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Brazil: Police Violence and Privatization of Public Space in Porto Alegre

[All links lead to Portuguese language pages]

On October 4, 2012 hundreds of students and activists met at the Montevideo Plaza and in the Glênio Peres Square in Porto Alegre, to protest against what they called the privatization of public space.

They protested against the banning of use of that square by street performers and by the general population for artistic activities or fairs, as Coca-Cola was allowed to use the space to put a gigantic inflatable “Tatu-bola” (Soccer Armadillo), symbol of the 2014 World Cup. Porto Alegre is one of the main host cities.

Marco Aurelio Weissheimer explained:

A prefeitura de Porto Alegre repassou para a Coca-Cola a tarefa de “cuidar” do Largo Glênio Peres, uma das áreas mais tradicionais do centro da capital e espaço histórico de manifestações sociais, culturais e políticos.

[...]

A iniciativa não é isolada. Outros espaços públicos da cidade estão sendo repassados pela gestão Fortunati para a iniciativa privada, como é o caso do Auditório Araújo Viana, agora sob os cuidados da produtora Opus. O ufanismo empreendedorista embalado pelas “obras da Copa” justifica a invasão privada de espaços públicos na cidade.

The city hall handed over to Coca-Cola the task of “taking care” of the Glênio Peres Square, one of the most traditional areas of the center of the capital and historically a space for social protest, cultural and political gatherings.

[...]

The initiative is not unique. Other public spaces of the city are being turned over to the management of [Mayor] Fortunati to the private sector, as is the case of Araújo Viana Auditorium, now under the care of Opus, a producer. An enterprise-oriented, nationalistic swagger wrapped in “construction for the World Cup” justifies the private invasion of public spaces in the city.

The students and activists tried to destroy the mascot – in which they succeeded – and in the process were repressed with extreme violence by the Military Brigade, the local military police at the service of the Governor of the state.

Photo that become famous from the scenes of violence in Porto Alegre. Photo: Ramiro Furquim/Sul21.com.br used with permission

Photo that become famous from the scenes of violence in Porto Alegre. Photo: Ramiro Furquim/Sul21.com.br used with permission

Ramiro Furquim, Igor Natusch, Samir Oliveira and Felipe Prestes wrote for the alternative newspaper Sul 21 about the events. According to them, the “protestors were dancing, singing and shouting words against Mayor José Fortunati (PDT)” while “more than 20 municipal police defended the entrance to city hall and exactly 19 military police – grouped in four vehicles and three motorcycles – defended the mascot.”

Soccer Armadillo destroyed after protesters' actions. Photo: Ramiro Furquim/Sul21.com.br used with permission

Soccer Armadillo destroyed after protesters’ actions. Photo: Ramiro Furquim/Sul21.com.br used with permission

According to witnesses, some few protesters passed through without being contained by the barrier around the inflatable armadillo and, once close to it, the Military Brigade started to attack all those who were in the area.

Para defender o boneco (…) foram deslocados cerca de 60 policiais militares do Pelotão de Operações Especiais (POE) do 9º Batalhão de Polícia Militar, além de tropas da Guarda Municipal. Os policiais jogaram bombas de gás lacrimogêneo, dispararam tiros com munição não-letal e partiram para cima dos manifestantes com seus cassetetes. Os relatos informam que sequer os jornalistas presentes foram poupados. Pelo menos três, que estavam devidamente identificados com seus crachás, foram agredidos: um fotógrafo do jornal Zero Hora, um repórter do Correio do Povo e um repórter da Rádio Guaíba.

To defend the armadillo (…) about 60 military police were deployed from the Special Operations Platoon (POE) of the 9th Military Police Battalion, beyond troops from the City Guard. The police launched tear gas bombs, shot non-lethal munitions and rained down blows on the protesters with nightsticks. Reports say that not even journalists present were spared. At least three, who were duly identified by their ID badges, were attacked: a photographer of Zero Hora, a reporter from Correio do Povo and a reporter from Radio Guaíba.

At least 6 protesters were arrested and between 14-20 were injured and taken to the hospital. The Blog do Prestes reported aggression against the journalists and even a case of racism against a reporter.

Youtube user ciclodocs posted a video with images of the police aggression:

The Blog F2 Véia de Guerra posted a series of videos on the violence of the Military Brigade and commented:

Em que nível a sociedade chegou. Pagamos impostos (que não são poucos) para pagar salário de policial que defende boneco de plástico. Boneco esse que não foi pedido pelo povo, boneco esse que não representa as necessidades desse povo.
[...]
Policiais batem em outros seres humanos para defender uma porcaria de uma multinacional, e justificam isso dizendo que essas pessoas estão depredando propriedade privada, policiais que logo depois machucam , quebram celulares e máquinas fotográficas dessas pessoas.

Quem são os vândalos? Quem são os estúpidos?

Society has descended to quite a low. We pay taxes (and not insignificant ones) to pay the salaries of these police who defend an inflatable plastic doll. A doll that was not asked for by the people, doll that does not represent the needs of this people.

[...]

Police beat other human beings to defend a piece of crap of a multinational, and they defend this saying that people are destroying private property, police who after hurting people, break cell phones and cameras of these people.

Who are the vandals here? Who are the idiots?

Cartoon by Carlos Latuff, under Creative Commons license

Cartoon by Carlos Latuff, under Creative Commons license

Simone Schuck, of the blog Tensa Intensa, says she is tired of this situation of violence and humiliation:
Estou cansada de ver a polícia militar protegendo um tatu de plástico que simboliza tudo o que não é interessante para uma cidade como Porto Alegre. É extremamente humilhante até para a própria instituição. Estou cansada de ver, nessa instituição, o reflexo da violência extremada da sociedade, a falta de democracia, do respeito que [encaro] todos os dias ao sair de casa. Estou cansada de ver jornalistas serem espancados enquanto trabalham. Isso remonta ao quê, mesmo? Estou cansada de ver a humilhação ser respondida com humilhação.
I'm tired of seeing the military police defending a plastic armadillo that symbolizes everything that is not interesting for a city like Porto Alegre. It is extremely humiliating even for the institution itself. I am tired of seeing, in this institution, society's reflex to extreme violence, lack of democracy, of respect that I face every day as I leave the house. I am tired of seeing journalists beaten while they are trying to work. This is traced to what? I am tired of seeing humiliation be responded to by humiliation.
But she also criticized the protesters:
Mas também estou cansada de ver protestos um tanto quanto inúteis, senão pela inocência de achar que um cartaz muda tudo, então pela mediocridade de utilizá-los como escopos individuais. Estou cansada de ver gente se aproveitando de questões importantes, que devem sim ser discutidas, para fazer politicagem. Pessoal, estou cansada de ver sangue sendo derramado por causa de um tatu de plástico

But I am also tired of seeing all kinds of useless protests, if not because of the naivete to think that one slogan can change everything, then because of the mediocrity of using them for personal purposes. I am tired of seeing people taking advantage of important issues, that must be discussed, for petty politics. People, I am tired of seeing blood spilled because of a plastic armadillo.

Youtube user Samantha Torres posted more images of the police violence and journalists:

Under allegations of having provoked or even of violence by the protesters themselves, Marco Eurélio Weissheimer, on the blog RS Urgente, comments:
Mesmo diante de eventuais excessos por parte de alguns manifestantes, não há nenhuma justificação para as cenas que se vê, incluindo agressões contra quem estava filmando o episódio (o que, aliás, não é a primeira vez que acontece).

Even in face of eventual excesses by some protesters, there is no justification for these scenes, including aggression against those who were filmed the episode (which is, by the way, not the first time this happens).

Mashup on a photo of the scene of police violence. Photo by Ramiro Furquim/Sul21.com.br used with permission

Mashup on a photo of the scene of police violence. Photo by Ramiro Furquim/Sul21.com.br used with permission

And Eduardo Nunes, of the blog Periscópio completes the thought:

Pessoalmente, sou contra o confronto físico com policiais. Isso gera repercussão negativa (mesmo que a causa seja justa) e coloca o grosso da população, essa massa amorfa e apática, contra os manifestantes.

Mas acredito que, neste caso do Largo Glênio Peres, esconder ou omitir as violências originárias do poder público e de uma empresa multinacional também é vandalismo, também é violência. Achar que revitalizar o Centro é sinônimo de tirar o povo do Largo e beneficiar empresas é um gravíssimo ato de violência, que deve ser denunciado.

Se esta é uma briga de sujos contra mal lavados, adoto o seguinte critério: entre bonecos infláveis e pessoas, fico do lado das pessoas. Não é da cabeça do boneco que sai sangue.

Personally, I am against physical confrontation with the police. This has negative reprecussions (even if the cause is just) and turns the majority of the population, this amorphous and apathetic mass, against the protesters.

But I believe that, in this case of Glênio Peres Square, to hide or omit the violence coming from public authorities and a multinational company is also vandalism, it is also violence. To think that revitalizing the Center is synonymous with removing people from the Square and benefiting companies is a grave act of violence, and should be denounced.

If this is a fight between the dirty and poorly-washed, I adopt the following criterion: between inflatable mascots and people, I am on the people's side. It won't be from an inflatable mascot's head that blood runs.

On October 7, the Governor of Rio Grande do Sul, Tarso Genro, responsible for the Military Brigade of the state, released a note of repudiation of the police violence. On the next day the Military Brigade recognized it had committed “excesses.”

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