BBC News

Brazil President Dilma Rousseff plays hand over protests

By Gary Duffy
Executive editor, BBC Sao Paulo

media captionPresident Dilma Rousseff: ''Brazil is ready to advance''

Having been caught out by the speed and breadth of the protests sweeping her country, President Dilma Rousseff seems to have accepted that words would not be enough to regain the initiative.

With her own popularity slipping and a presidential election in 2014, to do nothing was not an option.

"Brazil is ready to move forward and has made it clear it does not want to remain where it is," she told assembled governors and mayors.

She kept to the formula that she has used so far, stressing a willingness to listen to the voices from the streets while abhorring violent acts.

The most headline-catching part of her proposals was to suggest a referendum to establish a constitutional assembly to consider political reform.

It has the advantage of handing a decision back to the people, but is also a commitment to what will be a long drawn-out process that will allow the government time to draw breath.

It is either a bold move or a very clever one.

Some are already arguing it could be unconstitutional. Others are complaining that political reform did not need such an elaborate proposal and could have been done more effectively and with greater speed.

Plan worth trying?

In a country plagued by dodgy deals, few are going to argue with the idea of making corruption a more serious offence.

However, Brazilians are more likely to be impressed when the corrupt are actually convicted and jailed.

image captionThere is no sign yet of the protests ending

The same principle applies for investment in transport; the president promised some 50 billion reais ($25bn, £16bn).

Brazil has a history of grand initiatives which have not always lived up to their promise - roads and ports that are promised and delivered would be more likely to impress.

The president stressed existing proposals such as investing oil royalties in education and a controversial proposal to use foreign doctors to plug a gap in the country's health system.

Controlling inflation and responsible economic management sound laudable, but with growth sluggish, the government's credibility on this issue is less than it used to be.

All of these issues were to be found among the multiple placards raised by more than a million protesters in hundreds of Brazilian cities.

However, with ill-defined demands and a lack of leadership and even some division among the demonstrators, the president's proposals may fill a vacuum and sound to the wider Brazilian public like a plan worth trying.

Profound issues

She has invited protest leaders to the presidential office in the capital Brasilia, and even if they did not like what they heard from the president it was a more sophisticated response than confrontation.

On the streets here has been an easing in the scale of the protests on the streets but Brazil is still holding its breath, watching to see where the wind blows. No-one is certain that the Tropical Spring has peaked.

Four people have died, many more have been injured and South America's biggest country has made headlines around the world for reasons it never expected.

Having grumbled privately for many years about things they feel are profoundly wrong with their country, Brazilians stirred themselves and took to the streets in a way that had not been seen for decades.

They raised profound issues: about shocking inequality and access to health and education, and the justice of spending billions on sporting tournaments when millions of Brazilians live in unsanitary and squalid conditions.

The Confederations Cup, the dress rehearsal for the World Cup, provided the backdrop and social media the engine to get people on to the streets.

It was boosted by allegations of police brutality in earlier demonstrations. Police denied the allegations, but few accepted their denial.

Having hesitated as the demonstrations grew, an initially baffled president has played her hand to restore some kind of order to her country.

If enough Brazilians are willing to give her a chance she may pull it off, but more demonstrations are planned and the next few days and weeks will be the test.