Rio's poor too busy to join in protest

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More than 1.5 million people have taken to the streets across Brazil during the Confederations Cup to protest poor public services as well as the cost of staging this event and next year's World Cup.

But some of the poorest citizens of all, those who live in the favelas or slum regions of big cities such as Rio, say they just cannot spare the time.

They agree Brazil needs better hospitals and schools.

But even if they would like to join the protests, earning a living is the overriding priority. Starting early and finishing late, their day is spent struggling to survive.

Rocinha is a favela in Rio, a small enclave wedged in between more affluent parts of the city.

Eighteen months ago it was the scene of a police raid as the authorities cracked down on drug traffickers.

Earlier this week, around a thousand residents of Rocinha marched on the Rio governor's house down by the beach in the smart Copacabana district to protest their lot.

Raimundo do Nascimento who has spent 17 of his 40 years in Rocinha, would have liked to join the protests. So too would Robson de Souza Cristina

But they did not have the time.

"Come wind come weather," they are working away: Raimundo at the little hardware store he runs and Robson at a store selling sandals.

"Rocinha needs health services - there are a lot of things which need doing," said Raimundo.

"But I cannot down tools to go and demonstrate" the father of three explained.

Robson agreed. "I would go if I could - but I need to work," he said.

Mary, a housemaid, and Pamela, a childminder, likewise cannot afford to take a day off - but both said they supported the protestors.

Many of the marchers have answered the call for Brazil to "wake up" and protest at poor government.

And while the authorities might have hoped international attention would be on Confederations Cup tournament, a dress rehearsal for next year's World Cup, footage of the protests has been beamed around the world.

"People say Brazil is apathetic but that is not so," said Robson. "The people have woken up and are demanding everything that is missing."

A poll by the Ibope institute has identified the typical protester as young, middle class and educated.

But Marcelo Mendes does not fit that profile.

Mendes, an unemployed 43-year-old gardener, did not even finish primary education.

"Brazil has woken up and yet is still asleep," he argued.

"You have people with university degrees who are calling for 20 cents off" a bus ticket, he added, alluding to what sparked the initial protests.

Over the past two weeks however, the social revolt has broadened out to wider issues.

Now, as well as the transport issue, the grievances include the state of the nation's health and education services as well as government corruption.

In this context, many protesters have condemned a reported 15-billion-dollar bill for staging the Confederations and World Cups.

"I ask God to illuminate their path to let them know they can do much more," said Mendes.

Rio's favelas have seen some protests, but on a very small scale.

In one slum, near Rio international airport, eight civilians and a member of an elite police unit were killed this week after a demonstration degenerated into violence and looting.

On Thursday some of the favela residents joined a protest in the city centre denouncing what they said was police heavy-handedness.

"That proves the 'favelado' (favela resident) possesses a strong political conscience," even if he does not generally have the time to demonstrate, anthropologist Alba Zaluar told AFP.

There are signs that life is slowly improving in Rocinha: there are sports centres, English-language centres, various boutiques and a bank. They are there thanks to government social programmes aimed at the poorest areas over the past decade.

But the return of the spectre of inflation - six percent in May - is hitting people's pockets.

"Often, the president spends too much time worrying about the rich and forgets the poor and the middle classes," said Robson.