RIO DE JANEIRO – Hundreds of thousands of Brazilians protested on Wednesday in cities throughout the country against a proposed government reform of the retirement system.
The protests were organized by labor unions and social movements in around 50 cities and were attended by people from all walks of life.
Public employees and teacher unions took part in the protests, forcing schools and universities to stay shut for the day in several states, including Rio de Janeiro.
Transport services were also hit as bus drivers and metro and rail operators in cities such as Sao Paulo, Belo Horizonte and Curitiba attended the protests.
Sao Paulo, the largest city in Brazil, woke up on Wednesday to no buses and a partially operational metro, although the transportation system normalized as the day progressed, while blockades were reported on major roads, along with huge traffic jams and the closure of some banks.
Although the protests did not lead to a complete shutdown as promised by the organizers, it was a show of strength at a time the country’s Congress is preparing to debate the controversial reform.
Amid the chaos of the protest, President Michel Temer again defended the reform saying it would prevent a collapse of the pension system and that it was the right time for Brazil to undertake an extensive reform in order to prevent a crisis in the future such as the ones Portugal, Greece and Spain have had to face.
Temer’s plan raises to 65 the minimum retirement age for both men and women to begin receiving retirement benefits.
According to the current law, however, Brazilian women may retire with 30 years of work history and men with 35, with no lower age limit, allowing people to take advantage of the social safety net sometimes starting at the age of 50.