PARATY, Brazil – The fallout from the recent wave of protests that shook Brazil was felt even in the bucolic colonial town where the country’s main literary festival was in full swing Friday.
In its 11th year, the Flip festival brings a roster of domestic and international writers to this sleepy port city for five days of debates, discussions, workshops and readings.
This year’s edition includes talks by top Brazilian musicians Gilberto Gil and Maria Betania, legendary Brazilian filmmaker Nelson Pereira dos Santos, U.S. writer Tobias Wolff and British essayist Geoff Dyer.
Organizers added three roundtables to debate the protests, which started last month over a 10-cent hike in bus and subway fares in Sao Paulo and quickly snowballed into massive nationwide demonstrations against government corruption, high taxes and poor public services. The protests have since become scattered and small.
Talk of the protests, the largest Brazil had seen since demonstrations in 1994 that helped lead to the impeachment of then-President Fernando Collor, permeated many of the debates.
In a talk on “Local and Global Culture,” singer-songwriter Gil described the movement as “demonstrations of fatigue.”
“We have gotten to a point in Brazil where the state has stopped representing public interest and has begun representing private interests,” said Gil, culture minister under former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, whose hand-picked successor Dilma Rousseff is the target of much of the protesters’ anger. “We want a little bit of rest.”
He said the protests have tapped into the spirit of revolt that has recently swept the globe, with the Arab Spring and recent events in Egypt, the Occupy Wall Street movement, Spain’s Indignados and the mass protests in Turkey. But he said the demonstrations in Brazil are essentially Brazilian in spirit, drawing heavily on the country’s Carnival tradition.
“There are a million individuals behind a million masks,” Gil said. “It’s like a Venetian Carnival … politics as entertainment.”
He said the violence that marred many of the larger protests, with a small number of young men using the crowds as cover to loot and vandalize, also drew on a time-honoured Brazilian tradition — that of the so-called “arrastao,” or mass robberies by gangs of thieves who overwhelm their victims.
Gil, who was in Paraty to promote his new autobiography, “Gil Close Up,” said that the demonstrations remain a force to be reckoned with, even though they’ve flagged in recent days after the government scrambled to deliver a raft of proposals aimed at appeasing protesters.
“It’s an alert that they (the government) have to look at another sort of agenda,” he said, as the audience of several hundred people exploded in cheers. “The struggle continues.”
Francisco Bosco, a 36-year-old essayist whose political column appears in Rio’s O Globo newspaper, said it’s only natural the protests take on a central role at the festival.
“It’s inevitable because we’re experiencing a unique moment in the civic life of our country, unlike anything I’ve ever seen before,” said Bosco, who’s promoting his new collection “High Help.” ”It’s brought the possibility of a real structural change in Brazil.”
Bosco said that though the situation on the streets had largely calmed in recent days, he expected a new wave of mass demonstrations during upcoming events Rio’s hosting, including a papal visit this month, next year’s World Cup soccer tournament and the 2016 Olympics.
Another protest was scheduled to take place Saturday in Paraty, with its cobblestone streets and towering white churches. Flip runs through Sunday evening.