On Monday and Tuesday, protesters flooded the streets of Brazil’s largest cities, drawing international attention to what seemed to be the latest flare-up in a season full of street conflict around the world. In fact, the protest began about ten days ago, when the Free Pass Movement mobilized against increases in bus fares in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Natal (a northeastern coastal city), and Goiânia (in the country’s interior, near Brasília). The demonstrations began mostly peacefully, with not much more than some burning tires and impromptu roadblocks, but they took a violent turn after the São Paulo police overreacted and sprayed tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowds. Over the next few days, the movement expanded to more cities and became more confrontational. Rio’s Globonewspaper reported that protesters damaged 85 buses in São Paulo and that 137 people were arrested. On social media, Brazilians complained that police had used excessive force and that the traditional media had disparaged legitimate protests.

After a week of escalating conflict, especially in São Paulo, both sides temporarily backed down over the weekend. First, São Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad of the Workers’ Party (PT), which heads the national government, invited the Free Pass Movement to hold talks. Geraldo José Rodrigues Alckmin Filho, the governor of the state of São Paulo who belongs to the main opposition party, the Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB), defended the police action for another day until, on Sunday, he announced that the state law enforcement agency would not send in riot police units or use rubber bullets on the demonstration planned for this Monday. The Free Pass Movement agreed to meet with both city and state officials, and all sides promised more restraint in Monday’s scheduled protests...

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