Latin America & Caribbean

Protesters question Brazil leaders' credibility

Protestors clash with riot squad officers on a street near Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro (30 June 2013)
Image caption The actions of police, seen here clashing with protesters near the Maracana stadium, are a subject of widespread concern

Brazil has emerged from the Confederations Cup victorious on the pitch but shaken by demonstrations and conflict on the streets.

The tournament, which was meant be a dress rehearsal for the World Cup, continued with South America's largest country making headlines around the world for reasons it never expected.

The cost of hosting the Confederations Cup, the 2014 World Cup and the Olympics were key issues for many protesters, but the demonstrations began for other reasons and there were other concerns.

Corruption, the state of Brazil's education and health systems, police violence and crime, fares on public transport, gay rights and constitutional change were all raised on the streets.

The scale of the protests has shaken Brazil's political elite, which took days to work out how to respond and is still working on its answers.

Once again the actions of the police are a subject of widespread concern.

'Humiliating'

The newspaper Estado de Sao Paulo estimated that protests have been taking place at least once an hour and affected as many as 353 Brazilian cities.

Six people were reported to have died in incidents related to protests and dozens were injured, while the image of tear gas hanging in the air, and rubber bullets flying, filled national TV bulletins.

Even at the final in Rio's landmark Maracana stadium, where the national team won a stunning victory over Spain, the gas from nearby clashes managed to reach some watching in the stands.

Image caption President Rousseff was not there to award the trophy

Fifa will certainly have some searching questions over security for the Brazilian authorities in advance of next year's World cup.

That will be a worry for the government, but faced with an election in 2014, President Dilma Rousseff has many pressing concerns on her mind.

In a personally humiliating moment, having been booed at the opening ceremony of the tournament, she decided not to attend Sunday's final.

It was left to her Sports Minister, Aldo Rebelo, to hand over the trophy instead.

A poll published on Saturday suggested that 30% of Brazilians currently consider Ms Rousseff's administration "good or excellent", a fall from 57% just three weeks ago.

The polling agency Datafolha described it as "the biggest drop between one poll and another since 1990".

Ms Rousseff's presidency has had record approval rates until recently.

She will draw some comfort from the fact that a majority of the population still supports her government, with a total of 73% rating it either average or excellent.

Failed expectations

But few politicians in Brazil are in doubt that their very credibility has been called into question by the events of the last few weeks.

The government and the National Congress have been rushing to approve or change measures to meet the protesters' demands.

More money has been pledged to go towards transport while foreign doctors are to be brought to Brazil to help tackle a shortfall in the public health system.

A controversial constitutional amendment which critics said would weaken the power of federal prosecutors to investigate corruption was defeated.

Image caption The protests were sparked by an increase in public transport fares

Several local authorities have reversed increases in fares on public transport which was a key issue at the start of the protests.

President Rousseff has also proposed a plebiscite on political reform but the measure needed to be refined within hours of being announced, and remains at the centre of a heated debate.

Brazilians did not take to the streets because of some suppressed opposition to sporting tournaments they had cunningly concealed from the rest of the world.

Brazil's growing prominence in recent years has lifted millions out of poverty and raised expectations that in many aspects of life were not being met.

Why is the public education for my child not adequate? Why is my local hospital so poor, and why are my roads so bad, and my taxes so high? Why is there so much crime in our cities?

These are just some of the questions being raised, and a high-profile sporting tournament provided the platform to raise them on an international stage, energised by social media campaigns.

How these doubts are answered is now in the hands of Brazil's political leaders and as they wrestle with that they are under scrutiny from their own people as never before.