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Brazil's president pledges $25 billion for transport

© AFP

Video by Tim VICKERY

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-06-25

After talks aimed at quelling unrest over the poor state of Brazil’s transport infrastructure, President Dilma Rousseff offered Monday to earmark $25 billion for public transport improvements and to hold a referendum on political reform.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff on Monday proposed to earmark $25 billion for public transport following massive nationwide street protests over the country’s inadequate mass transit system.

The government will allocate “50 billion reais ($25 billion) in new investments for urban mobility projects” and “to improve public transport in our country”, Rousseff announced following crisis talks with protest leaders and regional officials.

She also proposed a referendum on broad "political reform" to deal with the country's unprecedented social unrest.

"I am going to press for a referendum for the election of a constituent assembly tasked with political reform," she said.

Rousseff was scrambling to contain nationwide protests by meeting on Monday with the leaders of a free-transit activist group that launched the first demonstrations more than a week ago and has called for new protest actions on Tuesday.

Rousseff also talked to governors and mayors from several major cities, expanding her more hands-on approach to the crisis after she was criticised for staying mostly silent and letting the unrest spiral out of control.

But many here suspect that both government and protest leaders from the Free Fare Movement were already powerless to stop the wave of unrest.

Some scattered protests flared Monday, and two women died after being hit by a car as they tried to block a highway in the state of Goias near the nation’s capital. The highway patrol in Goias said the driver of the car fled and is being sought.

Protests in Sao Paulo state also blocked road access to the nation’s largest port in Santos, causing a massive backlog of trucks trying to unload products. In the capital Brasilia, a group of about 300 students protesting against corruption blocked some streets while a protest was expected in Rio de Janeiro later in the evening.

Experts said the protesters, although mostly disorganised, were now in control, thanks to support from the majority of Brazilians, according to recent polls. The public backing increases the chances for government concessions to their demands for less corruption and improvements to the nation’s woeful public services.

Complicating matters, though, is Brazil’s worsening economic climate. The government has been struggling against both a lagging economy and rising inflation, both of which make increasing spending on public services difficult. It also is spending billions of dollars preparing for not just the Confederations Cup soccer tournament now under way but next year’s World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.

“Brazil will see several waves of protests,” said Guillermo Trejo, a professor at the US-based University of Notre Dame whose research focuses on social protests in Latin America. “This cycle will decline, and it’ll likely return to episodic protests once the media attention of the Confederations Cup goes away.”

But next year could be a bumpy ride as Rousseff faces re-election, Trejo said. Already, the protests have become the largest of their kind in Brazil in at least two decades.

“Presidential elections are always a huge magnet for protests, and hosting a major event like the World Cup will open a window for more,” Trejo said.

Three-quarters of Brazilians support the protests, polls show, and the public is demanding more for the heavy taxes they pay. In fact, Brazilians pay more in taxes as a share of gross domestic product than any nation outside the developing world.

The Eurasia Group, a US-based political risk consulting firm, wrote Monday that the Brazilian leader is “crafting a strategy that tries to generate a sense of progress on protester demands while avoiding increasing spending” as she faces "a dual challenge – one on the streets and a crisis of confidence in financial markets”.

“Her economic team is well aware that it has little room to engage in more spending to meet protester demands,” the group said.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

 

Date created : 2013-06-24

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