Brazil's Mr Firefighter

Diogo de Santana is the official responsible for cooling the heat of protest on behalf of President Rousseff.


    Diogo de Santana has the very long official title of Executive Secretary of the General Secretary of the Presidency of Brazil.

    But on a practical level you can call him Mr Firefighter, because lately he's been responsible for trying to cool the heat of protest burning all over the country.

    Protesters invaded parts of the National Congress, nearly overtook the foreign ministry, and were only kept at bay from the Palacio do Planalto - Brazil's presidential palace - by an array of army police and lots of tear gas. All that in just one day last week. 

    There are 39 ministerial-level positions in Brazil's executive branch. But during crisis, Rousseff calls on less than half a dozen ministers to guide her. 

    De Santana's boss, Gilberto Carvalho, is one of them, making De Santana one of the go-to men for the government's response.

    It's Sunday, and de Santana is in his office at the presidential palace working the phones, scanning emails and checking in with contacts after one of the most turbulent weeks in modern times.

    He spoke to Al Jazeera about the recent protests.

    Gabriel Elizondo: President Rousseff spoke on Friday night but we saw huge protests on Saturday in several cities, including over 70,000 in Belo Horizonte. Does this indicate her speech did not resonate. 

    De Santana: No. What we saw on Saturday was a continuation of the protests we had during the week. According to our information, president Rousseff's speech was well received by most. She answered firmly that we will not allow vandalism that could destabilise the country, but she also put herself in a position to listen to the country and create a positive agenda out of these protests. This next week will be very important as we will be able to see how things develop in Brazil ... We want to implement the agenda that the people on the street demand.

    Rousseff spoke about health, education, public transport. But when will people start seeing the results of these proposals?

    I think it's possible this year. Oil royalties, for example, as well as education reforms are proposals of Rousseff that have a lot of support in Congress. I think it's important we deliver this year.

    In the view of the presidency, have the events of the past week fundamentally changed Brazil forever?

    Yes. They have changed Brazilian democracy for the better ... Many of the issues the protesters are talking about the government has already tried to address, but obviously now we will do it in a much stronger way.

    This protest started about bus fares in Sao Paulo, and has grown into a national movement encompassing multiple issues. How is the government going to address it all?

    First we need to understand that many things in Brazil need to be improved. Many of these issues we have already improved, but others need improving even more. As a government we need to be humble, and listen to what the people on the street are saying. Second, we need to communicate better what we have been doing, and this is especially true on the World Cup issues. And the third thing, I think it's important that we create a faster agenda in order to face Brazil's problems. What we have seen from the street protests is a push to move faster on important issues such as health, education, and urban mobility which are all important issues for the majority of Brazilians.

    All the solutions Rousseff spoke about Friday – oil revenues, foreign doctors, urban mobility – are all issues she has spoken about before these protests began. So what is new? 

    We can now accelerate to have these things done sooner. Oil royalties has been debated, you are correct, but now people are calling for better education as a priority. And no doubt this will effect how the Congress acts. In regards to health care, the federal government had already been doing big investments, but now it will even be more. It’s important to remember nobody has a ‘silver bullet’ or a single answer to all these issues. The protesters demands are complex. So we can't say right away all these issues will be solved, but there are things we can do, and the federal government plans to do those to make Brazil a better place.

    Was the federal government surprised by how big the protests got?

    Yes. And the whole country was surprised. I think even the protesters were surprised, the political community, journalists, intellectuals, artists, social scientists, economists. Everybody was surprised. But we think this was a good moment in Brazilian democracy. 

    Has there been any talk of cancelling the Confederations Cup within the federal government. 

    No. I have heard nothing of this.



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