Wednesday, June 26, 2013

DJ Brazil's Congress Acts on Reforms as New Protests Loom

DJ Brazil's Congress Acts on Reforms as New Protests Loom

  By Tom Murphy

  SAO PAULO--In a series of votes Tuesday night and into the early hours
Wednesday, Brazil's Congress began efforts to approve social and political
reforms, even as protestors prepared a new round of demonstrations for later
  Brazil's Chamber of Deputies voted in favor of legislation that would
dedicate royalties from massive offshore oil reserves to public education and
health. The bill gives 75% of such revenue to education and 25% to health. The
legislation must now be approved by the Senate, where it is likely to pass.
  By a lopsided vote, the Chamber of Deputies defeated a proposed
constitutional amendment that would have limited the power of prosecutors to
investigate cases of corruption. The proposal was extremely unpopular with
voters and has been a frequent target of the protests that have rocked Brazil
for more than two weeks.
  In a speech Tuesday, Senate President Renan Calheiros, speaking in the name
of a broad coalition of congressional leaders, pledged to keep Congress in
session "for the next 10 to 15 days" in order to clear an existing agenda of
reforms. These include bills to increase federal transfer payments to states
and municipalities, a measure that should help localities improve
transportation, education and health services. Congress is also likely to vote
on a bill eliminating most taxes from a list of basic foodstuffs.
  Demonstrations have brought as many as a million Brazilians at a time into
the streets of more than a hundred cities. They are protesting issues such as
the high cost of living, rising bus fares, corruption and deteriorating public
  At times, the protests have turned violent. At least four deaths have
occurred during demonstrations, according to police. Angry protestors have
clashed with police, who typically wield nightsticks and shields. The conflicts
have yielded hundreds of people injured or arrested. Protests also have turned
into episodes of looting and vandalism.
  Protestors were planning a new round of demonstrations for later Wednesday,
with the national capital of Brasilia and the inland metropolis of Belo
Horizonte as the focal points.
  In Brasilia, police were already toiling in the early hours of Wednesday to
cordon off an area around the city's downtown plaza, where the modernistic
structures of Brazil's federal government are located.
  For the first time since protests began, police in Brasilia will search bags
of demonstrators entering downtown areas. Police said they will also limit
vehicular traffic in certain areas of the city.
  In Belo Horizonte, protestors will focus on the city's huge sports stadium,
where Brazil will face off against Uruguay in a Confederations Cup soccer game
Wednesday afternoon.
  The Confederations Cup, a warm up to the 2014 World Soccer Cup, has also
been a frequent target for demonstrators, who bemoan the high cost to taxpayers
of preparing stadiums and other public works. Brazil is the host for both the
Confederations Cup and next year's World Cup, while Rio de Janeiro will host
the 2016 Olympics.
  Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is expected to remain in Brasilia
Wednesday for more meetings with congressional leaders.
  In a televised news conference Tuesday night, Education Minister Aloizio
Mercadante said the administration was modifying a proposal on political reform
made by the president earlier this week. Instead of holding a referendum aimed
at creating a special constituent assembly on political reform, the
administration will ask Congress to schedule a public vote aimed at approval of
specific electoral and political party reforms.
  Congressional leaders and the president of the Brazilian Bar Association on
Tuesday criticized the original proposal as unworkable and, possibly,

  -Paulo Trevisani in Brasilia contributed to this article

  Write to Tom Murphy at

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