International News / News Articles

Strife Erupts as Brazil Prepares for World Cup

by Pedro do Amaral Souza

As the FIFA World Cup approaches, it has become one of the most debated topics in Brazil. Most would expect the atmosphere to be jubilant, as Brazil will be hosting its first World Cup since 1950. But in the country of soccer, the cup is being greeted with hostility by a large part of the population as a wave of protests sweep the country. There wasn’t much opposition when Brazil was chosen to be the host for the World Cup in 2007, but as the date approached the population’s opinion became divided. In last year’s June protests, cries of  “No education, no health reform, no world cup” and “We want FIFA standards for our education” were a common sight.

January saw the first major action against the World Cup, which included protests in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Belo Horizonte, Recife, Fortaleza, Vitoria, Sorocaba, Porto Alegre and Brasilia. While some are against the protests, a poll conducted by newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo showed that over 70% of its readers support the protests. But what are the arguments behind such opposition?

One of the basic arguments is the financial cost of such an event. The government spending has far surpassed the initial budget of $13.3 billion, bearing a heavy load on the country’s finances. Many Brazilians argue that a country that has such poor standards for public health and education cannot afford to waste money hosting the World Cup. The government argues the investment is going to create jobs and provide improvements in security and infrastructure, which will benefit the population in the long term but the way the preparation for the World Cup is taking place seems to indicate that a large part of the invested money is going to waste.

This is particularly true for the stadiums that are being built or reformed at the estimated cost of $3.5 billion. According to calculations from Contas Abertas, a Brazilian NGO, at least four of the 12 stadiums that will be used for the Cup will be under-utilized after the event. An example of this is the stadium Mane Garrincha, located in Brasilia. It has had its capacity increased from 45 thousand to 71 thousand people. Such figures become absurd when one realizes that the audience for the finals of the state championship last year was 1956 people. The situation is the same for the stadiums that are to be utilized in the cities of Cuiaba, Manaus and Natal. It was also reported that the annual maintenance of the stadiums will increase to around 10% of the money invested in them, meaning the cost of said investment will double in a decade.

Many are also opposed to the silencing of the protests and ensure that those who oppose the World cup won’t mar the country’s image during the Cup event. The federal government has already spent more than $25 million in rubber bullets, non-lethal grenades and shock weapons, as well as on the creation of a shock troop composed of 10,000 policemen to be deployed during the event. The government of Sao Paulo has also created a police battalion of 413 men for the “control of civil disturbances and antiterrorism”. This is not to mention the controversial attempt by Senator Marco Crivella to pass a law that would allow tribunals to classify protesters and members of social movements as terrorists. Even more shocking is the manual published by the ministry of defense last December under the title “Maintenance of Law and Order”. According to the manual, movements and organizations can be classified as “opposing forces,” justifying the employment of armed forces if considered necessary.

Another source of controversy is the forced evictions taking place in order to clear some areas for reforms. Estimates on the number of relocated people vary from 100,000 to 300,000, most of them members of middle-lower class. The process is being carried out without respecting basic principles, with many reports of violent evictions. There are many cases in which families are given few hours to gather their belongings and abandon their houses upon being notified. The process is also being marked by a lack of transparency from the Brazilian government, which refuses to disclose information about resettlement plans and compensation measures to the Brazilian public. Construction workers taking part in the urbanization projects and the building and reforming of stadiums are also complaining of poor treatment, low wages, unsanitary conditions and increased working hours to meet the deadlines imposed by the government. Ironically, the projects are actually being delayed due to a series of strikes demanding better working conditions.

There is also considerable opposition to temporary changes in Brazilian law demanded by FIFA. Such changes include exempting FIFA and its business partner from taxes, which takes away from Brazil’s earnings. According to estimates from the Brazilian government FIFA will save around $500 million with the tax exemption. FIFA is also allowed to create commercial zones in a radius of up to 2 km from the places where events will take place. Only sponsors of the Cup will be allowed to sell products in these zones, while local businesses will be forced to close temporarily. Bars will also be penalized if they broadcast matches live without the proper authorization. Beyond all that, the tickets prices are expected to be the highest of any World Cup so far, turning the event into a costly affair. This exclusion is harnessing a lot of resentment among the middle-lower classes and small business owners.

All factors considered, it is no surprise the World Cup is being met with opposition. That being said, it is surprising to see such hostility against the Cup in a country whose national passion is soccer. Whether or not the critics are justified, only time will tell. But for now, the debate rages on while protesters march through the streets of Brazil.

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