Foreign Policy Blogs

The Missing Context in Coverage of Protests in Brazil

Comparison to Turkey is a bit of stretch: to the extent that the protestors in Brazil have expressed clear objectives, the authoritarianism of their president isn’t one of them.

More importantly, the regional context is different. When it comes to Turkey there is at least some reason to associate protests with the Arab Spring, a bottom-up revolutionary movement that’s toppled dictators in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, and beckoned reforms in several other countries. But in Brazil I have yet to read a protestor’s sign, or hear a shout, calling for the toppling of Dictator Dilma. As of ten days ago, about 60 percent of Brazilians approved of her performance; in March her popularity was at record highs.

Instead of lazy associations with the Arab Spring and gossamer links to Turkey, Rousseff’s problem is that she’s failed to manage expectations in Latin America’s largest country. Her predecessor claimed “God is a Brazilian.” Since then, the country has entered into a phase of sclerotic economic growth worsened by double digit rates of inflation and the high cost of living in Brazil’s cities. Too many of Rousseff’s countrymen still have a sense of divine destiny at odds with the Brazil’s economic dynamism.

In the Southern Cone, the middle classes frequently take to the streets to howl over inadequate government spending and corruption. Chile experienced massive protests for free university education in 2011, 2012, and May of 2013. Marxist student leader Camila Vallejo caught the media spotlight, and she’ll almost certainly transition into a political career.

One million protestors: Does that refer to those who marched the streets of Brazil’s cities on Thursday in opposition–no longer to increased bus fares, which the government has already rescinded — to corruption and misallocation of state money for pet projects? If so, that would only mark the second time in three months for the region: in April, displeased Portenos came out in force against the ambling designs of Argentina President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.

I submit that the better way to understand what’s going on in Brazil can be found by looking at what’s gone on recently in Chile and Argentina. Brazil’s just a bigger country with more cities and, until this week at least, a more relaxed population.




Sean Goforth
Sean Goforth

Sean H. Goforth is a graduate of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. His research focuses on Latin American political economy and international trade. Sean is the author of Axis of Unity: Venezuela, Iran & the Threat to America.

Great Decisions Discussion group