Following Brazil woes from afar

Demonstrators in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, marching toward the Mineirao soccer stadium late last month.
Felipe Dana/Associated Press
Demonstrators in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, marching toward the Mineirao soccer stadium late last month.

In the shops along Framingham’s Concord Street, where the Brazilian flag with its blue celestial globe hangs in windows, and televisions are tuned to news in Portuguese, everyone is talking about the protests back home in Brazil. And everyone has an opinion, nearly always the same: What took so long?

“They are awakening,” said Roberto Gaseta, a photographer whose studio is on Concord Street. “When they started, I said, this is ridiculous. What are they complaining about? But then I started listening to their complaining and I said, they are right.”

More than a million people have taken to the streets in cities across Latin America’s largest country in the past few weeks, in demonstrations first narrowly trained on public transit fare increases. But the protests soon tapped into broad discontent with the country’s political corruption, which many blame for the chasm between the way the country’s richest citizens live, and everyone else.


Brazil has abundant natural resources — beef, soybeans, iron ore — and high taxes. Protesters are frustrated that despite these assets, schools aren’t better, hospitals have too few doctors and beds, and the crime rate is high.

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President Dilma Rousseff, whose popularity has plunged since the protests began, has responded by pushing for a nonbinding referendum on political reform.

In Framingham, Roberto Gaseta is pessimistic about Rousseff’s political future. He spoke to his wife’s cousin, who lives in Rio de Janeiro, by phone one night last week.

“I said, ‘I can’t see a solution to this. It looks like the president is lost,’ ” he recalled.

Gaseta doesn’t agree with the protesters who have attacked police officers, or strikers who have shut down roads. His wife, Nubia, needs to travel to Brazil for business, but may postpone her trip for a few weeks. When her 29-year-old son recently went there for a vacation, one of his flights inside the country was canceled because protesters had blocked the entrance to an airport.


“If I go, maybe I lose my time,” she said. “The ticket is very expensive. Maybe I wait two or three weeks to go.”

She has seen firsthand that the country needs better health care. When her aunt had breast cancer, the whole family had to sacrifice to pay for her treatment. Now, although private insurance is available for some, much of the country is unemployed and cannot afford it.

One day last week, Marcio Camargo and Reggie Lima stopped at Padaria Brasil Bakery on Hollis Street for a break from work. Both men came to this country from Brazil and started their own businesses.

Camargo shares the frustration of the protesters. “They are upset because the politicians are stealing all their money and nobody is taking care of it,” he said.

Lima, who will become a US citizen this week, plans to travel to Brazil to visit relatives later in the summer. He doesn’t expect the protests to upset his plans.


Lima, who owns a landscaping and construction business, doesn’t like the violence in the protests. But unlike Gaseta, he thinks it was necessary.

“As long as you do demonstrations in peace, you’re never going to be heard, because the government’s completely abused the people,” said Lima, who lives in Ashland. “So now the people went to the street and started breaking down everything. Now they have a big voice heard. Unfortunately, it’s not a good way to do it. But it’s the only way to be heard.”

At Braz Optical, where the sign on the Concord Street front window advertises, “Exame de vista,” or vision exams, owner Edgar Lino has been watching the protests approvingly from afar.

“Sometimes it doesn’t make sense in Brazil,” he said. “They spend thousands of money in building the stadiums and people are dying because they don’t have a hospital.”

His girlfriend, Paula Casagrande, says the government worries about the safety of tourists while ordinary citizens have to live in apartments and houses with bars across the windows to protect them from thieves.

“I agree with the protests because Brazil needed to wake up,” she said. “It’s late already for them to wake up. We are tired of the politics.”

Lino has friends who move back and forth between the United States and Brazil, depending on where they can find better work. But he has no plans to return to the country where his father still lives, no matter how much Brazil’s economy improves.

“This is my country now,” he said.

Kathleen Burge can be reached at kburge@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @KathleenBurge.