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Geopolitics

Beyond 'Occupy' - Why Brazil's Black Bloc Protesters Go Too Far

Police and protesters clash in São Paolo on Brazil's Independence Day, September 7
Police and protesters clash in São Paolo on Brazil's Independence Day, September 7
Alba Zaluar

-Op-Ed-

SAO PAULO — Globalization is an inescapable process. It’s even affecting the new forms of protest against different governments and in different social contexts on our vast, beautiful planet. The problem is that this copycat trend is happening out of context.

The Brazilian “black blocs” and Mídia Ninja (a group of independent journalists) are against globalization, but there is nothing more global than their superhero names and their tactics, inspired by the Occupy movements (always referred to in very global English). They copy the strategies of similar European and American organizations, but not their political goals which are against financial capitalism.

These groups that inspired the Brazilians occupied both London’s City Hall and New York’s Wall Street, and they also disturbed the summits of the G8 and the World Economic Forum. They were focused on their goal and had political coherence.

But their Brazilian equivalents have very different methods of action. In Rio de Janeiro and in Sao Paulo, they’re attacking properties and buildings, destroying urban equipment that is essential for residents, breaking shop windows and cash withdrawal machines. They’re even obstructing traffic for hours after other peaceful demonstrations (like those organized by the teachers) by burning vehicles, garbage containers or other objects they leave in the middle of the streets as they clash with the police, preventing workers from getting back home.

Democracy in the balance

Their main goal is also very different from that of the groups that inspired them, since according to their own statements, their aim is to prevent the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games from taking place. This is despite the fact that these upcoming events are driving the economy of the cities and the country as a whole. Instead of singling out the mistakes that were made during their planning, they want the government to throw everything away, including what has already been built and spent to make it all come true. They say they’re fighting capitalism, humanity’s biggest enemy, but the targets they’ve chosen don’t reflect that and are marginal at best.

Brazil is now in a phase of trying to reinforce democracy — social rights that are so crucial to fight inequality and respect towards public good. Now is not the time to impose some immature ideas of a hypothetical future society without markets, without government, indeed without anything that we all know are part of any democracy. Besides, when these people are arrested, they count on the very institutions they always attack.

Thankfully, the democratic rule of law in Brazil is growing stronger, and its institutions haven’t yet been dismantled, contrary to the suggestions of Michel Foucault, Antonio Negri and other neo-anarchist ideologues.

There are also unintended consequences to their actions, among them the rise in crime in both Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. The turning point was in fact in July, when popular demonstrations dropped violence as a tactic. Since then, the number of criminal acts has skyrocketed. In Rio de Janeiro, young drug addicts and small-time dealers are getting paid to join demonstrators and “break everything.” And now that traffickers have their fighting spirit back, they’re trying to recover the territory they had lost, reigniting as a result the war with the police.

If the goal of the “black blocs” wasn’t necessarily the end of the pacification policy, it is nonetheless what they’ve achieved. The time when the inhabitants watched in silence as the Pacifying Police Unit occupied the favelas is over. The gunfight is back.

* Alba Zaluar teaches anthropology at the Social and Political Studies Institute of Rio de Janeiro.

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Ideas

A Writer's Advice For How To Read The Words Of Politics

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Image of Colombian President Gustavo Petro speaking during a press conference in Buenos Aires on Jan 14, 2023

Colombian President Gustavo Petro, speaks during a press conference in the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) Summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on January 24, 2023.

Manuel Cortina/ZUMA
Héctor Abad Faciolince

-Essay-

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