Brazilian Free Fare Movement (MPL) mobilizes against fare hikes, 2013

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Time Period:  
June 6th
June 30th
Location and Goals
Reversal of fare hikes.

At the beginning of May 2013, Brazil was seen internationally as a development success and was preparing for the first of three major international sporting events in four years. However, a twenty-cent price hike in Sao Paulo’s bus and metro tickets sparked the largest protests Brazil had seen in years. The MPL (Movimento Passe Livre/Free Fare Movement) started the protests in response to the fare hikes, but the protests came to represent popular discontent with the Brazilian government.

The MPL, founded in 2005 after the World Social Forum, advocated for completely free public transportation. The group, which was composed primarily of students, organized nonviolent marches and demonstrations against fare hikes but gained little attention until 2011 when a number of cities saw protests after fare increases. Sao Paulo was the main site of these demonstrations, involving approximately 2,000 protesters at its peak. The protests mainly consisted of marches by students, with the focus exclusively on fare hikes.

The MPL escalated protests over fare increases in 2013, and in Goiania demonstrations were marred by vandalism of property in the area surrounding the marches by some members of the protests. However, the increase in Sao Paulo’s ticket prices from R$3.00 to R$3.20 proved to be the spark for larger protests. Although Mayor Fernando Haddad had announced the increase in January, the implementation of the hikes on 1st June led to the beginning of the MPL’s campaign. Their first protest on 6 June was organized primarily through MPL connections and social media. Approximately 2,000 protesters attended the first protest. However, it ended in violence from both protesters and police. These protests continued for over a week and largely involved people closely involved with the MPL. Protesters usually demonstrated their discontent through marches, and they chanted and held signs noting their opposition to fare hikes. Protesters were typically young, focused on transportation, and far left politically. The Brazilian media covered the protests negatively, focusing on the small elements of the protests that were involved in vandalism.

However, public opinion began to shift after police severely repressed the protests. Brazil had a dual policing system. There was both a city police and a military police, which often worked inside the favelas. On 13 June military police were called in and attacked the protesters in Sao Paulo, using large amounts of rubber bullets and tear gas. They cracked down again on 16 June at a protest in Rio de Janeiro. The MPL quickly circulated videos of police brutality through social media.

The scale of the protests increased dramatically, with many more middle class Brazilians joining. About 250,000 protesters attended demonstrations on 17 June. In response to the growing pressure, Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and a number of other cities cancelled increases in fare hikes on 19 June. However, protesters did not achieve the broader goal of free public transportation.

Protest continued despite the achievement of the immediate goal. On 20 June an estimated 2 million people took to the streets across the country. By this point, the organization of the protesters had changed considerably. While social media was still important in organizing demonstrations, actions were no longer based primarily upon the MPL’s leadership. The protesters’ demands became much broader and focused on the middle class. New demands included punishment for corrupt officials and a bill that would require LGBT people to get psychological care. While middle class Brazilians paid taxes on par with developed countries, many felt that the services provided did not match their tax rates. Significant protest revolved around the amount of money spent on the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. Despite initial promises that the tournaments would be financed by the private sector, many citizens were upset that the government had done the majority of spending. The government had already spent heavily preparing for the tournaments and even more was expected. The protests took place during the 2013 Confederations Cup, a warmup to the World Cup, and sometimes protests took place outside stadiums.

The mood of the later protests was generally celebratory with a very nationalist atmosphere. Flags and singing of the national anthem were common. However, there was some unsanctioned violence from “black blocs.” Members of the groups were largely anarchists, wore masks, and initiated fights with police and other protesters. There was also some police repression in the later protests, including tear gas and rubber bullets, but police were largely peaceful. In response to the large protests President Dilma Rousseff gave an address to the nation on 23 June. In the following days, the government made a number of concessions, increasing health and transportation funding and introducing measures to control corruption. By the 30 June the protests had ended.

Research Notes

Were influenced by recent horizontal protests with large emphasis on social media including the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, and the Taksim Square protests.

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Neves, Leonardo Paz. "Sorry for the Inconvenience, We Are Changing the Country." Open Democracy. 10 July 2013. Web. 20 February 2015.

Sides, John. "The Rio Protests: Who, What, Why, and Will They Matter?" The Monkey Cage. 28 June 2013. Web. 20 February 2015.

Tucker, Joshua. "Brazil Is a Stable and Growing Democracy – And We're Not Going to Take It Any More!!!" The Monkey Cage. 24 June 2013. Web. 20 February 2015.

Zettler, Vanessa. "From 20 Cents to Everything Else." Waging Nonviolence. 10 July 2013. Web. 20 February 2015.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Timothy Hirschel-Burns 02/01/2015