A demonstration which peacefully took to the streets of downtown Sao Paulo, demanding investments in health and education, in opposition to the outrageous public funds for the World Cup stadiums, was harshly repressed by the Military Police (PM). On the 22nd of February, a peaceful rally was brutally attacked by the state Shock Troops, resulting in the arrest of 262 people.
Staging a spectacle of power, the police officers flooded the Republica Square, to where the march was convened. The number of the Military Police officers was clearly thrice that of demonstrators ready to march. No less than 2300 police officers, in addition to low-hovering helicopters, followed the protesters since the rally started. The tactics of intimidation and repression were clear from the first hours of the demo.
Activists arriving at the meeting point were searched, lawyers had their ID confiscated by the police.
Despite police intimidation, the demonstration maintained its peaceful nature. Organizing committees emphasized publically in an opening call to the activists the importance of not giving in to the police’s provocations. Yet, one hour after the beginning of the march by the streets of central Sao Paulo, they were brutally attacked by the PM. The Shock Troops used to their favor the narrow streets of downtown to repress the movement. A police column cut into the demo splitting it in half. The police then surrounded around 200 demonstrators, many of them under 18. They were beaten with sticks, many pulled inhumanely across the streets by their shirts, handcuffed to be arrested.
The press was impeded from covering the repression. Five reporters were detained and beaten, having their recorded material damaged. Lawyers were also threatened, and prevented from exercising their profession. The repression spread quickly and widely to reach all downtown, with gas bombs and rubber bullets hitting random by-passers. Once the hundreds of protesters were detained, they were charged with vandalism and disrespect of police authority, and set free a few hours later.
The method used by the police force, widely known as the “Hamburger Kessel”, was originally tried out in 1986 in Hamburg, Germany, in an attempt to break down an anti-nuclear protest. Universally condemned by civil society, the method was regarded by German courts as an illegal violation of human rights and the right to protest.
The following day, the command of the Military Police admitted in an interview to the press that the police repression happened without any previous form of vandalism or provocation by the demonstrators. According to the police, infiltrated agents felt the possibility of “a disruption of the order” by the activists and therefore opted to anticipate the repression, acting “preventively”.
The brutal repression against the protests in Sao Paulo are not an isolated occurrence. There is a wide campaign of criminalization of protests and social movements. The Dilma Rousseff’s government has just sent to congress a bill which prohibits activists of wearing masks and demands them to warn the military police of any public action. In addition to it, the government moved an urgency motion for the anti-terror bill. It classifies demonstrators as potential terrorists, subject to arrests of 15 to 30 years. The bill will probably pass before the FIFA World Cup.
The Dilma government and the state governments, including those supported by the right-wing opposition, like in Sao Paulo state, increased the repression and criminalization of protests with the intention of assuring the smooth functioning of the World Cup in June. The Cup is widely questioned by the population due to the expenditure of large amounts of public funds in detriment of investments in schools and hospitals. A recent research indicates that over 51% of the population wished Brazil had not been chosen as the country to host the event.
Yet the government and the police forces have demonstrated that they are willing to do everything in their power to guarantee the events, which would give abundant financial resources to big multinational companies and international investors. They are willing to do so even if it means applying dictatorial measures throughout the country.
Tradução: Aldo Sauda e Sara Al Suri