Brazilian president unveils series of reforms in attempt to end protests

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Dilma Rousseff has forged her own path.

Credit:

Evaristo Sa

SAO PAULO, Brazil — Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff unveiled a series of reforms on Friday night in an attempt to put an end to days of nationwide protests against government corruption and poor public transportation, health care and education.

In an address broadcast on TV and radio, Rousseff said she had an obligation to listen to the voices of the people on the streets, but that a dialogue needed to be established between protesters and the government.

"I'm going to meet with the leaders of the peaceful protests," Rousseff said. "I want institutions that are more transparent, more resistant to wrongdoing."

"It's citizenship and not economic power that must be heard first," she said. "We need to oxygenate our political system ... and make it more transparent."

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She went on to say that she and the rest of her government would create a new plan for public transportation and reiterated her previous plan for Congress to invest all oil revenue royalties in education.

She also noted that thousands of foreign doctors would be brought in to areas that lack physicians in order to improve Brazil's national health service, SUS.

Rousseff, a former Marxist rebel who fought against Brazil's 1964-1985 military regime and was jailed for three years and tortured, then referred to earlier sacrifices made by her country to free it from dictatorship.

"My generation fought a lot so that the voice of the streets could be heard," Rousseff said. "Many were persecuted, tortured and many died for this. The voice of the street must be heard and respected and it can’t be confused with the noise and truculence of some troublemakers."

Following the presidential announcement, Brazil's Free Fare Movement (MPL) said Saturday that its fight isn't over and that its members will now be demanding free public transportation fare.

According to 19-year-old Caio Martins, one of MPL's leaders, an earlier announcement from the group that said its protests would now stop because it had won the battle to lower Sao Paulo's public transportation fare back to 3 reais after it had been raised to 3.20 was misunderstood.

"Everyone published something that wasn't quite in the right tone. Do you think we're going to stop fighting? Because we're not," he said. "Protests don't happen every day. We haven't set a date for the next one, but it will happen. We've won, but we want to win more." 

The group also issued a statement saying that it will continue to demand a free fare.

"During its eight years, the MPL has never stopped heading out to the streets, and this won't change now," the statement said. "We've always said that the fight to stop the increase of the public transportation fare would continue until the decision was reversed. Now that it's been lowered, let's continue with our fight, this time for a free fare."

Cristal Moniz, a 30-year-old teacher from Rio de Janeiro's iconic Copacabana beach, told GlobalPost that protesters needed to think carefully about how they were demonstrating.

"We were one million marching on Thursday and we all had a different cause," she said. "I won't protest again. We need to stop and think about what we're doing. We need to think about the violence, about where things are going."

She also said that while she voted for Rousseff and that she believes in what she was doing, the ongoing corruption in Brazil made her unsure if she would vote for her again.

"We pay a lot of taxes and we don't have the services," she said. "I work for five months a year to pay tax. This doesn't come back to me! We have 500 years of problems so they can't be solved overnight." 

Others, like Denis Aparecido, were even more skeptical.

"Dilma and the government are very weak," he told GlobalPost. "She should have said more about these problems. Dilma doesn't see the kids on the street with drugs." 

Demonstrations in Brazil began over two weeks ago in Sao Paulo to protest public transportation fare increases. They quickly spread across the oil-rich nation as citizens rallied against corruption and other issues.

On Thursday night, more than a million people took to the streets in the country of 194 million, and smaller protests are expected for Saturday night and into Sunday.

Jill Langlois reported from Sao Paulo; Girish Gupta and Olivia Crellin reported from Rio de Janeiro.