SÃO PAULO, Brazil – Demonstrations that flared up over the cost of transportation in São Paulo turned into a riot as a small violent group broke away from the peaceful majority, causing destruction in Brazil’s largest city.

Photo: Wikipedia
Photo: Wikipedia

The protest was organized by the organization known as the Movimento Passe Livre, or the Free Fare Movement. Founded in 2005 in the southern city of Porte Alegre with the aim of establishing cost-free public transportation, the group’s demonstrations earlier this year just before FIFA’s Confederations Cup are credited with providing the spark for the protests that gripped all of Brazil for several weeks.

In that instance, the protests spread north to São Paulo for the same reasons initially with demonstrators showing their displeasure with yet even more rises in metro, suburban train, and bus fare prices.

This weekend, the MPL demonstrated again, demanding the city government heed their calls for free transportation. After several hours of peaceful gathering and marching, a small contingent of the crowd broke away from the mass of humanity and allegedly began attacking a large bus terminal near the center of São Paulo.

The violent group then set fire to a bus while smashing the windows and ticket machines of other buses. Some were also seen smashing ATMs in the vicinity of the bus terminal.

Police responded by spraying tear gas and firing rubber bullets at the violent group, although some witnesses at the scene claimed the police’s reaction was much too heavy-handed, leading to even more violence from the breakaway group. The security authorities said that at least six people were arrested but the number was expected to rise as police were tracking down alleged suspects in other parts of the city.

Involved in the violence were members of the Black Bloc, an anarchist group based in Brazil, according to police. The same group was blamed for ushering in chaos at another demonstration earlier this month in Rio de Janeiro when a peaceful march by teachers demanding better pay ended violently. The trouble arose after the Black Bloc allegedly became involved.

An undercover police colonel dressed in plainclothes was allegedly attacked by the Black Bloc, but rescued by uniformed officers after they pulled him out of the masked anarchists. The theory that Brazilian police officials infiltrate a rally, blend into the crowd, and incite violence to allow for an official security reaction has been floated before, and this instance adds fuel to that fire.

The protests in São Paulo followed an announcement by President Dilma Rousseff last week when she announced a fund injection of almost $2.5 billion set aside for public transportation in South America’s largest metropolis. Buses are exempt from this improvement as the money will go to train and metro expansions and improvements, including a new metro line that will pass by the city’s vital airport, Guarulhos.

“The Republic of Brazil and the state government of São Paulo have a common, coordinated plan of action to attack one of the most serious problems that we have in our major cities, which is urban mobility,” said Rousseff at the announcement.

With the already-massive city’s population growing and more people driving, the overburdened road, highway, and public transportation infrastructure of São Paulo is in desperate need of improvent, especially with the city being one of the hosts of next year’s FIFA World Cup.

Similar problems have been a cause for concern in other major Brazilian cities, also co-hosts of the tournament, for decades now. The cities are all working to improve roads, airports, and public transportation to accommodate the influx of visitors and the growing urban population.