The streets and the directions

brasilobserver - Apr 10 2015
One avenue, distinctive ideas. According to Datafolha, demonstration of 13 March (left) had about 40,000 people on the streets of Sao Paulo and on the 15th, more than 200,000 (Photo: Paulo Pinto/Fotos Públicas)

(Leia em Português)

While discussing the meanings of the protests of the 13 and 15 March, social segments that supported the re-election of Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff fight for the government to take a different direction than suggested in the beginning of its second term


By Vinicius Gomes*

On Friday 13 March, the screams were for political reform, against the loss of labour rights and in defense of Petrobras. Two days later, hundreds of thousands in some major Brazilian cities shouted against corruption and for the impeachment of the current president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff (Workers Party), with many advocating a new military intervention – these were far from the majority, but were not insignificant. Finally, the two episodes showed that four and a half months after the elections, society seems to continue with the climate of agitation that characterized the presidential race in 2014.

One of the key points of the “third round” thesis is the state of São Paulo. In the wake of controversy over the “one million people in Paulista Avenue”, a number calculated by the Military Police, the Datafolha Institute reported that 82% of the 210,000 people that the organisation estimates were there said they had voted for Aécio Neves (Social Democrats) in the second round of last year. On day 13, 71% said they had voted for Dilma Rousseff. However, the main motivation of the demonstrations and the subsequent response of the federal government are the most suggestive facts. The defense of labour rights (25%) and the protest against corruption (47%) were the main flags on 13 and 15 respectively. Dilma Rousseff, on Monday 16, confirmed the creation of a “package against corruption” and defended the government’s economic policy and austerity measures.

Is the government listening only the protests of 15 March and neglecting the demand the fundamental portion that re-elected her last October? And if so, can the ideology of the middle class, the majority represented on the 15th, be embraced by the lower classes and by those who got a better life especially during the years of the Lula government?


The first time a movement was called “15M” – reference to 15 March – was in Spain, in May 2011, when the streets of several Spanish cities were taken by citizens unhappy with the neoliberal policies of the PSOE (Socialist Party of Spain’s Workers). From the streets taken by the 15M, a left wing emerged – Podemos. Any similarity between the Spanish and the Brazilian “15M” is entirely coincidental.

According to Datafolha, in addition to corruption, the main motivations of São Paulo protesters were the impeachment of Rousseff (27%), against the Workers Party (20%) and politicians in general (14%). However, the most interesting data resides in the profile of them: 74% attending a protest for the first time in life and 41% had a family income of more than 10 minimum wages.

Faced with the question of whether it was only the middle class protesting or dissatisfaction in this segment already reached to other economic statements, the sociologist Ruda Ricci says that the ideology of the middle class, especially in São Paulo, spreads, but also focuses on Aécio voters. “The economic crisis – worsened by the recession – is still making victims. The broth can thicken, but the profile data of the protesters have not thickened yet”, he says.

For Francisco Fonseca, a political scientist and professor at the Getulio Vargas Foundation and the Catholic University, both in São Paulo, protesters on Sunday had a distinctly conservative profile, some being far-right, members of a middle class composed largely by liberal professionals.

But for him, the brand of the demonstration was the low degree of politicization of those who took to the streets. “People on the 15th had, in general, an individualist, depoliticized profile and a very primary policy vision, so that over 70% of those who were there were for the first time in his life to a demonstration and with a wide agenda without a specific goal”, he argues.

The political scientist gives as an example the agenda of fighting corruption in the current system, discussed in order not to fight its causes, particularly private funding of political campaigns. “The organizers themselves are outsiders of Brazilian political life, have no vision of what is politics,” he comments. However, Fonseca warns of the “useful innocence” of the “rising middle classes”, for whom the role of government policies such as university financing, appreciation of the minimum wage, the expansion and consolidation of the internal market and the extension of credit is crucial to its social ascension.

These groups, generally called “New Class C”, tend to reproduce the speech of individual merit, forgetting that they are a result of political will, consolidated with public policies. Because of this come the discourse of the traditional middle classes and elites being “popularized”, which reverts what Fonseca considers an incremental reformist trend represented by the Workers Party’s centre-left – although in a contradictory manner – in favour of a “new right”.

For Gilberto Maringoni, professor at the Federal University of ABC and former candidate for São Paulo’s state government by Psol (Socialism and Freedom Party), the right is achieving success in bringing together a diffused discontent with the federal government and the blame would be the government itself. “The middle class was dominant in Sunday’s protests. But this sector only gained muscle because the worsening of living conditions”, he says. He suggests that the series of measures taken after the re-election, especially the rise in interest rates and fiscal adjustment, can undermine the left in general. “The perception is that life will get worse and worse starts to turn disappointment into anger. For most, the left is responsible for the situation because, in theory, the ruler party is a leftist party”


The role of traditional Brazilian media in covering the protests of Sunday, 15 March was opposed by many social actors. In an unusual step, the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper, for example, gave the “service” of the demonstrations, guiding its readers. But the main criticism fell on Rede Globo and its closed TV channel, Globo News.

In Fonseca’s opinion, the disservice to democracy that the apparatus of radio and television stations – which are public concessions, it never hurts to remember – and the major newspapers and magazines do is crucial to the establishment of a depoliticized vision from part of the protesters. Thus, the “classist interest” that motivates the defense of privileges, manifests along with the generalizing de-politicization, reflection disability and lack of social solidarity. The political scientist coined the protesters as “media sons”. “Although the organizational process had been done by some outsiders (groups like Movimento Brasil Livre and Revoltados Online), Sunday demonstrations were inflated and coordinated by the largest private media companies, especially the Rede Globo”, points Fonseca.

However, as occurred during the presidential race in 2014, social networks have been the main tools of these outsiders, serving both to the right and to the left. One of the leading names in mapping social networks in Brazil is Professor Fabio Malini, from the Federal University of Espirito Santo. He created a fan page that, for three months, liked only pages associated with conservative political criticism. Then, using the Netvizz (a Facebook plugin), requested that the system identified each of these fan pages that it followed.

According to the researcher, the 15M movement in Brazil was composed by a set of 360 pages, and the editorial line was defined in propagating anti-communism (1), the fight against corruption and for military intervention (2) and the street mobilization for demonstrations (3). The network 1 is formed by fan pages that constitute their defense of family values, free market and morality; network 2 has more militaristic vocation, with a mix of patriotic principles and deep denial of communism and the Workers Party. The network 3 was less dense because it is a newcomer, composed by the main organizers of the demonstrations on 15 March, which are the Movimento Brasil Livre and the Revoltados Online.

In one of the mappings on the pages that called for police violence, lynching, death of “leftists” and new military coup, there has been a combination of these pages with others like “Dilma Rousseff No” and “Movement Against Corruption”, that is, pages that arise in the field of more reactionary right of the country. Malini says that the apparent failure in the control of corruption feeds the de-politicization, which is the fuel for the haters’ pages. The researcher argues, however, that the de-politicization is not just a process produced by “repressive” but by successive governments steeped in scandal and that is woven by cynical political relations on behalf of governance.


The sociologist Ruda Ricci says that the left has been weakened because it is in power. “The left cannot be confused with government or become populist as in many Latin American countries,” he says.

Guilherme Boulos, national coordinator of the Homeless Workers Movement, “the solution to the crisis is not austerity, but a popular reform program”. “Speaking adjustment should be speaking in taxation of large fortunes, tax reform, audit of public debt,” said Boulos, who says that political reform, in particular the end of private funding campaign, has become an answer to popular dissatisfaction.

For Fonseca, some adjustments are necessary, but without interfering with certain agendas. “You can make some adjustments, such as lower subsidy, but do not need and cannot, in my view, reduce labour and social rights. You can decrease the credit for the people purchase a car, but not decrease the unemployment security,” he explains.

While the question of whether the right will continue mobilized and taking to the streets remains unanswered (the next anti-government demonstration was scheduled for 12 April), the greater certainty for now is that the Dilma Rousseff’s government must be strengthened urgently, being necessary to look less for the 15 and over to those of the 13 March – they are the same who made the difference in the second round of 2014 and that may be her only support base facing the inevitable attacks that will continue until the end of her term.


*This article was originally published at Revista Forum Semanal magazine (, and edited by Brasil Observer



There is a consensus that the current system, the focus of several corruption cases, is problematic, but not on how to reform it. The debate in Congress is underway and changes in the rules of campaign financing can be made if a political reform is approved. Read some questions and answers on the subject


  • The Supreme Court was judging the constitutionality of campaign donations in Brazil. How did the trial end?

The trial has not finished. In 2014, the Supreme Court resumed the examination of an action from the Brazil’s Lawyers Order in which the entity claims that business donations are unconstitutional. Six ministers agreed with the argument and one dismissed the action. Gilmar Mendes asked for views, paralyzing the trial. He has not returned it saying it is a matter of responsibility of the Congress.


  • How does the campaign financing work in the country?

In Brazil, we adopt the mixed system. The parties can raise money through donations from businesses and individuals.


  • Is there public money in Brazilian elections?

Yes. The public resources for political parties are distributed in two ways. Through the Parties Fund and through the tax exemption for radio and TV channels that broadcast the electoral propaganda. Between 2002 and 2014, television and radio stations received 4.4 billion reais in tax breaks to broadcast political programs.


  • What is the Parties Fund?

It is public money that sustains the political parties. In 2014 289.6 million reais were distributed to them. The reporter of the Union Budget for 2015, Senator Romero Juca (Brazilian Democratic Movement), introduced an amendment tripling the transfers. As a result, 32 political parties receive up to 867 million reais this year.


  • How does the distribution of Parties Fund work?

By law, 5% of the fund’s resources are divided equally between all parties. The remaining 95% is distributed in proportion to the votes of the last election to the Chamber of Deputies.


  • Are companies allowed to donate to a candidate?

Yes, companies can donate in the same election campaign for one or more parties and also for individual candidates. This allows companies to donate any party, in the opposition or not, whether in the cities, the states or the federal government.


  • What was the participation of companies in the last elections?

In the 2014 elections, private donations gave 5 billion reais to parties and candidates. Almost all were made by companies.


  • For businesses, is it good to finance political campaigns?

Yes. The study ‘The Spoils of Victory’, which examined donations for Workers Party’s candidates, concluded that companies that financed the party’s candidates for the Chamber of Deputies in 2006 received between 14 and 39 times more than the amount originally donated with contracts with the government in the subsequent years.


  • Are there links between businesses donations and corruption?

Yes. Almost all major corruption cases involve campaign donations. Contributions of this kind were part of the case that ended with the impeachment of former President Fernando Collor and the current Operation Lava Jato that investigates bribes in Petrobras.


  • Other countries have prohibited businesses donations?

In all, 39 countries, such as Portugal, France and Canada, prohibit companies to donate to politicians and political parties. Spain is also considering adopting the restriction.


  • Is prohibiting businesses to donate effective to fight corruption?

It depends. The United States, for example, prohibit direct donations from companies, but allow companies to make campaigns for their candidates. Therefore, in practice, the restriction has no effect. For most experts, only stronger laws, government transparency and independence to investigate can inhibit corruption by public agents.