(by: Daniel Gutiérrez)
As the countdown to the 2014 Brazilian World Cup draws nearer to a close, the brazilian military plans to invade favelas, the city of Porto Alegre threatens to cancel all events related to the World Cup, a record draught threatens to further harm the Brazilian economy, Brazil’s credit rating continues to plummet, and paramilitary forces continue to grow and threaten Brazilian society.
What was supposed to be a celebration of the country’s economic miracle and it’s rise into the first world has become anything but.
With the World Cup just 11 weeks away, what seemed like empty (or at least unlikely) threats from protestors at the Confederation Cup last June to return to the World Cup with even more numbers is increasingly becoming a reality.
In order to understand how the world cup is threatening the entire social fabric of Brazil, we have to begin with the social unrest that manifested itself during the Confederation Cup of last year.
The Beauty Was Not in the Stadium — It Was in the Streets
In June of last year, more than a million people bled into streets across Brazil’s cities to protest against a number of issues surrounding the Confederation Cup as international cameras focused on the games.
The Confederation Cup — and with it the World Cup and the coming Olympic games — came to symbolize all that was wrong with the country. The protests began when the government attempted a fare increase of twenty cents in public transportation. Immediately people began to take to the streets demanding that the fare increase be rescinded. All this while the Brazilian government spent millions on the mega-events.
The federal government of Brazil was dumbstruck and unable to quell the revolt that burned in the streets outside of the stadiums. Within weeks, President Dilma Rousseff announced that $25 billion would be set aside to improve public transportation throughout Brazil. What was previously not even under discussion in parliament was quickly proposed and passed due to public pressure. Furthermore, after just two weeks of protest, both Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo announced that public transportation fares would be lowered to the original price. Hence, through mass mobilization and protest, Brazilians proved that real democratic power is in the streets and not in the capitol.
Despite the government’s attempt to fan the fires, protests continued to rage. The point was no longer a twenty cent hike in public transportation cost, but the entire political and economic climate surrounding the games.
The demonstrations the government of Brazil faced were the largest the country had seen in two decades as three quarters of the population supported them.
During last year’s protests in São Paulo, Maria Eduarda Carvalho, a social scientist interviewed on the streets, stated: “I think Brazil has to wake up, our complaints are much more than [bus] tickets, it’s the stagnant economy, it’s corruption, it’s a lack of public security, a lack of civic rights.”.
In another article by the Financial Times, Jonathan Wheatley fortifies the argument of Ms. Carvalho, with his citation of a brazilian video blogger who states: “If everything was working, health education, public transport itself. . . nobody would be on the streets demonstrating”.
The question quickly became that if the government wasable to allot so much moneyfor mega-structures, why wasn’t the government doing more to improve the conditions of so many Brazilians living in dire poverty.
World Cup: A Golden Ticket? For Who?
Olympics and World Cup games are often heralded as a great investment. But this is no guarantee. Montreal serves as a case study for such failed economic promises. “It was not very well managed as a financial project. And we have a fabulous stadium, but I think it cost more than all the covered stadia in North America put together,” said s former International Olympic Committee vice-president. It took nearly 30 years to pay off the debt of a single stadium and it is unlikely that the working poor of Brazil will be willing to tolerate more debt and cuts in public programs.
Expenditures revolving around the last year’s Confederation Cup, this year’s World Cup, and the coming 2016 Summer Olympics have been under critical observation for some time. Excluding the public, in the summer of 2011, “the government coalition deputies in Brazil approved a bill that would keep the preparation for these events, including massive infrastructure budgets, secret, and therefore away from public scrutiny that would identify dodgy deals”.
As Simon Kuper of the Financial Times stated in an article written in November of 2012, “World Cups practically invite corruption. Stadiums and infrastructure are needed in a hurry. Brazil’s total spending is officially put at R$27.1bn ($13bn) but costs often overrun, especially if somebody’s friend has a construction company”.
Such arguments gain strength when looking at specific stadiums, such as the Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha in Brasilia, the country’s capital. The stadium was created to seat 70,000 people, even though normally (outside of World Cup games) soccer games in Brasilia draw in, on average, less than 1,000 people per game. Such a large stadium in an area with such little need for it underlines that the construction company is the winner, not the community.
As it is right now, construction timetables are far behind schedule. Brazil is so far behind that just days before the December 31st deadline to complete its six stadiums, Brazil embarrassedly admitted that not a single one was to be completed by the deadline. With eleven weeks remaining, four stadiums have still not be constructed nor has much of the necessary infrastructure.
What’s more, the Mayor of Porto Alegre has publicly announced that his city will be forced to pull-out of the World Cup because Estadio Beira-Rio will not be completed in time. That is unless the government allows companies investing in the games there to not pay taxes. State intervention is only acceptable if its good for business, it seems.
As if that weren’t enough, in order to reach the deadlines it seems Brazil has pulled a card straight out of the Qatar playbook. With zero-hour drawing ever closer, Brazil has outsourced migrant workers from Haiti. However, they have come forward denouncing the inhumane conditions they face so that Brazil (or perhaps the mega-corporations that profit most) can have their cake and eat it too.
With the seconds quickly burning, Brazil is running out of time to pull an ace from its sleeve. Meanwhile, protests continue to rage throughout the country as the military arrests hundreds of individuals including journalists attempting to document the revolt.
The question becomes that given all the spending for the games and the money the country was forced to provide to public infrastructure by its own populace, will the World Cup help bankrupt the country?