Free Fare Movement to Brazil president: 'What matters is meeting the demands of the social movements'

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Military police fire on protesters in Sao Paulo. Photograph: Sebastiao Moreira/EPA.

By the Free Fare Movement São Paulo, translated by Federico Fuentes

June 24, 2013

To President Dilma Rousseff

We were surprised by your invitation to this meeting. We imagine that you were also taken by surprise by what has occurred in the country in recent weeks. This gesture of dialogue on the part of the federal government is in contradiction with the treatment you have given social movements, a policy that has remained consistent through this administration. It seems that the uprisings that have spread throughout the cities of Brazil since June 6 has broken old barriers and opened new paths.

From the beginning, the Free Fare Movement has been part of this process. We are an autonomous, horizontal and non-partisan social movement, that never intended to represent all of the protesters who took to the streets of the country. Our voice is just one more among those shouted in the streets, written on placards, scrawled on walls. In São Paulo, we initiated protests around a clear and concrete demand: repeal the fare increase. If previously this seemed impossible, we proved that it was not and have advanced the struggle for what is and always has been our central concern, a truly public transport system. That is why we came to Brasilia.

Transport can only be public if it is truly accessible to all people, that is, it is understood as a universal right. The injustice of fare prices becomes clearer with every increase, as each time more people can no longer afford to pay the fare. To question the increases is to question the very logic of the policy of fares, which subordinates public transport to the profits of entrepreneurs, not the needs of the population. Having to pay to move around the city means treating mobility as a commodity, not a right. This puts all other rights in check: being able to go to school, to the hospital, to the park requires setting fares at a level everyone can afford. Transportation is limited to going to and from work, while closing off the rest of the city to its residents. In order to open up the city we fight for free public transport.

For this reason we would like to know the position of the President regarding free public transport and the PEC 90/11, which includes access to transport in the list of social rights in Article 6 of the constitution. It is understood that access to transport should be treated as a complete and unrestricted social right, which we believe necessarily goes beyond a policy limited to a particular segment of society, such as students and the issue of the free fare for students. We fight for a free fare for everyone!

Although prioritising public transport is part of the government's discourse, in practice Brazil invests eleven times more in individual transport, via road projects and loans for purchasing cars (IPEA, 2011). Public money should be invested in public transport! We would like to know why the president vetoed item V of Article 16 of the National Policy on Urban Mobility (Law No. 12.587/12) which would have given the federal government the responsibility of giving financial support to municipalities that adopted policies that prioritise public transport. As Article 9 makes clear, this law prioritises a private management model based on charging for fares, thereby adopting the point of view of the companies and not commuters. The federal government needs to take the lead in the process of building a real public transport system. The municipalisation of CIDE [Contribution for Economic Intervention][1], and its full and exclusive allocation to public transport, would represent a step long the path toward free transport.

Tax exemptions, a measure that historically has been defended by transport companies, go in the opposite direction. Forgoing taxes means losing power over public money, blindly freeing funds for transport mafias, without any transparency and control. To meet the peoples' demands for transport, it is necessary to build instruments that put at the heart of decision making those whose needs should be met: commuters and transport workers.

This meeting with the president was forced upon her by the mobilisations in the streets, which advanced in the face of bombs, bullets and prisons. Social movements in Brazil have always suffered from repression and criminalisation. Until now, 2013 has been no different: in Mato Grosso do Sul, there was a massacre of indigenous peoples and last month the National Public Security Force murdered a Terena indigenous leader while attempting to re-occupy their land; in the Federal District, five activists from the Movement of Homeless Workers (MTST) were arrested a few weeks ago amid protests against the impacts of the FIFA World Cup.

The police response to the protests which started in June has been no different: tear gas were thrown into hospitals and university; protesters were chased and beaten by the Military Police, others were shot; hundreds of people were arbitrarily arrested, some being accused of conspiracy and incitement to commit a crime; a man lost his sight; a girl was sexually assaulted by police; a woman died due to suffocation caused by tear gas. The real violence that we witnessed in June came from the state - in all its spheres.

The demilitarisation of the police, supported by the United Nations, and a national policy to regulate less lethal weapons that are banned in many countries and condemned by international bodies, are urgently needed. By deploying the National Public Security Force to contain demonstrations, the minister of justice demonstrated that the federal government insists on treating social movements as a police matter. News of the monitoring of activists by the Federal Police and the ABIN [Brazilian Intelligence Agency] go in the same direction: the criminalisation of popular struggle.

We hope that this meeting marks a shift in attitude of the federal government that will be extended to other social struggles: indigenous peoples, such as the Guarani-Kaiowá and Mundurukú, who have suffered several attacks at the hands of landowners and the government; communities affected by dispossession; the homeless; the landless; and mothers whose children have been murdered by the police in the poor neighbourhoods. That the same approach is also extended across all the cities struggling against the prices hikes and for a different public transport model: São José dos Campos, Florianopolis, Recife, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, Goiânia, and many others.

Rather than sitting at the table and talking, what matters is meeting the clear demands that have already been raised by social movements across the country. Against all increases in the price of public transport, against the fare, we will continue in the streets! Free fare now!

All power to those fighting for a life without barriers!

[Translated from Carta Maior Federico Fuentes is co-author of Latin America’s Turbulent Transitions: The Future of Twenty-First Century Socialism. See for more details.]


[1] CIDE applies to royalty payments, technology transfers and compensation of technology supply, and technical assistance. It is be paid by those who import or commercialise items and assets covered by the tax.