In our June 14 Facebook Live session, Senior Investigator Héctor Silva Ávalos and Senior Editor Mike LaSusa discussed the opening of the 2018 World Cup and the many ways that soccer and organized crime intersect…
The scene at the World Cup final today could serve as a slightly absurd metaphor for the tournament as a whole. The crowd at Maracanã stadium, the site of Brazil’s infamous 1950 defeat to Uruguay, shouted crude insults at the Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. Dilma, grimacing, handed the trophy to the victorious German team “like a hot potato.” The song “Happy” by American musician Pharrell Williams played over the loudspeakers while the losing Argentine squad sulked in defeat.
Germans were partying hard. Their team had humiliated Brazil in the semi-final and managed to pull off the feat of becoming the first European team to win a World Cup hosted in South America. In a way, it was symbolic. The victor; Germany – the state most responsible for the pains that post-global financial crisis “austerity” brought to its European neighbors. The loser; Argentina – a country that has been demonized and attacked by Wall Street “vulture funds.” Brazil was left with a big, fat nothing.
The popular slogan “não vai ter Copa!” (“there will be no Cup”) became the quasi-official mantra of demonstrators who took to the streets to protest the waste and corruption FIFA and the World Cup came to represent for many Brazilians. Of course, almost nothing could have stopped the multi-billion dollar event from going forward. “Gringo” tourists and wealthy Brazilians were always going to get their Cup, and quite an exciting and well-managed one at that.
But “não vai ter Copa” was not meant literally (although it turned to be true in that sense as well). For the anti-Cup protesters, it meant that they knew the Cup was not meant for them. Many middle-income Brazilians chose to avoid the high prices and large crowds of tourists at the live matches, watching instead from their homes and local hangouts. The working classes were not even allowed sell beer near the stadiums. That privilege was reserved for FIFA sponsors like the Budweiser corporation.
While FIFA chief Sepp Blatter gleefully pointed to the lack of widespread protests during the Cup, he neglected to mention that state violence and repression played a major role in deterring dissent. As author Dave Zirin recently wrote, the international media largely ignored the story of “a population angry about the Cup, but terrorized into compliance.” In fact, there were various reports of police harassing and beating demonstrators and even journalists during anti-Cup protests on the day of the final match.
“FIFA go home” was another popular mantra of the anti-Cup crowd. The organization will go home, albeit with about $4.5 billion in untaxed profits. Economic growth forecasts for Brazil have fallen from a meager 1.7 percent earlier in the year to less than 1 percent recently. Some economists estimate that the World Cup and the Olympic Games planned for 2016 in Rio de Janeiro will only boost growth by about 0.2 percent in 2014.
The impoverished favelas will be left under militarized occupation – whether by security forces, drug gangs, or both – often without basic facilities like water and sewage. Giant “FIFA-quality” stadiums, like Manaus’s “spaceship in the jungle,” will host games played in front of half-filled stands. If this is the legacy of the World Cup in Brazil, one cannot help but wonder what the Olympics will bring. More over-budget, past-schedule projects? More workers’ deaths? More strikes and protests? More arrests and police brutality?
The answer is likely to be “all of the above.” The world may have stopped watching the Cup, but it should not stop watching Brazil.
Vaias a Dilma, brigas no Maracanã e brutalidade policial fora. Foi uma bela Copa, mas não ignoremos problemas. pic.twitter.com/JGuNB3r5QM
— Maurício Santoro (@msantoro1978) July 13, 2014
Translation: Boos at Dilma, fights in the Maracanã and police brutality outside. It was a beautiful Cup but let’s not ignore problems.
Yesterday, the 2014 World Cup began at São Paulo Arena. At a total cost of roughly $11 billion — and at least eight workers’ lives — Brazil will host the most expensive World Cup in history. (Though the scandalous unfolding atrocity in Qatar may prove even worse.) Brazilians overwhelmingly supported bringing the event to their country when FIFA awarded them the honor in 2007 (no other nation in the Americas volunteered), but a recent poll indicates that a majority of citizens now oppose it…
Read this piece in its entirety at Jacobin.
In Brazil, illegal settlements, known as “favelas,” exist in most major cities. Migrants from rural Brazil flooded into rapidly-industrializing cities during the early 20th century and created a housing crisis. The explosion in demand drove up the price of real estate and with their meager wages, most laborers were forced to live in “vilas-cidadelas” (“company neighborhoods” that were essentially labor camps) or “cortiços” (“tenements” translated literally, but these were essentially slave barracks). Those who could not or did not choose to avail themselves of these options were forced to construct illegal settlements known as “loteamentos” (“allotments”), out of which grew the favelas (literally, “slums” or “shantytowns”).
Favelas are usually constructed on hillsides with shaky materials, making them vulnerable to natural disasters. They can be home to dozens, hundreds, thousands or even tens of thousands of people (like Rocinha, one of Brazil’s largest favelas, pictured here.) Most favela residents are poor and many work in the “informal” economy as prostitutes, drug dealers, gang members and the like. On the other hand, many work legitimate jobs as salespeople, school teachers or bus drivers, but they simply don’t make enough money to afford the country’s skyrocketing cost of real estate.
From their very beginnings the favelas have been associated with “illegality” in its broadest sense. Violent criminal gangs often control many aspects of life in the favelas, from arbitrating community disputes to providing illegal cable and internet services. Still, the vast majority of their residents are decent people with a strong sense of community. Sadly, the racist and classist perceptions of favelas and their inhabitants by many elements of Brazilian society have perpetuated a long legacy of counterproductive government policies surrounding their existence.
Originally, the main thrust of municipal and federal policy toward the favelas was geared toward “eradication.” This often involved police forcibly evicting residents from their homes, throwing their possessions into garbage trucks and burning their communities to the ground. The terminology used more often those days is “pacification,” which involves police or army forces invading and occupying favelas. Such operations are not necessarily less violent than the “eradications.” In one particularly gruesome incident, clashes in 2007 between criminal groups and police forces in Rio de Janeiro’s Complexo de Alemão favela left dozens dead and many more wounded.
However, with the World Cup approaching this year and the Olympics scheduled for 2016, “eradication” seems to be making a comeback. In 2011, the Special Rapporteur of the UN Human Rights Council on the right to adequate housing, Raquel Rolnik, expressed concern with “a pattern of lack of transparency, consultation, dialogue, fair negotiation, and participation of the affected communities in processes concerning evictions undertaken or planned in connection with the World Cup and Olympics.”
With the world’s biggest single-event sporting competition just months away, so-called “pacification” operations have been gaining momentum. In July of last year, Amarildo de Souza, a 42-year-old construction worker, was tortured, killed and “disappeared” by police officers in Rio. An Associated Press analysis of official police statistics showed that since 2007, a year before the security push into the city’s slums, the number of missing person cases in Rio and its outskirts rose by a third.
This increasing militarization is not necessarily a new development, but it is a worrying one. Just this weekend, fighting broke out in the Telerj favela as police evicted the town’s 5,000 residents following a court ruling allowing the premises to be cleared. Favela residents often have no legal title for the lands they occupy, but practically speaking, they have nowhere to go. As Rolnik put it, “the very limited compensation offered to the communities affected…can result in homelessness and the formation of new informal settlements…Insufficient attention is being given to access to infrastructure, services and means of subsistence in relocation sites.”
For decades, Brazil has chosen to ignore its urban housing crisis in favor of criminalizing the existence of the most disadvantaged and marginalized segments of its society. Forcibly evicting impoverished people who are systematically discriminated against from their homes will not solve the problem. Instead of investing billions of dollars into irresponsible “development” projects and building the world’s largest police surveillance center, Brazil could look to the example of the US state of Utah, which saved taxpayer money and dramatically reduced housing insecurity by giving homes to the homeless.
Of course, there are major differences between Rio and Provo, but the point is that the eradication and pacification strategy has done nothing more than sow distrust between favela residents and the state. Brazil should be investing in its communities, not dismantling them.