Brazil, Protests and the Future


2013-07-15 by Kenneth Maxwell

This was a headline which appeared on USA Today on June 23, 2013: Brazil: 250K protest against government corruption.

The article noted that:

A quarter-million Brazilians took to the streets in the latest a wave of sometimes-violent protests that are increasingly focusing on corruption and reforming a government system in which people have lost faith. A new poll shows that 75 percent of citizens support the demonstrations. 

The turnout in Saturday’s protests was lower than the 1 million participants seen on Thursday and there was less violence. But in the city of Belo Horizonte police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters who tried to pass through a barrier and hurled rocks at a car dealership. The city of Salvador also saw demonstrations turn violent. 

The protests have become the largest public demonstrations Latin America’s biggest nation has seen in two decades. They began as opposition to transportation fare hikes, then became a laundry list of causes including anger at high taxes, poor services and World Cup spending, before coalescing around the issue of rampant government corruption.

I have written earlier about the protests and their potential significance.

The protests are clearly significant but the charge of corruption needs to be put in context.

Brazil is part of the growing global unrest against governments. Distrust of government in the United States, Europe and Brazil is growing with unpredictable consequences. 
Credit Image: Bigstock

It could be much worse. Brazil could be like India, China or Russia; but it is not. 

Transparency International is a global civil society organization with 90 chapters worldwide, including Brazil, with an international secretariat based in Berlin that monitors and publicizes corporate and political corruption. It corruption perceptions index for 2012 covered 176 countries.

Brazil ranked 69.

With respect to the other BRICS this is the same ranking as South Africa.  But is much better than Russia, which came in at 133. China ranks 80 and India was 94.

It has just released its most recent global corruption barometer for 2013. The survey interviewed 114,000 people in 107 countries. 27% of the respondents said they had paid a bribe when accessing public services or institutions over the past 12 months, This is no improvement from previous surveys.

Yet nine out of ten people said they would act against corruption, and two thirds said they had refused to pay a bribe.

In 36 of the countries surveyed the police were viewed as “most corrupt. In 20 countries the judiciary was regarded as “most corrupt.” In 51 countries political parties are seen as the most corrupt institution. 55% of those surveyed think that governments are run by special interests. Before the financial crisis of 2008, 31% said the efforts by governments to fight corruption were effective. Today only 22% agree.

For Brazil the picture of trust in the political class is notable by its absence.

81% of the people surveyed thought that the political parties were affected by corruption. This compares to 77% in Russia and 77% in South Africa. But in the US 76% also think that the political parties are affected by corruption. And in France 73% think this. In the UK the percentage is 66%. But in Denmark only 30% think this is so.

It could be much worse of course.

In Mexico 91% of those surveyed thought the political parties were affected by corruption, and 55% said they had paid a bribe to the judiciary.  For Brazil, however, it should be noted the figures on bribes to the judiciary are not available. Some believe, in fact, that bribery overall costs Brazil almost US$ 40 billion a year.

These figures help explain the popular reaction in Brazil to the estimated US$ 13 billion being spend on state of the art football stadiums for next year’s World Cup, as well as popular anger at the simultaneous chronic lack of expenditures on education, health, transportation, and basic public services.