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A Well-Timed Vacation | Larissa Cantarella

Larissa Cantarella was an intern at Delta Trust from November 2012 until May 2013, when she graduated from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock with a double major in Economics and Finance. Before beginning her now full time job at Delta as an assistant portfolio manager, she spent a month in her home country of Brazil. She got to experience first-hand the protests that developed in that country and wants to share her unique perspective on the subject.

“Did the reporter just say thousands were gathered in a protest? Here…in Brazil?” – A similar internal dialogue went through my mind as I watched the news in the comfort of my house in the lovely beach town of Coqueiral – ES in southeast Brazil. “Well, this vacation has certainly just become interesting.” – I thought. So, let us begin. Why would a people who usually do not protest anything suddenly gather, thousands upon thousands, all across the nation to protest bus fare increases?

It may be natural to the unfamiliar eye to see these protests as “sudden”. It may also be tempting to say bus fare increases are the cause of the protests that unfolded. Neither could be farther from the truth. The anger and frustration of the Brazilian population over matters of far greater importance have been brewing for as long as I can remember. The bus fare increases were just the last drop in a bucket that was destined to overflow. Endemic corruption, a precarious health care system, an inefficient educational system, widespread crime, absurdly high taxes and an even more absurd spending in preparation to the upcoming World Cup in 2014 are direct causes to the widespread discontentment.

Despite extremely high taxes, the promised good education and health care systems remain a dream. Brazil has public schools, universities and hospitals, but I have never attended a public school, university or hospital there. Why not? Simply stated, no one would if they could help it: broken classroom chairs, lack of professors and teachers, no computers, no light, no air conditioners, no hospital beds, no doctors, no medicine…all and all, problems that are far too common in the country known as the “Sleeping Giant”. In such a needy country, the suspiciously high budget for the World Cup has grown close to 30 billion reais (plural of real, the Brazilian currency), over 13 billion dollars! Sure tourism will benefit. But will the benefits outweigh the costs? Of the 12 mega stadiums being built to serve the event, a few are unlikely to be used again as they are being built in more remote parts of the country and/or in places where population density just does not justify a stadium of large magnitude. “Is that what we need?” is the question many are asking.

As if that wasn’t enough, at the time of the protests, there was a proposal for a constitutional amendment, “PEC 37,” that would have made the police the party solely responsible for investigating certain crimes. This would have striped the judiciary of much of its power to investigate crimes such as corruption! A convenient proposal by the politicians wouldn’t you say? This is even more absurd when you become familiar with many of Brazil’s corruption scandals such as “Mensalao” (cash for vote scheme) and how most corrupt politicians simply resign before they can be prosecuted or are even re-elected like Renan Calheiros.

All of this made us very angry. We were tired of the injustice. As it turns out, anger, when channeled properly, can be the necessary driving force to move a people to change a country. In this scenario, social media has proven to be beneficial, not only to creating and maintaining relationships, but also in providing the necessary platform for organizing these social movements. In the many days I spent in Vitoria, the capital of the state my family lives in Brazil, I noticed dad would leave to attend many meetings at the local university, where leaders of the local protests would gather. I wondered, “How did this all come together?” Dad replied “oh, Facebook (duh)” as if that was the most obvious thing on earth.

So in a particularly warm and star filled night, instead of just taking pictures and watching the protests from the balcony of my grandmother’s house, dad and I joined in (at the time and place posted on Facebook.) As the masses began walking by, I felt engulfed by a pride and sense of responsibility. I began noticing most of the faces present there were young, probably in their late teens, early 20’s. They had painted faces, thought provoking banners and a united voice. It gave me goose bumps. “Maybe there is hope for this country after all.” I could see it stamped on their faces; they were fighting for their future. Yes, we saw many who took advantage of the protests to steal and destroy. This reality is even sadder when you consider how old they were…children and teenagers. Did they and will they have a chance in life? If the protests change the things we wish they will, then there may be hope even for these who seem so lost. In the midst of that chaos, we were scared sometimes. But we knew that we couldn’t let the fear spread by a few to stop the courage of a multitude.

The last time Brazilians had gathered in large numbers to protest anything was…wait. I wasn’t even alive. My dad, having “ah, claro que sim” (“oh yeah, definitely”) participated in several protests in the past, explained to me that it was in the 80’s when the population gathered in the “Diretas Ja” movement requiring direct elections. He also reminisced about the “Cara Pintadas” movement in the 90’s, which culminated with the impeachment of Fernando Collor de Mello, former president. I immediately regretted not having paid particular attention to the Brazilian history classes back in the day.

My regret was almost instantly dismissed however, as I realized these protests will certainly be in future history books and that instead of just studying history, I was now helping to create it. PEC 37 was not approved. Most expected bus fares did not rise as expected. The president, a symbol of all the decisions made by the government, was booed at the opening of the Confederations Cup.

I am thankful for well-timed vacations, despite the saudade* that remains.

*sah-ooh-dah-jee – a Brazilian portuguese noun with no direct English translation that signifies you miss someone or something you love and long for. So instead of saying “I miss you” we say “I have saudades of you.” Or simply… “Saudades.” If you ever visit Brazil, I just know you will leave with plenty of saudades of that captivating and rhythm filled place.

 

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