More protests in Brazil as 2014 World Cup spirit could be dampened.
Compared with many of the protests erupting around Brazil, Sunday’s gathering of around 2,000 people alongside Rio’s mythical Copacabana beach was a festive, almost surreal affair.
Festive because, as one participant helpfully pointed out amid the singing, whistles and drumming, Brazil is a very musical country.
Surreal, owing to a dress code which included face masks and skimpy beachwear, people slipping off to go swimming and vendors shouting “guarana, beer, coca cola”
Almost two weeks of nationwide demonstrations had whetted the appetite for another march to demand an end to shoddy public services, rampant corruption and aloof politicians.
“This is a decisive moment for Brazil … We are peaceful people. We don’t have a culture of protest,” insisted Barbara de Paiva Beserra, a 21-year-old trainee teacher and part-time fashion designer living two hours outside Rio.
As she spoke she took out a small pot and carefully painted a green and yellow line, the national colors, across each cheek while casting a disapproving glance at the few souls who preferred to skip the demonstration to enjoy a dip in the water at one of the world’s most iconic beaches.
“I don’t think it’s like Libya or Egypt or some of those other places where there were protests recently. We’re not at war but we simply say that enough is enough,” said her companion, Anderson Luis Rosa Raposo, a 31-year-old English teacher, also from the outer fringes of Rio state.
More than 1.5 million Brazilians have hit the streets in more than 100 cities across this giant country of amost 200 million people in recent weeks.
Protesters are angry that the ongoing Confederations Cup and next year’s World Cup will leave Brazil with a bill of $15 billion, when they say there are bigger priorities for a nation whose infrastructure is creaking badly.
“We like football, after all we are Brazilians. But that doesn’t mean we want to shell out billions. We pay too much tax, the prices of the new stadiums are too high,” raged Beatriz, a woman in her 60s belonging to Luta Contra Corrupcao (struggle against corruption), one of a myriad group of social media-driven pressure groups.
“Do you know education in Brazil is desperate — children can’t read after four years in school,” said her friend Liliana.
Beatriz almost bursts with anger as she pours out her grievances.
“Do you know they pay these teachers just 1500 reais (700 dollars) a month? And yet the politicians just voted themselves a 10,000 pay rise,” she scoffs, wide-eyed.
“I think they thought the football would shut people up. It won’t!”
But anger is not the overriding emotion. Rather, it is hope.
Two women embrace as they hold aloft a banner reading: “I want a Brazil without corruption.” Others bear a placard bearing the slogan: “Jesus says no to corruption, yes to Brazil.”
Across the road, Paulo Cesar holds a giant banner of his own.
“Oooooiiiiii. Come and get your bacon-flavored peanuts here,” it reads.
Cesar might be Rio’s best-known peanut seller. His poster shows him high-fiving some of the city’s top culinary personalities outside their restaurants.
But he follows politics too and dares to hope that Brazil stands on the cusp of a new era.
“They have to change the president. I know she’s only been there two or three years but she’s just like the rest of them,” he said.
Cesar is not alone in having even harsher words for 2002 world champion footballer Ronaldo, much derided after his comment that stadiums, not hospitals, are needed for World Cups, resurfaced.
“That made my blood boil. Ronaldo’s on the inside track these days with FIFA, not on the outside. He doesn’t see anything,” he said.