SAO PAULO - Under pressure after more than a week of nationwide protests, Brazilian leader Dilma Rousseff said Monday that her government will spend $23 billion more on public transportation, promised to push a plebiscite on political reform and announced five core areas for improvements in government services.
Rousseff made the announcement after meeting with leaders of a free-transit activist group that launched the first demonstrations more than a week ago. They said they would continue to protest.
The president also opened a meeting of governors and mayors from 26 capital cities to discuss ways to make improvements.
"I mainly want to repeat that my government is listening to democratic voices. We must learn to hear the voices of the street," Rousseff told the meeting. "We all must, without exception, understand these signals with humility and accuracy."
Rousseff said she would push debate about holding a plebiscite on political reform - a special constitutional assembly that would hear from the public about what action needs to be taken to improve Brazil's political system. She also said her government would focus on five priorities: fiscal responsibility and controlling inflation; political reform; health care; public transportation; and education.
Protesters have filled cities across the country to air a wide range of grievances, including poor public services and billions of dollars of spending, to prepare for next year's World Cup soccer tournament and the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.
Mayara Longo Vivian, one of the leaders of the Free Fare Movement who met with Rousseff in Brasilia, said no concrete measures were given to the group and that its "fight would continue." The movement has been working since 2006 to eliminate public-transport fares.
Vivian referred to the billions of dollars Brazil is spending to host the World Cup, saying, "If they have money to build stadiums, they have money for zero tariffs" on public transportation.
At a demonstration in Rio de Janeiro on Monday, 68-year-old sociologist Irene Loewenstein said she was not impressed by Rousseff's action.
"It's a necessary first step, but not a particularly meaningful nor surprising one," she said.
"Neither Dilma nor any other politician here is capable of even understanding, much less putting into practice, the kind of systematic change the people are demanding. It's just not within their worldviews."