SAO PAULO – Thousands of students and professors took to the streets in Brazil’s main cities for the second time this month to defend public education and call for a freeze on almost 30 percent of university spending.
The demonstrations, called by the National Students Union (UNE) and backed by assorted other unions, took place in at least 100 cities in 22 of the country’s 27 states.
The largest gatherings were in Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia.
People had turned out all over the country last Sunday for a national day of protests, but on that occasion it was to support Brazil’s president, rightist Jair Bolsonaro, and his agenda of free-market reforms.
On Thursday, carrying signs reading “Bolsonaro out” and “Education resists,” the students strongly expressed their critiques and discontent with the government after the blocking of educational resources announced in early May.
Simone Nascimento, 26, believes that the lack of those resources will make it impossible for some universities to survive and some “will cease to function” in the short term.
“That cut is going to create a very precarious situation,” the Afro-Brazilian activist told EFE during the Sao Paolo protest.
In Rio de Janeiro, Peri Cota, a journalism professor, said that it is “very important” to defend education and that “the number of people doesn’t matter,” but rather the protest itself.
The majority of the demonstrators protested peacefully on Thursday, except in the capital of Brasilia, where police used pepper spray to quell a confrontation with some demonstrators over the arrest of a man who had covered his face and thus could not be initially identified.
There were also some moments of tension in Natal, capital of the northeastern state of Rio Grande do Norte, where Bolsonaro supporters clashed with some participants at the marches to defend education.
Bolsonaro, who called the thousands of Brazilians who participated in the first protests on May 15 “useful idiots,” has not issued any comment about this second round of demonstrations.
After those marches, which constituted the first big protest since Bolsonaro took office on Jan. 1, the government said that it would provide additional funds for the Education Ministry.
However, it maintained the earlier freeze, which amounted to 5.8 reais ($1.45 billion).
Meanwhile, the National Human Rights Council of Brazil on Thursday recommended that the government review that decision and not interfere with university autonomy and free scientific investigation.
Although the government insists that the “freeze” is temporary, Carina Vitral, the president of the Socialist Youth Union, believes that it is possible it could become permanent, since everything depends on the economic “growth expectations” for this year, and they are very low.
Brazil’s central bank forecasts growth of only 1.23 percent in 2019.
“It’s a cutback, not a blockade,” she told EFE.