter the train system without paying.
Riot police and station security temporarily regained territory with pepper spray and percussion grenades, but after a brief hiatus the demonstrators regained control of the concourse and started drumming, dancing and singing as passengers – many clutching hankerchiefs to their faces because of the pungent police gas in the terminal – passed by without paying.
“I totally support this protest,” said Fabiana Aragon, a red-faced, teary-eyed health worker who was heading home after work. The 43-year-old said she spent almost a third of her 1,000 reais income on transport fares but still had to endure long delays, dirty trains and hot, crowded carriages without air conditioning. “The situation now is absurd.”
The clashes spread to the streets outside the station. Half a dozen fires burned in the streets of the neighbouring red-light district. Firemen were called in to extinguish a blaze that reduced a bus ticket booth to embers. Hundreds of panicked commuters stampeded through the main bus station after police fired percussion grenades despite no visible sign of protesters. Two young black men with face-masks cried as they were arrested, handcuffed and put inside an armoured police vehicle.
Participants in the demonstration said there would be more protests in the run up to the World Cup, which starts on 12 June.
“Public transport is slow, dirty, hot and expensive. The government shouldn’t be talking about raising fares, it should be working to improve services,“ said Yasmin Thayna, a 21-year-old student. “When the World Cup comes there will be more demonstrations. The World Cup is worsening inequality.”
It remains to be seen, however, whether the movement can return to the scale of the 2013 protests.
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Rio fare protesters seize main station & let commuters travel for free
February 7, 2014

After street protests, station invasions and turnstile vandalism, Rio de Janeiro’s free public transport movement finally got what it wanted for a few hours on Thursday night with a takeover of the city’s main train and bus hub.

Thousands of commuters were shepherded through demolished ticket gates at the Central do Brasil station amid a violent confrontation over proposed fare rises that resulted in fires, arrests and disruption of transport networks.

The station in downtown Rio echoed with police percussion grenades and the protesters’ celebratory samba drumming as they seized control of the main bank of ticket machines.

Close to a thousand people joined the passe livre (free pass) march, sparked by the announcement by the city mayor, Eduardo Paes, that bus fires will rise from 2.75 reais to 3 reais (£0.75/US$1.25) on Saturday.

That may seem cheap compared with London or New York. But for a daily commuter on a minimum monthly wages of 724 reais a month it leaves transport costs at more than a sixth of income. 
Bus price rises were the spark for massive protests that expanded to cover dozens of other issues and brought more than a million people on to the streets of 80 cities in Brazil in June 2013. At the time the ticket hikes were postponed but the issue is once again on the agenda

Although Thursday’s protest was far smaller than last year’s it was more focussed and the organisers’ tactics appeared to take the large ranks of police by surprise.

After marching peacefully from the Candelaria area dozens of activists from the Black Block group sprinted off and entered the station before police could close the gates. They smashed turnstiles, waved flags and entreated commuters to enter the train system without paying.

Riot police and station security temporarily regained territory with pepper spray and percussion grenades, but after a brief hiatus the demonstrators regained control of the concourse and started drumming, dancing and singing as passengers – many clutching hankerchiefs to their faces because of the pungent police gas in the terminal – passed by without paying.

“I totally support this protest,” said Fabiana Aragon, a red-faced, teary-eyed health worker who was heading home after work. The 43-year-old said she spent almost a third of her 1,000 reais income on transport fares but still had to endure long delays, dirty trains and hot, crowded carriages without air conditioning. “The situation now is absurd.”

The clashes spread to the streets outside the station. Half a dozen fires burned in the streets of the neighbouring red-light district. Firemen were called in to extinguish a blaze that reduced a bus ticket booth to embers. Hundreds of panicked commuters stampeded through the main bus station after police fired percussion grenades despite no visible sign of protesters. Two young black men with face-masks cried as they were arrested, handcuffed and put inside an armoured police vehicle.

Participants in the demonstration said there would be more protests in the run up to the World Cup, which starts on 12 June.

“Public transport is slow, dirty, hot and expensive. The government shouldn’t be talking about raising fares, it should be working to improve services,“ said Yasmin Thayna, a 21-year-old student. “When the World Cup comes there will be more demonstrations. The World Cup is worsening inequality.”

It remains to be seen, however, whether the movement can return to the scale of the 2013 protests.

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Brazil: FIFA forces evictions for World Cup parking lot, police brutality rages
January 9, 2014

A dozen houses in the Mangueira slums of Rio de Janeiro have been demolished, and residents have been removed at gun point by the government of Brazil in order to build a parking lot for the upcoming World Cup.

People who were living in these homes were targeted by militarized riot cops, sent in by the government to push them into the streets. They were not even allowed to gather their personal belongings.

Impoverished residents were forcefully evicted in large numbers by the government: the riot cops even threatened to kill children in their mothers’ arms.

This video shows even more brutality: cops teargassing women for simply passing by; riot cops repeatedly attacking locals, throwing teargas grenades into their homes or aiming straight at them, and terrorizing and bullying defenseless people on the streets.

Riot cops are an occupying force, while people from Brazil fight FIFA and their government for targeted attacks on indigenous people, pregnant women and black people.

Faced with another episode of brutal oppression in the name of the World Cup and FIFA (an organisation which has kept silent about crimes, and racist/social abuses committed by the government of Brazil), activists from Rio de Janeiro organised to help people in the slums resist the governments violent gentrification attack.

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Tens-to-hundreds of thousands join teachers’ protest in Rio de Janeiro
October 8, 2013

Rio de Janeiro was once again racked by violent protest on Tuesday night as a teachers strike became the latest rallying point for public discontent over public services and police brutality.

Several tens of thousands joined a demonstration in support of teachers, who are opposed to an austerity salary and benefit package proposed by Rio’s mayor, Eduardo Paes.

The turnout, despite a torrential downpour, was among the biggest since a nationwide wave of protests in June that overshadowed preparations for next year’s World Cup.

Anarchist groups smashed banks and burnt a bus, while “black bloc” protesters threw firebombs at the police, who were assaulting the protesters with teargas, rubber bullets and percussion grenades.

The scenes outside the city hall will resurrect fears about social stability that had abated in recent months. After the million-strong protests three months ago, the president, Dilma Rousseff, tried to assuage public anger with a promise to divert more revenue to education and health.

But scepticism remains. Brazil spends a similar amount of its GDP on education as the UK, but the returns on this public investment are poor. With short school hours, high truancy rates and comparatively poor academic results, many suspect the system is mired in corruption and excessive bureaucracy.

In Rio, the teachers’ union says the mayor’s pay offer is too low. Many feel that the public education system is failing the nation and needs major reform. They have been on strike for 46 days.

Among the protesters was Gisela Ferreira, who earns 1,000 reais (£280) for a 64-hour month of teaching in a secondary school in Paraty. She said she joined the demonstration because the education system in Rio was being privatised by stealth.

While contracts were extended to private companies for classroom air conditioner rentals and other basic services, she said, there was less money for teachers, some of whom were expected to teach more than 10 subjects. “I’ve been a teacher for six years and in that time, conditions have got worse and worse. Every year we have less autonomy.”

"We want to show our solidarity with the teachers," said Isabel Mansur. "Their conditions are terrible. And when they protested last week, there was an unacceptably violent response from the police."

Many on the march wore crash helmets and masks in preparation for conflict with the police. Black Bloc protesters carried banners depicting molotov cocktails and slogans reading "The people’s rebellion is justified". They handed out leaflets outlining their position, which said: "Relax people. It’s us, the Black Bloc. What you can’t do, we can. We don’t just attack, we defend people against police abuse and defend our right to protest."

When crowds gathered outside the city council building amid a downpour, the sporadic clashes intensified. One group of Black Bloc anarchists smashed a gate to the city hall, while others broke into shops and set fire to banks and buses. Police fired volleys of teargas and percussion grenades to disperse the crowds, who responded with firebombs.

Another teacher at the protest, Aline de Luca, said that despite the violence of last week’s demonstration, she had come back because the education system needed to be changed.

"I want our classes to be better resourced. At present we can’t function properly as a school because there is no money even for a janitor or a secretary," she said.

She was heartened by the increased turnout. “We have support from the people. Many of those who are here are not education professionals”, she said. “I am hopeful things will improve because we have never seen society as mobilized as it is now.”

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Brazil hit by largest protests yet as hundreds of thousands march
June 21, 2013

Brazil’s biggest protests in two decades intensified on Thursday despite government concessions meant to quell the demonstrations, as 300,000 people took to the streets of Rio de Janeiro and hundreds of thousands more flooded other cities.

Undeterred by the reversal of transport fare hikes that sparked the protests, and promises of better public services, marchers demonstrated around two international soccer matches and in locales as diverse as the Amazon capital of Manaus and the prosperous southern city of Florianopolis.

"Twenty cents was just the start," read signs held by many converging along the Avenida Paulista, the broad avenue in central Sao Paulo, referring to the bus fare reductions.

In the capital, Brasilia, tens of thousands of protesters by early evening marched around the landmark modernist buildings that house Congress, the Supreme Court and presidential offices.

The swelling tide of protests prompted President Dilma Rousseff to cancel a trip next week to Japan, her office said.

The targets of the protests, now in their second week, have broadened to include high taxes, inflation, corruption and poor public services ranging from hospitals and schools to roads and police forces.

With an international soccer tournament as a backdrop, demonstrators are also denouncing the more than $26 billion of public money that will be spent on the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, two events meant to showcase a modern, developed Brazil.

After the concession on transport fares on Wednesday, activist groups differed over what their next priority should be. But the competing demands of demonstrators appeared to add to the intensity of Thursday’s protests.

Inside the Maracanã stadium in Rio de Janeiro, soccer fans sang protest songs and showed support for the throngs of demonstrators gathering in the city. In Salvador, a northeastern city hosting another game of the soccer tournament that serves as a World Cup test run, protesters clashed with police, who fired teargas to disperse crowds.

The unrest comes six months before an election year and at a time when Brazil, after nearly a decade-long economic boom in which the country’s profile soared on the global stage, enters a period of uncertainty. Economic growth of less than 1 percent last year, annual inflation of 6.5 percent and a loss of appetite for Brazilian assets among international investors have clouded what had been a feel-good era for Brazil.

Brazil’s currency, the real, dropped to a four-year low on Thursday, trading as weak as 2.275 per U.S. dollar. The country’s benchmark stock market index, the Bovespa, also hit a four-year low.

Changing political landscape

The protests have shaken the once solid ground under Rousseff and her ruling Workers’ Party, a bloc that itself grew out of convulsive demonstrations by Brazil’s labor movement 30 years ago. Until inflation and other economic woes began eroding her poll numbers in recent weeks, Rousseff enjoyed some of the highest approval ratings of any elected leader worldwide.

The demonstrations have been largely non-violent and comprised mostly middle-class, well-educated voters who do not form the bulk of Rousseff’s electoral base.

But she and her party have sought to get ahead of the complaints and embrace them as their own - a shift that contrasts sharply with a playbook that long relied on telling Brazilians that they had never had it so good.

With little more than a year to go before presidential and gubernatorial elections, the unrest is forcing incumbents and traditional political parties to reconsider their strategies.

The decision to cut transportation fares illustrates what many analysts consider a reactive and contradictory response by a ruling class caught off guard.

"Were they wrong before or are they wrong now?" asked Carlos Melo, a political scientist at Insper, a business school in Sao Paulo, noting what had been a steadfast refusal to reverse a fare hike.

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People’s Summit: An Alternative to UN ConventionJune 21, 2012
While presidents and prime ministers gather at the United Nations sustainability conference in Brazil to seek a balance between economic development and environmental protection, 200 non-government groups are hosting their own alternative event.
The nine-day People’s Summit is fostering conversation between social movements, including indigenous groups, environmental activists, unions and land rights groups.
They came to Rio to search for alternatives to those proposed by world leaders, which they say have accomplished little since the last UN summit 20 years ago.
The movement spawned two marches drawing tens of thousands. One protested the removal of communities to make way for projects connected to the 2016 Olympics. The other opposed alleged capitalist appropriation of the Earth Summit. 
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People’s Summit: An Alternative to UN Convention
June 21, 2012

While presidents and prime ministers gather at the United Nations sustainability conference in Brazil to seek a balance between economic development and environmental protection, 200 non-government groups are hosting their own alternative event.

The nine-day People’s Summit is fostering conversation between social movements, including indigenous groups, environmental activists, unions and land rights groups.

They came to Rio to search for alternatives to those proposed by world leaders, which they say have accomplished little since the last UN summit 20 years ago.

The movement spawned two marches drawing tens of thousands. One protested the removal of communities to make way for projects connected to the 2016 Olympics. The other opposed alleged capitalist appropriation of the Earth Summit. 

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