Landless, homeless, jobless protest across Brazil
Jul. 26, 1997
SAO PAULO, Brazil (AP) _ Jobless and landless Brazilians converged by the thousands on state capitals across the country to protest economic policies that they say punish the poor.
The target of their ire, President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, called Friday's protests ``irresponsible.''
The demonstrators, who were joined by union leaders, civil servants and politicians, charged that Cardoso's anti-inflation measures have led to a dramatic rise in unemployment.
``All the government cares about is saving banks and controlling inflation,'' said Sao Paulo marcher Raul Figueiredo, unemployed since the boiler factory he worked at went bankrupt. ``That's fine, but what about us? What about the people?''
Since taking office in 1995, Cardoso's policies have cut inflation from 50 percent a month to less than 1 percent. But the unions charge the austerity effort has forced banks and other businesses to close, while driving up the jobless rate.
The government claims unemployment is about 5 percent. Unions say the figure is nearly three times higher.
Friday's marchers carried the red flags of the Landless Rural Workers Movement alongside union flags and the red-and-white star of the left-wing Workers Party.
Some demonstrators trekked with their families for days to attend the demonstrations, which were also aimed at protesting the government's land reform efforts. In some areas, police striking for higher wages joined the marches.
Cardoso, visiting western Brazil to inaugurate construction of a $1.8 billion gas pipeline with Bolivia, criticized the protesters.
``If the objective is simply disorder, this can hurt democracy,'' he said.
Although there were no official estimates on the numbers participating nationwide, the largest protest drew about 15,000 to the business district of Sao Paulo, Brazil's business hub. The rally jammed traffic for hours.
In Espirito Santo state, 2,000 protesters marched through the capital Vitoria to applause and a shower of confetti from office buildings.
Turnout was low in Pernambuco, Bahia and Parana, where only a few hundred marchers gathered.
The Landless Rural Workers Movement has been the most vocal and best organized in demanding change. Some 4 million families are awaiting land in Brazil, where one-fifth of the people own nearly 90 percent of the land.
Cardoso has pledged to settle 280,000 families by the time his term ends in 1998, but movement members say that is not enough.
The red flags of the movement, known as MST, waved over the rally in Sao Paulo, alongside union flags and the Workers Party banner.
The Workers Party is the government's main opposition, and the protest had the feel of a campaign rally.
In the northeastern state of Alagoas, marchers were joined by thousands of civil servants _ including police _ who are on strike to try to collect six months of unpaid back wages.
The protests were peaceful, and many police stationed to keep order did not carry guns.
Beyond their shared dissatisfaction, landless farmworkers and urban unemployed have little in common. Organizers spoke in generalities to find a common ground.