Although Brazilian demonstrations in recent years generally had tended to attract small numbers of politicized participants, the latest mobilizations have united huge crowds around a central lament: The government provides woeful public sector even as the economy is modernizing and growing.
The Brazilian Tax Planning Institute think tank found the country's tax burden in 2011 stood at 36 percent of gross domestic product, ranking it 12th among the 30 countries with the world's highest tax burdens.
Yet public services such as schools are in sorry shape. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development found in a 2009 educational survey that literacy and math skills of Brazilian 15-year-olds ranked 53rd out of 65 countries, behind nations such as Bulgaria, Mexico, Turkey, Trinidad and Tobago, and Romania.
Many protesting in Brazil's streets hail from the country's growing middle class, which government figures show has ballooned by some 40 million over the past decade amid a commodities-driven economic boom.
They say they've lost patience with endemic problems such as government corruption and inefficiency. They're also slamming Brazil's government for spending billions of dollars to host next year's World Cup soccer tournament and the 2016 Olympics, while leaving other needs unmet.
A November report from the government raised to $13.3 billion the projected cost of stadiums, airport renovations and other projects for the World Cup. City, state and other local governments are spending more than $12 billion on projects for the Olympics in Rio. Nearly $500 million was spent to renovate Maracana stadium in Rio for the World Cup even though the venue already went through a significant face-lift before the 2007 Pan American Games.
Attorney Agatha Rossi de Paula, who attended the latest protest in Sao Paulo along with her mother, called Brazil's fiscal priorities "an embarrassment."
"We just want what we paid in taxes back, through health care, education and transportation," said the 34-year-old. "We want the police to protect us, to help the people on the streets who have ended up with no job and no money."