This morning when Andy and I went to breakfast in the café in our hotel, we saw news coverage of a large demonstration that occurred last night in here in Rio. If I understood the news story correctly, a large crowd of demonstrators marched to the governor’s or the mayor’s home, and some of the protestors engaged in vandalism of local banks and stores, leaving large piles of
burning garbage in the streets. The police arrived in riot gear and threw tear gas into the crowd. The news on television this morning also showed a policeman shooting into the crowd with what looked to me like a rifle. Fifteen protestors died. Another thirty were wounded, as were seven police officers.
I can find nothing in the English language news online this morning about the protests, except these photo from Yahoo news: one of the police and one of looters in a store.
Our friends at UniRio are already writing about all of this on Facebook, but I’m wondering why major English-language news outlets are not. The Pope is due to arrive in Rio de Janeiro in a few days (shortly after our departure), and it seems that the protests here are escalating to coincide with the media presence that will be in Rio covering the Pope.
Some of my students went to another protest earlier in our trip. Some UniRio students took them, and they left when the police arrived. Beyond that, we have not seen any of the social unrest firsthand or felt that we were in any danger of violence. Last night Renee, Andy, and I attended an evening class at UniRio with Professor Marina Henriques and the students who go with here to the Maré favela. They meet on campus every Wednesday evening to make plans for what they will do in their Saturday morning workshops in Maré. Their class let out around 9 PM, and Andy, Renee, and I waited at the bus stop near UniRio for over an hour before we decided that our bus back to Ipanema was not coming. We hopped in a cab and made it back to our hotel just fine. This morning we’re wondering if last night’s protests are what disrupted our bus service, but at the time we had no inkling of what was going on elsewhere in Rio and neither saw nor heard any evidence of the protests as we made our way back to Ipanema. We are living in the intersection of two types of privilege that most residents of Rio do not have: that of being foreigners and that of staying in one of the wealthiest parts of the city.
Most of the students we’ve met at UniRio do not have such luxuries, and the vast majority of participants in the social justice theatre workshops we’ve visited live in highly precarious situations. The prisoners we’ve met were certainly not at last night’s protest, and I’m doubtful that the elderly workshop participants from Teatro Renascer would have been there. I have no idea whether or not any of the children or teenagers we met in Maré might have attended the protests, but it seems likely that members of any of these theatre workshops might have family members or friends who have attended the recent demonstrations in Rio. I wonder how all of them are feeling this morning and if they know if their loved ones are safe. People in prison often do not have access to fast-traveling forms of communication with their loved ones, and I hope that none of the incarcerated people we have met on this trip are sick with worry today about whether or not the people they love are safe. I know that my own father worries quite a bit when I travel and has been concerned for my safety in Rio, despite my best assurances that I will keep myself and my students out of trouble.
Rosangela Lawrence, our Portuguese tutor back in Ann Arbor, gave us her thoughts on the protests before we came on this trip. She said she supported the protestors but expressed great frustration about the acts of vandalism that have accompanied the protests because such behavior distracts from the overall purpose of the demonstrations, which is to advocate for the rights of the poor.
May the national and local governments of Brazil find ways to hear the concerns of the demonstrators and to provide some relief in their struggles. May everyone involved work to avoid further violence and loss of life, and may the people of Brazil find safety and peace.