The protesters are angry about the high cost of hosting next year’s football World Cup, arguing the money should be spent on improving public services.
Brianna Roberts reports.
What started out as a small protest over train and bus fares has quickly become a national movement in Brazil.
The demonstrations began in response to a modest increase to public transport fares, amounting to about 20 centavos, or 10 cents Australian.
Two major cities, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, have now reversed the price hikes, but protesters say the movement has grown well beyond its initial aim.
“Everybody is fed up with how the authorities are dealing with our interests and (those of) most of the population, not only the interests of businessmen and contractors or stuff like that.”
By early this week, the protesters numbered in the hundreds of thousands.
The list of grievances has also grown longer, including funding for public services, perceived police violence and government corruption.
As the Confederations Cup – a practice run for next year’s World Cup – kicked off, protesters said the money spent on stadiums should go towards hospitals and schools.
One 80-year-old demonstrator, Jose De Freitas, says the nation’s discontent has been growing for a long time.
“We took a long time to wake up. What we have there is a fake democracy, it isn’t democracy. We fought against the political dictatorship, and now we are fighting against a monopolistic dictatorship.”
Tensions have escalated further after police used rubber bullets and tear gas last week to disperse crowds in the city of Fortaleza.
At least a hundred people were injured and 120 arrested, leading to complaints of brutality and an attempt to stop the media from covering the event.
Amid the protests, violence and looting has also broken out, with a group of rioters setting fire to a television van and pelting police with rocks.
At a media briefing held by football’s governing body, FIFA, Brazil’s deputy minister of communication, Cesar Alvarez, expressed dismay that some protests had become violent.
“We cannot let a small number of vandals disrupt the legitimate and democratic protests of a diverse country for people, this is certain. And this means, also, that we have to keep public order and safety for the public and private people and (have to) guarantee means of communication such as the right of circulation and so don’t want to see media buses attacked and, even less, public buses.”
A survey of demonstrators in Sao Paulo earlier this week highlighted the movement’s mixed motives.
Of those surveyed, one in four people said they were protesting against politicians, among other reasons.
More than half listed bus fares, 40 per cent named corruption, and more than 30 per cent spoke of police oppression.
The movement may not be united behind a single cause, but this protester says he believes the demonstrations are an expression of widespread discontent.
“It is a cry from society against the corruption that is messing up the country. I recognise that some of the ideas from parts of the protesters are erroneous. I don’t support 100 per cent of it, but I think that, in some way, society has become tired and is now speaking up.”
The protests have attracted international attention.
The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has urged Brazilian authorities to show restraint in handling the protesters.