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Sunday 1 October 2023 Dublin: 13°C
Felipe Dana/AP/Press Association Images
Column Could Brazil's protests spread?
Could the demonstrations in South America’s largest country spread across the continent just like with the Arab Spring, asks Fergal Browne – who says Argentina and Brazil are not all that different.

AFTER MORE THAN a week of millions across Brazil taking to the streets, one of the many questions arising from the widespread agitation is, could the demonstrations in South America’s largest country spread across the continent just like with the Arab Spring? Let’s look at South America’s second biggest country, Argentina.

On the football field, they possess one of the biggest rivalries in international football, but politically both Argentina and Brazil have more in common than they care to admit.

Both are ruled by women, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in Argentina and Dilma Rousseff in Brazil, and are wives of the previous leaders of both countries.

They, and their husbands before them, have steered their countries through a time in which a great reduction in poverty has been seen. In Brazil, 40 million have entered the middle-class, in Argentina poverty has decreased from a post-2001 default high of 57 per cent to 27 per cent unofficially (this figure is disputed by the Argentinian Government).

South America

According to the World Bank, South America is the most commodity-dependent region in the world and favourable world markets throughout the 2000s fuelled this mass poverty reduction, but that didn’t mean the money had to be used to help the poor. Therefore, the Kirchners and Lula were loved.

Politically, the adage is that Argentinian always protest, the Brazilians never do. Perhaps hence why the massive protests have engulfed Brazil so quickly and forcefully. The hashtags are #Brazilawake and #ChangeBrazil. The giant has finally awoken, they are saying.

For Argentinians mass protests are nothing new. On April 18, nearly one million people took to the streets across Argentina to protest against the Government. Comparing the two countries’ sizes, Brazil with 180 million against Argentina’s 40 million, the Argentinian protests are bigger than any per head thus far taken place in Brazil.

Brazil and Argentina have similar problems

The issues are similar. Government corruption, crime, spiralling inflation brought Argentinians out in mass. The Brazilians say they have first world stadiums but third world services, the Argentinian say the have the Pope and Messi but a corrupt Government.

Transport in Buenos Aires is not just bad, it’s deadly. Fifty-one people lost their lives in a train crash at a central station in February 2012. Two weeks ago, three people died and several hundred were injured when a train crashed on the same line.

Brazilians are enraged by inflation running above 10 per cent. In Argentina, it is around 25 per cent. This is the unofficial figure. The Government claims it is close to 10 per cent, all the while giving public sector union workers increases per year of close to but never 25 per cent.

In Brazil, the people say they have high taxes but no decent services. In Argentina, they say their high taxes subsidise overgenerous benefits to the poor unemployed. A way of buying votes as the Kirchners take most of their votes from the poorest classes.

Government interference in Argentina means the price of a Big Mac meal is about €2 cheaper than other meals on the menu. Why? Because ‘The Economist’ magazine measures inflation and purchasing power parity using the price of a Big Mac in McDonalds in various countries. Keep the Big Mac low, inflation is (offically) low.


But inflation so high and with the legacy of lost savings from the 2001 default, nobody wants to save in the Argentinian currency, pesos. To prevent capital flight, the Government has introduced restrictions.

No more than 1000 pesos (141 euros) can be taken out per day, you have no way of changing your pesos for dollars and if you have an Argentinian bank account, you’d can’t pop over on the boat from Buenos Aires to Uruguay and get dollars. Your bank card won’t let you.

While a law will go through Congress in Brazil to limit investigations on public offices next week, the Argentinian Government continues to try and stifle the Judiciary and the media conglomerates. Both have seen parts of these laws introduced by Government declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

Corruption is rife

Details of corruption are rife. Every Sunday night, Argentina’s most prominent journalist, Jorge Lanata, reveals more details of how the Kirchner’s have embezzled millions of dollars in public money. The Government has responded by ordering the football association to move the weekend’s most prominent football game to directly clash with the programme. So far, it hasn’t worked. Politics has defeated football in the ratings war three weeks in a row.

So, will something like a 20 centavos rise in bus fares bring about mass protests in Argentina? It’s extremely hard to tell, but the answer is probably no.

The April 18 protests against the Government brought large amounts of people, but the Government could still mobilise around 400,000 to take to the streets of Buenos Aires alone last month to celebrate ten years of the Kirchners in power.

Argentina is a divided society. For anti-Government protests, the affluent neighbourhoods of Buenos Aires are deserted as the richer parts of society protest outside Government buildings. They are sick and tired of high inflation and capital controls among much else. For the poorer classes, the Kirchners have meant better lives or at least the hope of better futures.

What’s driving the protesters?

Of course the Brazilian protests may be drawn across the same lines. A poll at the June 18 protest in Sao Paulo said those protesting are three times more likely to hold a college degree and almost 75 per cent are demonstrating for the first time. This suggests a young, uninhibited, confident middle-class believing they have the right to better things are driving the protests.

In South America, only Argentina has had a middle-class increase in the past decade. From 2003-2009, 24 per cent of the population entered the middle-class compared to 22 per cent in Brazil.

But unlike Brazilians who can look to the future with a degree of certainty at least with regards its currency and inflation, Argentinians don’t know what awaits them next year. Could a 2001-style default happen again and if so when? Such uncertainty can lead to paralysis.

Fergal Browne is a Irish freelance journalist working in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He writes at

Pics: Thousands rally in Brazil – but it’s not the first time a sporting event sparks protests>

Read: Brazil protests to reach Patrick Street in Cork>

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