A photo snapped by a Brazilian journalist has gone viral for perfectly capturing the country’s collective frustrations with a government that opponents say is completely detached from and disinterested in the problems facing the country.
The picture, snapped by Gisele Arthur, shows Brazilian lawmakers attending a fancy cocktail party in a room with large windows overlooking a scene of chaotic violence outside.
In the foreground, expensively dressed men and women sip wine and pluck hors d'oeuvres from a passing silver tray. In the background police officers dressed in black are firing teargas to scatter a group of student protesters.
Many Brazilians are revolted by the image, which seems to give shape in pixel form to a feeling that many people share: That the country’s politicians are not only uninterested in the concerns of the people, but that they are actively ignoring them. But it's also a dramatic this-is-what-we’re-talking-about image, which probably explains its virality.
The photo heated up the Brazilian internet even on a day when the country was rocked by the awful news of a Brazilian soccer team’s fatal plane crash, which killed 76 people in Colombia. But politics goes on. And when lawmakers gathered yesterday for a critical Senate session to vote on a 20-year freeze on federal spending—an unprecedented austerity move— 10,000 protesters were there to make their voices heard. Meanwhile, on social media, some Brazilians even accused the country’s politicians of taking advantage of the tragedy and moment of national grief to push the bill through the Senate.
The austerity bill passed by a landslide, 61 to 14, and will now go to final vote on Dec. 13.
The country’s left-wing opposition says the measure goes beyond simple belt-tightening. They say it represents a brutal attack on the country’s education and health systems, which rely heavily on public funding. Opponents argue the spending-freeze will disproportionately impact the poorest and most vulnerable segments of Brazilian society.
That’s why so many students were in the streets yesterday. They burned vehicles — including, reportedly, a car belonging one of President Temer’s ex-girlfriends — and smashed the windows of government buildings.
In response, police used pepper spray and teargas to disperse the crowd. In one video circulating on social media, a police officer is shown gratuitously jabbing a protester in the ribs with a truncheon. One seasoned foreign correspondent tweeted that the protests, and the corresponding aggression of the police towards the protesters, was the most violent he had seen in the country since the massive street protests in 2013.
Shannon Sims is an independent journalist writing for Forbes, NPR, and the Washington Post.