For Brazilian government officials, raising bus fare by $0.10 likely seemed a paltry increase that few would notice. Instead, it underscored to a multitude that their voices weren't being heard. So they spoke louder.
The largest and wealthiest of South American nations has long been plagued with huge economic and social disparities. Those in the top 10 percent, for example, on average earn more in one month than the bottom 10 percent make in three years. And as the average annual salary for a Brazilian worker is just under $9,000 a year, many of those serving in office pay themselves in excess of $400,000, with countless other perks, like free travel -- far cozier than a bus.
Meanwhile, despite advances made in the Brazilian economy in recent years, life for many languishes. In cities across the country spikes in violent crime, corrupt legal system, and poor city management has left a large swath of society feeling out in the rain. And the one service, a point of contact for millions, that seemed to encapsulate all this -- public transit -- was now going to cost more.
iCNN contributor Phillip Viana weighs in:
Brazil is currently experiencing a widespread collapse of its infrastructure. There are problems with ports, airports, public transport, health and education. Brazil is not a poor country and the tax rates are extremely high. Brazilians see no reason to have such bad infrastructure when there is so much wealth that is so highly taxed. In the state capitals people spend up to four hours per day in traffic, either in their cars or on crowded public transport which is of very poor quality...
The young national mid-class, which has always been unsatisfied with the political oblivion, has now "awaken" - in the words of the protesters.
So, when citizens of Sao Paulo learned that bus fares would be raised yet again, from $1.50 to $1.60, with no improvement, it became a rallying point for a slew of other dissatisfactions.
Earlier this week, protesters began to peaceably assemble in Sao Paulo to voice their dissension to the hike. After four days, their numbers swelled into the thousands and spread to other cities, like Rio de Janeiro and Porto Alegre.
That's when the authorities decided to crack down. As protesters carried the chant "No violence," riot police began firing tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets into the crowd. Throughout the evening, reports and images came flooding in of beaten protesters, a photo-journalist being pepper-sprayed, a newspaper reporter bleeding from a rubber bullet hit to the eye.
According to reports, dozens of protesters have been injured and hundreds others placed under arrest.
Some participants say that the recent activism over the bus fare increase, and the violent response it was met with by police, has awoken the Brazilian public to this and a host of other social and governmental failings that have long lurked just below the surface, unspoken of in the national dialogue. If that is indeed the case, only time will tell where Brazil goes from here.