Brazil 2014: protests, politicians… and soccer?
Written by Yazeed Kamaldien
A few weeks after he lost his right eye during protest violence, Vitor Araujo joined millions of Brazilians on his twentieth birthday to demand better basic services such as healthcare and education from their government.
It was in October when Araujo and other protesters gathered in the country’s economic centre, Sao Paulo. They were mostly angered at their government’s rising expenditure on preparations to host next year’s Soccer World Cup.
Protesters claim this ongoing expense is climbing while public services are neglected.
A white patch covered Araujo’s right socket, a reminder of Independence Day on September 7 when he lost his eye during a clash between police and protesters.
At the October protest, police monitored Araujo and others who gathered in business-lined Paulista Avenue in the city centre. Police took photos of protesters and journalists. Bags were also searched.
“I feel sad that I lost my eye while protesting for my basic rights… but I don’t regret it. It’s my right. It’s our right to protest,” said Araujo.
In the same protest area – in front of the MASP gallery – art history student Natalia Marino, 24, said her government “could find a thousand better ways to spend the money”.
“I thought the World Cup would be a good thing to attract investors and tourists. But there is so much money lost. It was more like an excuse to spend money. Just like many Brazilians, I don’t want it anymore,” said Marino.
“The money should be used for community sports projects, not only for stadiums… Our government should spend this money on schools, health; we need hospitals.”
Marino said Brazilians were protesting because “we are just so tired of corruption”.
“It’s starting to get us really frustrated because it never changes… There’s also no way this (World Cup) will improve my life. It will make things more expensive for us. We would spend millions on something that will be gone quickly,” she said.
Sao Paulo’s protesters have been dismissed though as opportunists. Plans are meanwhile marching forth for the city’s stadium to be completed by December.
The city with 11 million inhabitants has been selected to host the World Cup’s opening match and six others.
Jaime Franco, advisor of the Sao Paulo provincial committee charged with running the Fifa show, said they were “worried about violence” during next year’s tournament.
“They (protesters) took advantage of the tournament being shown to the world… they want to destroy it (World Cup). The police will take care of that,” said Franco.
“All the research shows that around 70% of Brazilians are crazy for the World Cup. Only a small part (of the population) disapproves and wants investments in health and education.”
Franco said they expected up to 13 national teams based in Sao Paulo during the month-long event starting on June 12. He said 16 teams have already visited the city to inspect the viability of setting up there for the duration of the tournament. The city’s deputy mayor Nádia Campeã said in her sixth-floor City Hall office that locals “want to have the World Cup for another time”.
“The last World Cup in Brazil was held 50 years ago,” she said.
When asked about protests against the tournament, she replied: “People want more”.
“Brazilians have experienced an improvement in their lives over the last decade. There has been an improvement in education and public health. Unemployment stands at five percent,” said Campeã.
“When you get a lot of benefits you expect more because you always want a better life. People expect more. Protesters want a good World Cup but also an improvement of social benefits.”
Back at the Paulista Avenue protest, Alexandre Morgado from the Group to Support Public Protests (GAPP) readied volunteers who attend each protest to assist injured persons.
“We have been doing this since June when the big protests started in Brazil. We were protesters and saw there was a need to help people. We saw police beating people and ambulances taking an hour or more to come and help,” said Morgado. “We have seen people with exposed fractures and others have been knocked by cars during protests. There is also a lot of police aggression.
“Police attack an entire protest. They attack protesters with tear gas, pepper spray and beat them with sticks. In the middle of the confusion there are rocks flying. People respond with rocks to defend themselves (against the police).”
Morgado said there was yet no end in sight for protests that are planned “almost every day”.
“There’s always something happening. Everything is wrong in the political sphere. We have a system that allows a lot of corruption,” he said.
“Our health system is a joke. We have no doctors, nurses or ambulances. We also need better education. We pay tax but don’t get back what we should from the government.
“The expense on the Soccer World Cup is too high. All these billions should be spent on what people need. We don’t need stadiums. We don’t need the World Cup. We need healthcare, public transport and education for people. This is why everybody is angry now.”
Meanwhile in Rio de Janiero, where working class communities face eviction from favelas near the city centre, in a bid to clean up the city, activists are mobilizing locals to speak up against being evicted.
Rio resident Kalinca Copello is a Brazilian researcher who organised in November screenings of a film called Dear Mandela. The latter showed how South Africans resisted forced removals at the same time that country’s government evicted locals to make way for a Soccer World Cup stadium.
South African hosted the event in 2010. Copello said they wanted to “start a debate and mobilise people”.
“We have invited activists and lawyers to the debates about human rights violations and access to the city. We are not telling people to resist evictions. We want to inform them. In our experience, if you simply follow what the government wants you do then you get a bad deal,” she said.
Copello said countless Brazilians have already been evicted from Rio’s inner-city favelas.
“If you look around, you will see that favelas are close to the city. In some cases, people have been moved from prime property in the city,” said Copello.
“A lot of people who have been evicted are moved from being closer to the city to areas on the outskirts of the city. They have to then spend hours to travel to the city and some of them are employed.”
Soccer governing body Fifa which selected Brazil as next year’s host said it “respects and supports the right” to protest.
Fifa’s media department replied to questions about ongoing protest and police brutality against civilians. At a late October protest in Sao Paulo police arrested 78 protesters and dispersed the crowd with teargas.
“Fifa fully respects and supports the right to demonstrate as long as they are peacefully and the demonstrators also respect other peoples’ rights such as of those who bought tickets to the Fifa World Cup matches so they can access freely the stadiums,” said Fifa.
It said it had “full confidence in the local authorities (that have) shown that the security concept works”.
It also said it had received at least “6.2 million ticket requests for the 2014 Fifa World Cup… underlining the huge interest in experiencing football’s flagship event live in one of the 12 stadiums across Brazil both by Brazilians and football fans around the world”.
Brazil’s stadiums throughout the event’s 64 matches can only accommodate 2.9 million spectators.
Fifa has meanwhile earned millions from next year’s event, well before the first kick off in June in Sao Paulo. In its annual report, Fifa stated that in the last financial year it already earned US$553-million for the sale of television right for its tournament in Brazil.
But Brazilians are angry and taking action on streets countrywide. Protests that initially erupted in June when the cost of public transport was raised by US$0.10 took on a wider message to the government. Train and bus rides cost US$1,50 for every single journey, in a city that has six million cars on its streets daily.
Movimento Passe Livre, or Free Prass Movement, called on Paulistanos – as Sao Paulo’s 11 million locals are known – to take their demands to the streets.
Andreia Bianchi, from the national student group Juntos, or Together, said they were “concerned about our living conditions in Brazil”.
“Our group started two years ago and has mostly university students. The idea is to fight for things that are important. We joined other movements at protests to show how unfair our taxes are,” she said.
“If we pay tax we should have access to our city. But buses are so expensive.”
Bianchi said she opposed the World Cup too.
“Get ready. We are going to make a big mess next year,” she said.
“We can’t afford tickets to watch the matches. People are angry because of this. The stadiums cost so much but we can’t even get in there.”
Another student, Isabel Chaib, said the “demand for free public transport started the protests in June”. Her conversation too turned to the World Cup.
“Politicians used propaganda when they told us about the World Cup. They said it would improve education and we would get a lot of jobs. But they didn’t tell us how,” said Chaib.
“Maybe the World Cup is not what we needed. We already heard that the cost of the stadiums in South Africa was really high.
“The last World Cup we had was at a time when we had a dictatorship. That focused people on soccer instead of social issues. Politicians want to do that now too. It seems the World Cup is just a distraction.”
Helicopters hovered over Sao Paulo’s protesters, shining bright lights down on the crowds, guiding the ground police on the movement below.
Police tried stopping protesters from entering side streets and vandalising properties. By the end of the night, rubbish bins were strewn out onto the street and set alight to block traffic. The message writing is spray painted in Portuguese on the wall: Fora Fifa, which means Get Out Fifa.