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October 1, 2014
Thursday, May 22, 2014

Wave of pre-Cup strikes sparks chaos in Brazil

A general view shows a line of buses parked on the Reboucas Avenue during a bus strike in Sao Paulo yesterday.
Bus drivers bring S. Paulo to standstill, police walk off job and more sectors threaten stoppages

SAO PAULO — With the World Cup just 21 days away, bus drivers, police officers, professors and even museum employees were on strike in Brazil yesterday as a pre-tournament wave of protests that began in mid-April appeared to be gaining strength.

To yesterday’s walkouts, the subway workers in Sao Paulo added a threat to strike next week and close to two million public employees warned they could suspend their activities as of June 10.

The situation is particularly worrying for the administration of President Dilma Rousseff because, with the world’s eyes on Brazil, the government needs to present the country as ready to receive the millions of foreign tourists that are expected to visit during the competition. As the World Cup approaches, the government’s ability to successfully negotiate with conflictive sectors decreases.

While labour protests are frequent in Brazil, a resurgence of unrest ahead of the Cup threatens to further erode Rousseff’s support in the October election, when she will seek a second term, said political analyst Ricardo Ribeiro.

“A very disturbed, agitated social environment isn’t favourable to anyone in power, especially someone seeking re- election,” Ribeiro, who works at Sao Paulo-based consulting firm MCM Consultores Associados, said by phone.

Delays in the construction of stadiums, roads and airports have already complicated Brazil and the president has been forced to reassure FIFA officials that all the essential infrastructure work will be finished by June 12, when the tournament starts.

But transport and security are also among visitors’ top concerns and the latest wave of strikes is doing nothing to assuage those fears.

Strikes

Sao Paulo, Brazil’s biggest city and the host of the World Cup opener, was particularly chaotic yesterday as police officers joined bus drivers in work stoppages.

More than half of Sao Paulo’s bus companies halted services as workers push for better pay, according to the city’s transport company SPTrans.

Civil police forces in 14 states including Sao Paulo also stopped basic activities such as reporting on thefts and traffic violations, as they seek improved salaries and stricter laws that make it easier to prosecute suspects, said Rodrigo Franco, head of Brasilia’s Civil Police Union.

“No crimes will be investigated today,” Franco said by phone. “We’re tired of seeing criminals walk free three or four days after we arrest them.”

Yesterday’s protests follow a walkout last week by military police in the northeastern city of Recife, which will host World Cup games, that prompted the government to deploy the national guard and army troops amid reports of looting.

Buses blocked some of Sao Paulo’s main roads and hundreds of protesters marched yesterday, Folha de S. Paulo reported in its online edition. At least 300,000 commuters have been affected by the stoppage, according to SPTrans.

Traffic jams reached a 2014 record of 261 kilometres in the city Tuesday evening as buses blocked roads after their drivers threw away the keys. City Mayor Fernando Haddad told reporters that the protest was illegal and likened the demonstration to an act of “vandalism” and “sabotage.”

Civil police officers in Brasilia this afternoon are scheduled to march to the so-called Square of the Three Powers between the legislature, the Supreme Court and the presidential palace. Brazil's civil police primarily investigate crimes.

Rousseff’s popularity

More than one million Brazilians protesting against inflation, government corruption and state spending on World Cup stadiums took to the streets last June in Brazil’s largest demonstrations in two decades, driving Rousseff’s approval rating to a record low.

Following a rebound since then, Rousseff’s approval again fell in polls published since late March as she struggles to bring inflation to target amid slow economic growth.

Rousseff’s lead before the October election is too narrow to call a first round victory, according to a survey conducted by polling company Datafolha that was published on May 9 in Folha de S. Paulo newspaper.

Her support totalled 37 percent of the potential vote, less than the sum of her 10 challengers.

Inflation has persisted above the official 4.5 percent target throughout Rousseff’s first term while her administration’s measures of higher public spending and tax cuts have failed to accelerate an expansion in growth.

GDP in Latin America's largest economy will slow to 1.8 percent this year from 2.3 percent in 2013, falling short of the regional average for the fourth consecutive year, according to analysts polled by Bloomberg.

Herald with Bloomberg, online media

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