Yale Law School and the Protests in Brazil
The protests that recently erupted in Brazil constitute the biggest civil upheaval since Diretas Já in 1983-1984. Yale Law School faculty and alumni are an important part of the legal discourse that the demonstrations have generated.
Yale Law School Dean and Sol & Lillian Goldman Professor of Law Robert C. Post ’77 was cited, for example, in the court order issued by a Minister on the Brazilian Supreme Court to allow protests to continue in the state of Minas Gerais. Minister Luiz Fux referred to Dean Post’s Democracy, Expertise, and Academic Freedom: A First Amendment Jurisprudence for the Modern State (Yale University Press, 2012) in his consideration of the limits on the protection of the right to free speech, particularly when, as in this case, acts of vandalism are committed.
A Yale alumnus is also at the center of the controversy regarding calls for a constituent assembly to implement drastic reforms of the current political system. On June 26, Luís Roberto Barroso ’89 LLM was confirmed by Congress to be the newest Minister on the Brazilian high court. One of the most highly respected constitutional lawyers in the country, Barroso’s views on whether or not convening a constituent assembly is warranted by the present situation will carry great weight.
Meanwhile, the current movement, distinguishing it from its historical antecedent Diretas Já, has yet to find either a name or a cause to rally around. Proposals for the former include “V for Vinegar” (which the protestors use to resist tear gas), the Salad Revolt, the Brazilian Spring, and The Giant Awakes. The Brazilian flare for catchy slogans has had inadvertent effects as well. A Fiat TV commercial urges watchers to “Come into the street,” for example, and prescient Brahma beer ads ask people to “imagine what it will be like during the World Cup.”
Similarly in contrast to Diretas Já, which involved a very diverse group of social actors that came together to demand direct presidential elections, the current movement lacks a unifying cause. Protests against rising public transportation fees began in the northern city of Natal as far back as August 2012, and resentment against what are perceived as increasingly regressive means of raising revenue is perhaps the most important of the myriad of causes championed by groups on both sides of the political spectrum. Yet these demands are accompanied by many others, prominent among which are complaints over political corruption, the state of the education and healthcare systems, and the misuse of public funds. The last cause may explain the great surge in protests during the recently concluded Confederations Cup soccer tournament – astronomical amounts of money were devoted to preparations for it and next year’s World Cup, but nearly all the funds have gone to renovating stadiums and none to improvements in infrastructure that would generate much greater benefits for the average Brazilian.
Each cause is controversial and multifaceted. While the government has reacted quickly to the demonstrations – quashing a bill that would have limited the investigative power of the ministry that recently prosecuted the largest corruption case in Brazilian history, moving forward with other reform bills that have stalled in Congress for years, and promising to hire thousands of doctors from, among other countries, Cuba – many see in the moves a consternating strain of populism. Two of the Brazilian students who came to Yale this past February as part of the law school’s Latin American Linkage Program, Bruno Bodart of the Rio de Janeiro State University and Caio Borges of the Fundação Getulio Vargas, have been following the events closely and carefully, providing analyses of the issues that allow the reader to appreciate the complexity of the problems without losing sight of the historical importance of these events. Their commitment, intelligence, and objectivity is perhaps the greatest reason for optimism regarding the long-term outcome of the present upheaval rocking Brazil.