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Political Pranks in Brazil Put Starbucks in an Awkward Position

During a charged summer, Brazilians used Starbucks to express their political frustrations.

TOPSHOT - People protest against Brazil's interim president Michel Temer during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games women's football quarterfinal match between Canada and France at the Corinthians Arena in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on August 12, 2016. / AFP / Miguel SCHINCARIOL        (Photo credit should read MIGUEL SCHINCARIOL/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - People protest against Brazil's interim president Michel Temer during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games women's football quarterfinal match between Canada and France at the Corinthians Arena in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on August 12, 2016. / AFP / Miguel SCHINCARIOL (Photo credit should read MIGUEL SCHINCARIOL/AFP/Getty Images)

In many Starbucks coffee shops in Brazil, a surprisingly spirited call echoed out this summer from behind the counter: “Out with Temer!” some baristas cried.

They were simply following instructions, of a sort — reading customer names scribbled on the sides of coffee cups — but their calls were seen as political commentary, if not protest. Brazil has been roiled by political upheaval for months. Over the summer, second-term president Dilma Rousseff faced impeachment on allegations of manipulating the federal budget to conceal Brazil’s economic issues. She was stripped of her office on August 29. Michel Temer, the vice president who replaced her, was a key player in pushing her out of the way.

Thrust into the spotlight by the impeachment, Temer is nearly unknown, and those that know him don’t much care for him. He is also shadowed by his own corruption issues; earlier this year he was fined for violating campaign financing limits and was linked to a graft scandal with Brazil’s national oil company Petróleo Brasileiro, or Petrobras.

Amidst unrest and riotous street demonstrations that accompanied the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro this summer, the more genteel Starbucks protest appeared to take off when a Brazilian playwright told a Starbucks barista in central Rio de Janeiro his name was “Fora Temer,” Portuguese for “Out with Temer,” and posted the results on Facebook.

According to his post, he hid in the crowd and waited until she called out his name-cum-protest in a loud voice. When she did, it drew applause, hugs, and spontaneous renditions of the national anthem from the clients in the café.

It isn’t clear how popular the prank became, but his post was shared 3,468 times on Facebook — enough to prompt a response from the company. As the the joke caught on and others shared their own “Fora Temer” coffee protests on social media, Starbucks had to walk a fine line. To stay within their policies, they instructed their employees to continue to write customers’ preferred names on cups, but not to call out the political slogans.

Not every Brazilian protesting the government thought the Starbucks method, which has also been used by Black Lives Matter activists in the United States, was a great idea. Raphael Tsavkko Garcia, a Brazilian journalist and activist, lamented the “outsourcing of protest to a cute photo on Instagram or text on Facebook.

Photo credit: MIGUEL SCHINCARIOL/AFP/Getty Images

Kavitha Surana is an editorial fellow at Foreign Policy, where she produces breaking news and original reports with a particular focus on immigration, counterterrorism, and border security policy. Previously, Kavitha worked at New York magazine’s Bedford + Bowery blog, CNNMoney, The Associated Press in Italy, and Fareed Zakaria GPS and has freelanced from Italy and Germany for publications like Quartz, Al Jazeera America, OZY, and GlobalPost/PRI. In 2015, she was awarded a Fulbright trip to Germany, as well as a grant from the Heinrich Böll Foundation to report on migration and integration. She also reported from Rwanda and Senegal. Kavitha studied European history at Columbia University and holds a master’s degree in journalism and European studies from New York University. She has studied in Italy and Peru and speaks Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and French. @ksurana6

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