Brazil's unrest: A rising power is wracked by social turmoil

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Protests in Brazil, initially in response to a rise in bus fares, since rolled back, have expanded to scores of cities and a million demonstrators. It isn't clear what lies at the origin of the turmoil, which has provoked a government response including pepper spray, rubber bullets and tear gas.

What seems to be the problem is that the priorities of Brazil's leaders, led by President Dilma Rousseff, do not reflect those of ordinary Brazilians.

The unrest comes when the country is scheduled -- to its greater glory as a rising world power -- for a visit by Pope Francis next month, the soccer World Cup next year and the Olympics in 2016. Although Brazilians realize that these events can reflect well on their country as host, they don't want the cost of them to come out of spending on basics such as education, health care, housing and transportation.

The 2 percent rise in bus fares, which the government has now revoked, was the relatively tiny trigger of the revolt. In the meantime, Brazilians have seen reports that Olympic preparations, which have already cost $47 million for new stadiums that were supposed to be funded by the private sector, are now going to cost the government another $30 million.

All of this comes while 21 percent of Brazil's 190 million people live in poverty, many in rural areas and in Rio de Janeiro's notorious hillside slums, a problem that the government is only haltingly addressing, preoccupied as it is with planning for its upcoming events.

Brazil's popular unrest joins that of Sweden and Turkey and Arab Spring Egypt and Tunisia, in all cases facilitated by social media that make mobilizing a crowd easy.

America's Occupy movement, ostensibly prompted by problems in the United States, fizzled out inconclusively last year. Even now, conservatives' efforts to spur public indignation over the cost of President Barack Obama's overseas travel at a time of budget cuts have not struck a spark.



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