The protests that erupted over a week ago in Brazil were not a spur-of-the-moment act of unrest, but instead the product of long simmering anger at Latin America’s largest country’s inability to provide a number of key public services to its citizens, a new study shows.
The widespread demonstrations in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro began over a rise in bus fares, but the discontent in Brazil encompasses more than just transportation hikes. From dissatisfaction with the educational and health care systems to security concerns to allegations of corruption, a study by Gallup shows a steady decline in Brazilians' perception of their government over the past eight years.
“This combination of growing dissatisfaction with public services and widespread perceptions of corruption and insecurity appears to be linked to the erosion in Brazilians' approval of their leaders,” Gallup stated. “The recent increase in bus fares at a time when the government is spending billions on preparing for the World Cup and the Summer Olympic Games appear to have been the tipping point that led to the recent eruptions in public discontent.”
The Gallup study shows that Brazilian contentment with the country’s public transportation systems has dropped from 56 percent in 2005 to 48 percent in 2012, the last time the organization conducted a poll.
The dissatisfaction comes as fare hikes in both São Paulo and Rio de Janiero skyrocketed to one of the most expensive rates in the world. A chart from Bloomberg released Tuesday indicates that people in Rio have to work over 10 minutes a day to pay for their bus fare, and in São Paulo over nine minutes.
While that may not seem like much, compare it to New York City, where workers only need to log just under five minutes to pay their transit fare, or Beijing, where citizens need to work 2.79 minutes in order to do so.
“Transport has always been a volatile subject,” Larry Birns, the director of the think tank Council of Hemispheric Affairs, told Fox News Latino. “In Brazil you had all the ingredients for conflict and you just needed the spark. That spark was the increase in the transport fares.”
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff announced earlier this week that her government planned to create a national plan for public transportation across the country and earmarked $23 billion in transportation investments, as officials in many cities have already backed down from the hike in bus and subway fares.
The transportation issue set off a chain reaction that brought to the surface widespread allegations of corruption in the Rousseff government. The Gallup study found that around 70 percent of Brazilians believe that corruption is widespread throughout the government.
For her part, Rousseff vowed to battle corruption while improving government services as she acknowledged the anger that has led to vast, sometimes violent protests across Latin America's largest country.
"I want institutions that are more transparent, more resistant to wrongdoing," Rousseff said, according to The Associated Press. "It's citizenship and not economic power that must be heard first."
The immediate and ideological successor to former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the issue of corruption is particularly rankling to Rousseff. Lula da Silva was seen as uncorruptible and a friend to the country’s working class, which is something that Rousseff has been able to play off in her term in office.
Lula da Silva may have avoided allegations of mismanagement, but his government was still ripe with corruption and this has transferred over to Rousseff’s time in office.
“You have a president now who doesn’t have the representation as a good leader,” Birns said.
Another issue that has been raised in the midst of the protests is citizen safety. Protestors have argued that while the government spends millions of dollars and runs an extensive public relations campaign on building infrastructure and promoting the country’s purported safety ahead of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics, Brazilians feel less safe now and abandoned by authorities.
Only 36 percent of those surveyed by Gallup feel safe walking the streets of their city at night, and despite a concerted effort by the military and police, Rio de Janeiro’s famed favelas or slums are still in the grasp of notorious drug gangs.
The country did recently state that it will invest more than $1.2 billion to improve three of Rio’s favelas, but this announcement was juxtaposed by sweeping military-style of the slums and a shootout Monday that left nine people dead.
“The population feels that all the symbols are there, but there is no prosperity,” Birns said of the investment in the World Cup and Olympics.
The Brazilian government is now struggling to meet the demands of the protestors. Rousseff is pushing for a special constitutional assembly that would hear from the public about what action needs to be taken to improve Brazil's political system and she has also approved a bill earmarking 75 percent of oil royalties to fund education and 25 percent to health services on top of the transportation infusion.
“The nation was getting richer but the people remained poor,” Birns said. “The population has not bought into the validity of the country.”
Follow Andrew O'Reilly on Twitter @aoreilly84.