The unrest that seems to have infected so much of the world in recent months has now spread to Brazil, a nation that has been envied by others for its growing and influential force in the global economy.
Interestingly, of late Brazil has also been a major contributor to Florida's tourist economy, as more than a million Brazilians visited our state last year. Excluding Canadians, that's second only to tourists from the United Kingdom, but what's really eye-catching is that state tourist officials say the Brazilians spent nearly twice as much as their British counterparts, which suggests at least some Brazilians are doing well.
But last week, more than 100,000 people swarmed Brazil's streets across the nation to vent their frustration at what they view as heavy-handed police tactics, inadequate public services and the high costs associated with hosting soccer's prestigious World Cup competition next year.
There were major demonstrations in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Brasilia, Belem, Belo Horizonte, Salvador and elsewhere. Although they began peacefully, several eventually were married by clashes with police as well as by the burning of cars and buses.
The protests actually began on a much smaller scale earlier and were triggered by a modest increase in bus ticket prices (the amount of the increase was lower than the current inflation rate in Brazil). But when the police began firing rubber bullets and tear gas - and beating up protesters - the scale of the rioting quickly grew.
Multiple rallies attracted a wide coalition of people frustrated not just with the rising bus fares but also with the growing costs in general and what they see as poor public services, the government's extravagant investment in international sports events (related to the World Cup), low health care standards and suspicions about inequality and corruption.
A crowd set several fires outside the legislative assembly, smashed the building's windows and painted graffiti declaring "Revolution" and "Hate Police," among other anti-government slogans. Police responded with pepper spray and one protester was seen unconscious and bleeding heavily from a wound in the upper arm.
"We are here because we hate the government," a 19-year-old protester told a reporter. "They do nothing for us."
Another protester was from a totally different background: "I'm an architect, but I have been unemployed for six months. There must be something wrong with this country," the man complained.
Brazil is not North Korea or Syria or Iran. It is generally regarded as a progressive, enlightened nation, the jewel of South America, which is one reason it was given the honor of hosting next year's World Cup. But clearly the jewel has its flaws.
If Brazilian leaders are wise, they will take a judicious look at the issues driving the demonstrators. Violence is more likely when people feel powerless. The rest of us can only hope the protests aren't contagious and don't spread to Brazil's neighbors. The world's already overflowing with instability.