Bus Fare Protests in Brazil Turn Violent

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Marco Werman: Coming up in a few minutes, the latest on the protests in Turkey, but first let me tell you about some serious protests in Brazil this week. Thousands in the streets of Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and other Brazilian cities, and some of those protests have turned violent. Things got ugly in Sao Paulo last night. 5,000 demonstrators blocked traffic and vandalized buildings in the city. Police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse them.
So, what is all this commotion about? Well like Turkey, the Brazil protests began over a simple urban concern: a hike in bus fair, the equivalent of just 10 U.S. cents. Vincent Bevins is a reporter with the L.A. Times in Sao Paolo. So you went out last night Vincent, you and a few other journalists, and you got caught in the crossfire. Tell us what happened.

Vincent Bevins: I ended up getting caught in the middle of some tear gas, which I had not planned on. A lot of other journalists fared a lot worse, seven to eight injured quite badly. One may lose sight in one of his eyes, a few shot right in the face with rubber bullets. Things got out of hand much quicker than we expected.

Werman: So all over a 10 cent hike in bus fare. I mean the original protesters said they'd shut down the city if the fares didn't change. It seems kind of drastic but the crowd's gotten so big. Why is it growing so much? And would you say their concerns actually justify their actions?

Bevins: Well, 10 cents isn't that much but I think it's become clear that this has more to do with the general discontent with the level of public services, especially transportation services, and including the police in Sao Paolo. A majority of people do now support the protests even though it did start off with sort of a fringe group that had been demanding free transportation for everyone inside the city, which is a bit unrealistic. But in the last few days we've seen this become about a city that it's very difficult to live in and it's very expensive to get around, and it's very hard, especially for the poor, to get back and forth to work. The rise was up to just three [??] and 20 cents, which is only about $1.50, but if you make minimum wage that could be up to 25% of your monthly salary just taking two buses a day.

Werman: So the bottom line here, for at least this protest, I mean a small fare hike upsetting so many people does seem to say something about poverty in Brazil today.

Bevins: I think, really, more of this protest is an outgrowth of economic growth rather than poverty in a sort of counterintuitive way. There's a new generation which is feeling more empowered to protest for things that by all rights, should probably be theirs. Access to good public transportation. And we also have a new generation of students. This generation of students that started this protest is the first generation we've had that has no memories of the dictatorship. They grew up expecting that they should be able to demand things without being repressed brutally, as would have been the case 25 years ago. And their hoping that they'll be able to do that in the future.

Werman: And what do you think? I mean, was the police response with this tear gas and rubber bullets, was it justified?

Bevins: No. By all accounts, including my personal account and lots of what's being passed down, the internet videos of them pepper spraying journalists that were trying to get away, people attacked that weren't even in the protest. There's very few people that think there weren't some abuses at least. The mayor said that the night was marked by police violence and the state is opening an investigation into some abuses. No one's claiming that everything went well.

Werman: I mean, more crucially these demos could have bigger impact internationally. I'm just wondering how they'll play for Brazil as it preps for the World Cup next year.

Bevins: Well certainly all eyes are on Brazil over the next 12 months. On Sunday we have the opening of the Confederations Cup, which is seen as a test run of the World Cup that will happen in summer, 2014 summer in the northern hemisphere, and winter down here, and this doesn't look good. There's another protest planned for Monday, and if the poll that came out yesterday said that most people supported the protest even before last night, before this evidence of what seems to be police abuse, there's every likelihood that Monday could be another big scene, which is not the kind of scene that Brazil may be wanting to project to the world at the moment.

Werman: Vincent Bevins with the L.A. Times. He's speaking with us from Sao Paolo, thanks very much.

Bevins: Thank you very much.