Saturday, July 11, 2020
Subscribers Section User ID Password
Harsh police repression against social movements
José Pedro Martins
Send a comment Print this page

Citizen initiatives seek to prevent the criminalization of protests.

Brazil is distinguished by various international organizations — including the United Nations — as a model for poverty reduction. Various government social programs like Bolsa Familia, or Family Grant, have lifted 36 million people out of poverty since 2003. However, as a symbol of the country’s typical contradictions, poverty remains criminalized, as are social movements fighting for greater justice and dignity for Brazilian citizens.
“Violence is a very present and visible element of poverty in Brazil; it disproportionately affects the poorest communities in both urban and rural areas, and in turn, further exacerbates this poverty. In addition, state agents responsible for security tend to stereotype the poor, particularly the inhabitants of the favelas, as ‘criminals’,” according to “A criminalização da pobreza – Relatório sobre as causas econômicas, sociais e culturais da tortura e outras formas de violência no Brasil” (“The criminalization of poverty: A report on the economic, social and cultural root causes of torture and other forms of violence in Brazil”), published in March 2010 by the Center for Global Justice, the World Organization Against Torture and the National Movement of Street Children.

What is most serious in the Brazilian context is that the action of social movements fighting to definitively overcome poverty and social injustice are also being harshly criminalized. Furthermore, the National Congress is processing bills that would modify the Penal Code and criminalize actions during large demonstrations, and in other cases.

These parliamentary initiatives stem from actions by social movements in various places, and especially the large demonstrations that took place in June 2013 in dozens of Brazilian cities.

Crime of terrorism
This is the case of 2011 Senate Bill (PLS) 728, which sought to criminalize terrorism, aimed specifically at the hosting of the FIFA World Cup in July 2014. It was not approved. However, another bill was introduced shortly after the June 2013 demonstrations, coinciding with Brazil holding the Confederations Cup, a pre-FIFA World Cup tournament.

A joint committee of 14 deputies and senators proposed Bill 499 in November 2013, defining terrorism as “causing or inflicting terror or widespread panic through aggression or attempted aggression against life, body or health, or deprivation of personal liberty” and mandates 15 to 30 years in prison for those convicted of the crime.

Due to lack of consensus, the bill did not pass before the FIFA World Cup, but still can be put to a vote at any time. For many human rights organizations, this legislation would mean an even harsher criminalization of social movements.

“The [FIFA World] Cup happened, the bill was not approved, and there was none of the chaos forecasters say would occur regarding violence against our guests. There was not any violence against people who came to watch the World Cup in Brazil,” said Senator Paulo Paim of the Workers’ Party (PT) in Rio Grande do Sul, one of the most critical voices against of parliamentary initiatives aimed at criminalizing social movements.

“We are totally against any kind of criminalization of social movements. We consider it a legitimate right to protest and mobilize. I very much applauded the demonstations in June and July 2013, when people went to the streets, protesting and demanding greater investment in health, education, housing, basic sanitation,” the senator added.

Even without the approval of specific bills, the criminalization of social movements is already happening in Brazil. The debate resurfaced with force during the harsh police crackdown on a demonstration by striking teachers in the southern state of Paraná.

On Apr. 29, more than 200 people were injured in the police offensive against the teachers. The repression, which included tear gas, rubber bullets and even dogs, generated a wave of protests across the country.

Days later, on May 6, a hearing of the Federal Senate Commission for Human Rights and Participatory Legislation was held to discuss the issue. “We express concern that the violence generated between the strikers and security forces of Paraná showed the inability of institutions, including demonstrators, to manage the crisis and dialogue. This is a fundamental issue of democracy. We are willing to discuss and mediate in the current conflict which emerged under this situation,” Irina Karla Bacci, Human Righs advocate of the presidency’s Human Rights Secretariat, said during a hearing.

Popular response
“It was not a confrontation. It was a massacre. A confrontation is when the forces are balanced and there, in that moment, they were not. I was there representing the Senate. I experienced and saw what happened. What we saw were two hours of tear gas, dogs, shooting rubber bullets,” Senator Gleise Hoffmann, of the PT of Paraná, said at the same hearing.

On the other hand, there has been firm action by the social movements themselves and other sectors against the criminalization of protest. In late 2014, for example, the Council of Cities, linked to the Ministry of Cities, created a Special Committee on the Criminalization of Social Movements.

According to a decree published in the Official Gazette, the purpose of the commission is to “prevent the criminalization of social movements and organizations” precisely as a result of initiatives such as PLS 499, which defines the crime of terrorism.

Committees against the Criminalization of Social Movements have also been established in several states, and have created a national campaign based on a manifesto signed by some of the most important and historic human rights organizations in Brazil, like the Justice and Peace Commission of São Paulo, the Santo Dias Human Rights Center of the Archdiocese of São Paulo, the São Paulo Archdiocese´s Vicariate of Street People Pastoral, the group Torture Never Again-São Paulo and the Committee Against Genocide of Marginalized Black and Poor Youth.

Conservative and progressive forces are involved in the debate on the criminalization of social movements in Brazil, and its future will define much of the course of Brazilian democracy.
—Latinamerica Press.


Mass demonstrations in June 2013 demanding the government increased investment in health, education, housing, basic sanitation. (Photo: Adriano Rosa)
Related News
Latinamerica Press / Noticias Aliadas
Reproduction of our information is permitted if the source is cited.
Contact us: (511) 7213345
Address: Jr. Daniel Alcides Carrión 866, 2do. piso, Magdalena del Mar, Lima 17, Perú