Saturday, April 26, 2014


by Pola Oloixarac for the NYT International

BRASILIA– “I'm sorry Neymar, I won't cheer for you this time” is an unexpected song to hear in a soccer-crazed country about to play host to the biggest sports tournament in the world. Neymar is Brazil’s reigning soccer god, the home team is one of the favorites to win the coming World Cup and its five championships are the most of any country. In the caustic style reminiscent of Musica Popular Brasileira during the dictatorship, these lyrics by Edu Krieger reflect widespread discontent in the lead-up to the first match, less than two months away.

“Não vai ter Copa” (we will stop the Cup) is the rallying call for protesters, who have been in the streets regularly since last June. These days, Brazilians are more likely to be caught up in protests against sweeping corruption and wasteful spending than in the renewal of national rivalries that come up every four years. Billions in public money are being spent on stadiums unlikely to be used after the Cup, while the state neglects investments like a new train station for São Paulo.

“During Carnival, every block burst into ‘Não vai ter copa.’ It was the music of the Carnival,” said João Paulo Cuenca, 35, a writer and filmmaker from Rio de Janeiro. The mood that accompanies the tournament every four years is sour this time around. “Every World Cup, Rio gets filled with painted streets, competing with each other. Now, it’s like the Copa didn’t exist.”

Soccer is the strongest socializing bond in Brazilian life so it’s not surprising that the World Cup has become a catalyst to express discontent. The signs of corruption abound: stadium construction projects wildly over budget, scant infrastructure improvements and poor public services.

In a country without a strong tradition of political engagement, people may not follow the news, but everybody reads the sports section. There they learn, for example, that the Mane Garrincha National Stadium in Brasilia, which was demolished and rebuilt, cost 17 times more than estimated by FIFA, the World Cup’s governing soccer association. There are reports that the stadium roof still leaks and that the government is diverting money meant for other projects to solve the problem.

Since this is an election year, the World Cup is shining a spotlight on the Worker’s Party, which has been in power for 12 years. After two terms of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and four years of his protégée, Dilma Rousseff, Brazil has become the world’s eighth-largest economy. Showing off lavish new projects to an international audience was one reason Brazil courted the tournament; holding a successful Cup is a test the Worker’s Party is desperate to pass.

The higher expectations of the population are another challenge for the party. The social programs fostered by Lula have turned 40 million poor Brazilians into consumers, the new “C” class, and they and the traditional middle class are asking for better health care and education. But Rio de Janeiro has become one of the most expensive cities in the world, and average Brazilians feel they are paying too much for too little. There is the sense that the World Cup is not for them. “Copa pra quem?” (Whose Cup is it?) is another protest slogan.

The World Cup also coincides with the 50th anniversary of Brazil’s coup d’état, a sensitive topic for President Rousseff, who was jailed and tortured during the dictatorship. The excesses of that military past are echoed in the pacification steps in poor neighborhoods in advance of the World Cup. What began as an effort to uproot the drug cartels in the shantytowns has grown into a repressive occupying force, backed up by tanks. Tens of thousands of families have been evicted, and many people feel they have been pushed aside to make the Cup a success.

Bruno Torturra, a 35-year-old journalist from São Paulo, has founded Media Ninja, an organization devoted to covering the protests and police and gang violence overlooked by most media. “People recall the day when the army confiscated our rights in 1964, and on that very day national troops stormed Complexo da Maré and brutalized the poor,” he said. Now, he added, “people are being literally tortured and killed.”

Videos of tanks sharing the narrow streets with children and girls being kicked to the ground by the military police are making the rounds in social media under the hashtag #NaovaiterCopa. There are worries that the repression will worsen. FIFA is pushing for what’s called the “Copa law,” allowing any protester to be treated as a terrorist, jailed without trial.

This authoritarian approach is copying other Latin American governments, raising concerns about individual rights. A law criminalizing protest is being considered in Argentina, and the protests in Venezuela have been marked by police brutality and the jailing of students on terrorism charges. Today’s left-leaning leaders show an alarming willingness to adopt the brutal techniques of the old right.

When the protests began, President Rousseff, who faces re-election in October, pointed out that they were a sign of an improved and changing Brazil; these days, people do think they deserve better.
With quintessential Latin American panache, President Rousseff has resorted to the ultimate populist move: She knows that if Brazil wins the Cup, all will be forgotten. In the end, it’s all up to Neymar and the soccer fans.

1 comment:

Daniel Xavier said...

Ótimo texto, senhora Oloixarac. Interessante ponto de vista.