November 15 is Republic Day here in Brazil. This is a celebration of the end of the Empire of Brazil, and the beginning of the Brazilian Republic, on Nov. 15, 1889.
Brazil was a colony of Portugal beginning from the landing of Pedro Alvares Cabral in 1500, up until 1815, when it was elevated to the rank of kingdom with the formation of the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil, and the Algarves. Brazil achieved independence in 1822 with the formation of the Empire of Brazil, a unitary state governed under a constitutional monarchy (with Dom Pedro I crowned king) and a parliamentary system. The country became a presidential republic in 1889, when a military coup d’état proclaimed the Republic. Its current Constitution, formulated in 1988, defines Brazil as a federal republic. The Federation is formed by the union of the Federal District, the 26 States, and 5,564 Municipalities.
Transfer of power in the Republic has been calm and orderly since 1985, though civil unrest is now on the rise, with the people in the streets believing that their political leaders have lost touch the with reality of common life, and have ignored the needs for proper schools, hospitals and medical care, and infrastructure.
Starting in June 2013, hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets of the major cities of Brazil (and many smaller cities, where life is perhaps harsher in some respects), demanding that money be spent on necessities for Brazilians, not on multi-million dollar sports stadiums and other projects that line the pockets of the wealthy.
Initially, and for many weeks, these were peaceful protests, with protesters themselves governing the behavior of those who would have chosen violence. But violence by the police prompted violence by the protesters, and today many of the protests feature violence by some of those involved, typically the Black Bloc.
Now protests are scheduled nationwide for Nov. 15. Let’s hope the protests stay peaceful. Given the past few protests, I’m not hopeful.
In the past two weeks, protests have been sparked by the insufferably long commute times here in Sao Paulo. Yesterday (Nov. 6), there was a 265-plus-mile-long traffic jam here after work. No real reason, just rain and 8 million vehicles. Another 8 million people ride buses and the metro, sometimes commuting for 3 hours each way, jammed against each other while on the bus or metro, as well as while waiting. They have no choice. They can’t afford to live near their work, and must commute from the outlying areas and affordable housing (and I use the terms “affordable” and “housing” loosely).
President Dilma Rousseff recently announced $4 billion in public spending in Sao Paulo, much of it earmarked for new infrastructure for bus lanes and the subway. But officials acknowledge it will take years to expand the subway, create more dedicated bus lanes, and beef up public transportation fleets.
On Avenida Washington Luis near us, the promise of a new bus lane was kept, but that was achieved by narrowing the already-narrow car lanes and cramming a dedicated bus lane in to the right lane. This has effectively strangled traffic in both directions. What is needed are NEW LANES, NEW ROADS, not re-striping of existing roads to create four lanes where three used to be. Ah, the Brazilian way!
On Oct. 25, protesters fed up with empty promises and no results burned buses on the main road to the airport, wreaking havoc for their fellow Paulistas.