March 10, 2014
Spread of ‘rolezinhos’ raises fears in Brazil
Phenomenon extends from S. Paulo to Rio as social groups adopt new form of protest
SãO PAULO — A new form of protest seems to have taken over São Paulo and is threatening to spread to the rest of Brazil. Massive get-togethers at the city’s malls, known as “rolezinhos,” have raised concern and prompted emergency meetings at the highest level of the Brazilian government, as the country prepares to host the World Cup in June.
Originally organized on social media by teens from the city’s favelas, the “rolezinho” has now been adopted by other social organizations.
Yesterday, the Workers without Roof Movement (MTST) called on its members to protest at two malls in southern São Paulo but, because the owners had decided to close the doors early to avoid chaos, the group of around 400 people protested outside.
According to the Folha de São Paulo daily, President Dilma Rousseff is reportedly working with her ministers to try to stop the phenomenon from spreading and São Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad has sent a team of negotiators to try to convince the young organizers of moving their get-togethers to public spaces.
But meeting at São Paulo’s malls, normally reserved for the middle and the upper classes, is the whole point.
A gathering on January 11 at the Shopping Metro Itaquera in São Paulo drew about 3,000 young people who sang, jumped and scared off customers and led the mall to shut down briefly and ask them to vacate the premises. Outside, police launched tear gas canisters and, once the mall reopened, young people unaccompanied by parents weren’t allowed entry.
Concentrated in São Paulo until now, the “rolezinhos” are spreading, with at least two gatherings scheduled for this weekend in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.
The movement follows last year’s protests that were Brazil’s biggest in two decades and dragged Rousseff’s popularity to a record low.
“Any type of movement that gets a little out of control generates fear of more aggressive groups joining, and any property damage would be a loss for the mall,” Marcelo Motta, a Latin America real-estate analyst at JPMorgan Chase, said by phone from São Paulo. “The possible indirect loss, which we haven't seen yet, would be scaring people away from the malls.”
Teens have swarmed the malls in part due to a dearth of public spaces in Brazil’s most populous city, particularly safe ones, according to Rui Tavares Maluf, a political science professor at the Fundaçao Escola de Sociologia e Politica in São Paulo. The youths want to demonstrate they have just as much right to visit the shopping malls as the upper classes, said Jefferson Luis, the organizer of a December event.
“People think the gatherings are just so we can make trouble, but that’s not it, we’re stuck at home without anywhere to go for leisure or culture,” Luis said in an email. “It’s controversial because there are a few people who seize the opportunity to rob or wreak havoc.”
HOW TO STOP THEM
While the objectives of “rolezinhos” remain unclear, the phenomenon prompted Rousseff to convene Cabinet ministers on Tuesday and discuss the matter, Folha de S.Paulo reported.
According to the newspaper, the president has ordered her ministers to avoid repression but has asked for advice on how to stop the phenomenon from spreading.
Several malls obtained court decisions barring “rolezinhos” on January 11, local media reported.
Brazil’s association of shopping centres, Abrasce, met Wednesday to discuss measures to maintain order, according to its communications department.
São Paulo’s head of public security, Fernando Grella Vieira, issued a statement yesterday saying that a rolezinho “cannot be considered a crime, but rather a cultural phenomenon, so it should not be treated as a police matter.”
“Police action will be unleashed only when there is an effective break in public order, once police assistance is requested,” the São Paulo military police said in an e-mailed statement. “As current episodes indicate a strong potential for security problems, the institution is attentive to groups’ movements and also has monitored social networks to identify possible problems.”
“At the end of the day, the safest thing is always to close the mall,” Motta said. “But then you affect sales.”
Rousseff’s government in 2012 and 2013 implemented tax cuts for consumer goods that it is now rolling back. Consumers already took advantage of exemptions and lower rates to buy many of the durable goods they desired, according to Carlos Thadeu de Freitas, chief economist at the Confederation of Goods and Services.
“The prospect of durable goods sales is already less favourable than last year,” de Freitas said by phone from Rio. “Malls tend to sell a lot of durable goods and it’s obvious this movement in the shopping centres will hinder those sales.”
Among the “rolezinhos” scheduled for this weekend, more than 8,500 people have signed up to attend one on Sunday in Rio’s Shopping Leblon mall “to support the people of São Paulo, and oppose all forms of oppression and discrimination against the poor and black,” according to the event's page on Facebook.
Last year's demonstrations focused on government spending, public services and corruption, and reduced the number of people rating Rousseff’s government good or excellent to 30 percent from 65 percent before the protests. The rating has since improved to 41 percent, according to a Datafolha poll.
Herald with Bloomberg, online media