Foreign Policy Blogs

Protests and the Politics of Futility

An estimated 300,000 protesters flooded the streets of Rio de Janeiro alone as protests raged across Brazil late Thursday and into Friday. (Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters )Recently a peaceful election took place in Iran. While the moderate candidate won this past election and there was not a repeat of the protests that took place in 2009, the reality is that the moderate candidate was part of a group of chosen conservative candidates that were permitted to run by religious officials. The majority of urban Iranians that supported reforms in 2009 were not allowed to have a candidate in this election. Since 2009, the results of a violent crackdown on peaceful protestors lead to years of arrests, tortures and murders by the government over those who oppose it.

This week in Brazil surprised many officials when over one million citizens took to the streets after building tensions after the rise of transit fares in the country. It was not really about transit fares, but a response to lingering corruption and a sense of a new Brazil where democracy and peaceful protests can reshape the future of a country. Peaceful protests throughout the week gave a stern warning to government officials that spending funds on frivolous missions and corrupt practices will not be part of the future Brazil. Often protests come about as in the Arab Spring where there is no means of changing the government via a democratic process. Brazil has been different in this regard as many in the country feel that the government is locked into a process that cannot be vetted in an election soon enough for large interest groups.

The fall of Felipe Calderon and his PAN government in Mexico was an end result of the latter process when he lost the last election in a democratic upheaval. Despite governments like Mexico and Brazil having growth and poverty reduction strategies that have brought their countries into good economic shape, the prevalence of corruption and the lack of national progress trickling down to all citizens lead to Calderon’s loss. President Rousseff and her government are up for re-election next year, but have been paralysed by the protests, partly because her government were often seen as the left leaning popular supporters of Brazil’s working public, and were using conservative economic models since before the Lula era. Protesting political accommodation is often confusing for governments as with political compromise, most interest groups have some representation in the process. With Brazil’s high level of growth up until 2012 and large amount of spending, these protests seem to be a message to the government reminding them to be careful on how they approach the future spending of the nation. Protests during the Confederations Cup showed President Dilma that while Futebol is important, there is more to Brazil than sporting events. With the expectation of high level growth being reduced and manufacturing sector losing to Chinese products and a dependence on commodity exports, growth has been proven to be fragile and Brazil’s citizens wished to remind the government that they must become accountable to their future. Despite recent violent clashes in last nights protests, the one million strong protest movement in Brazil will hold their current government to account until the next election.

Iran’s 2009 protests could be claimed as the inspiration for the Arab Spring, and for giving a hard example showing the method of how to end all protests as well through direct and brutal violence. While the Iranian government continues to quell democracy with its assistance in Syria, Egyptians who seek to keep the newly elected Morsi government in check continuously protest moves by the new government to reduce freedoms in Egyptian society. Turkey’s democratic process has become enhanced by protests over the government’s overarching laws on personal freedoms in one of the Middle East’s strongest democracies. Non-violent protests are a staple of democracies that would only shock those who feel their political careers are infinite, or who keep themselves in office by force. Violence in protests often are a means to end a democratic voice in a protest, and should be left in the past by illegitimate governments and protestors that wish for nothing more than an anarchic battle with their local police.



Richard Basas

Richard Basas, a Canadian Masters Level Law student educated in Spain, England, and Canada (U of London MA 2003 LL.M., 2007), has worked researching for CSIS and as a Reporter for the Latin America Advisor. He went on to study his MA in Latin American Political Economy in London with the University of London and LSE. Subsequently, Rich followed his career into Law focusing mostly on International Commerce and EU-Americas issues. He has worked for many commercial and legal organisations as well as within the Refugee Protection Community in Toronto, Canada, representing detained non-status indivduals residing in Canada. Rich will go on to study his PhD in International Law.

Areas of Focus:
Law; Economics and Commerce; Americas; Europe; Refugees; Immigration