Sao Paulo protesters demand proper housing plan

Homeless workers took to the streets to demand the swift passage of a low-income housing plan in the city.

FILE: Homeless workers took to the streets to demand the swift passage of a low-income housing plan in the city.  Picture: Christa Eybers/EWN.

SAO PAULO - Several thousand protesters marched in Sao Paulo on Wednesday to demand the swift passage of a low-income housing plan in the city, a sign that a general wave of discontent in Brazil may outlast a so-far relatively untroubled World Cup.

The homeless workers' movement took to the streets for the first time since the month-long soccer tournament began on 12 June, but unlike during earlier protests, participants said their demands were not incompatible with Brazil hosting the event.

"We're not against the cup, we just want a piece of the pie," said Diogo dos Santos, carrying a daughter decked out in a shirt with the yellow and green Brazilian team colours at the peaceful demonstration.

After months of criticism for overspending on stadiums and failing to build lasting infrastructure that would benefit Brazilians after the crowds go home, President Dilma Rousseff's supporters had hoped that the event's smoother-than-expected start would stem the recent slump in her popularity.

Not so for Pastor Laudo Ferreira, a long-time member of Rousseff's Workers' Party who said he was not sure how he would vote in October, when the president will run for re-election.

Ferreira said he had found in the protest movement, known as MTST, what he once saw in the ruling party: social justice.

"This awakening was long overdue. The PT just isn't living up to its promises," he said, using the Portuguese abbreviation for the party as he trailed behind a crowd that blocked traffic on a major Sao Paulo thoroughfare.

Ferreira lamented the violent tactics of the so-called Black Blocks, a small group of anti-World Cup protesters that clashed with police ahead of the opening game last week, but he sympathised with other groups that have used the tournament to ask for more benefits, including striking university professors.

MTST organisers had said they would not protest during the World Cup after federal and local authorities agreed to several of their demands, including revamping the federal housing program. Relatively few protests have occurred since Thursday.

While disrupting games was not in MTST's interest, organisers said the failure of city authorities to vote on and pass the housing plan they support meant the no-protest agreement was off the table for now.

"If this isn't voted on by 24 June, I'm not sure what will happen," said dos Santos.

Asked who he wanted to win the World Cup, however, he looked surprised.

"The World Cup is not to blame for this. I'm Brazilian, how could I cheer for any other team?"