On June 26, days after massive protests took over the streets, officials in 14 cities in Brazil ― including the capitals Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Porto Alegre, Belo Horizonte and Recife ― announced they were reducing public transport fares.
It was a historic popular win over the unilateral way transportation, and urban policies in general, are decided in Brazil.
The protesters, however, have announced they will not stop, and further marches are scheduled for the coming days. “We want to discuss the transportation policy,” said a member of the “Free Pass” movement in a press conference.
In many cities, the protests are increasingly directed against the World Cup. In Belo Horizonte and Fortaleza, hundreds of policemen armed with “non-lethal” devices (made by the same Brazilian manufacturer, Condor, that supplies the Turkish police) fired rubber bullets and tear gas bombs as protesters tried to get inside FIFA’s established “exclusion zones” around stadiums that hosted the Confederations’ Cup.
The police admitted that they opened fire only to protect FIFA’s strict rules about circulation in these areas.
Like the urban crisis that presses on in every major city in Brazil, this is a discontent that will not go away easily. Indeed, the skyrocketing investments in the World Cup ― to be hosted by 12 Brazilian cities ― are only making the poor quality of public services more visible, and a greater source of outrage.
In many ways, the protests prove that FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke spoke the truth in a press conference in April. “Less democracy is sometimes better for organizing a World Cup,” he said. He also said he expected fewer problems in Russia in 2018 with President Vladimir Putin.
“Dilma, please call me ‘World Cup’ and invest in me. Signed, Education” said a poster in a protest.
The Brazilian government has already spent $13.7 billion on the World Cup, and the overall investment is set to be more than $16.5 billion, only a little less than the annual national budget for education ($19 billion).
Such investments hugely benefit construction companies that are main financers of political campaigns. Some stadiums are even being built in cities like Manaus and Cuiabá that lack a thriving football culture ― and therefore are set to become useless “white elephants.”
The projects that are centered around urban mobility, which account for $6 billion, focus on widening roads and building viaducts, following a car-driven logic. They are centered around routes to and from airports to hotels and to stadia, which are not a priority in terms of solving the current mobility crisis.
One example is Itaquera, an area in eastern Sao Paulo where much-needed infrastructure work demanded by the local communities has been suspended, while huge investments have been made to improve the access to the opening stadium of the 2014 World Cup.
Social movements claim that 170,000 people are threatened or have already been removed from their homes, mainly in impoverished communities, or favelas. The residents who can prove ownership of the land (who are not numerous) end up receiving compensation ranging from $1,500 to $5000 or a monthly stipend worth less than $300.
The evictions are often violent, and the whole process lacks transparency and consultation with the local communities. In Morro da Providência, a slum in Rio de Janeiro, people found out that they were to be evicted when their houses were marked overnight with paint, without any previous negotiation.
In all cases, the favelas are well located, in places where the land value skyrocketed because of the World Cup, and is therefore prone to real estate speculation. Besides their homes, the inhabitants lose their communities ― in some cases, they had lived there for decades. Mostly they are sent to housing projects far away ― over 10 kilometers ― and end up in areas with little or no infrastructure.
Brazil’s cultural heritage has also been threatened. Representatives of indigenous tribes who used to live in the Indigenous Museum around the stadium of Maracanã were expelled. The stadium itself lost most of its characteristics in a renovation that cost over half-a-billion dollars, and included the destruction of public sports venues such as the gymnasium Celio de Barros in order to make room for parking lots.
Since the Brazilian government signed a contract with FIFA in 2007, laws have been speedily approved to guarantee FIFA’s interests under the General Legislation of the World Cup. These exceptional laws allow states and municipalities to incur higher debts for the World Cup than under regular Brazilian laws. The same laws allow a speedier process of environmental licensing and dispense with public bidding in some cases.
For instance, FIFA established a two-kilometer “exclusion zone” around the stadiums. Within these limits, FIFA controls the circulation of people, and forbids the sale of products not allowed by the organization (in the entire country, no store, bar or shop is allowed to use an image of the World Cup mascot unless it was sold by FIFA, or else they can be sued).
According to the NGO Streetnet, during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa 100,000 street vendors lost their income during the games. In Brazil, popular committees have protested the prohibition on the sale of traditional foods, like Salvador’s Afro-Brazilian deep fried acarajés. Within the stadia, security is provided by private contractors who are paid for by the Brazilian government but chosen by FIFA.
Exceptional legislation also includes a draft law that established the crime of “terrorism” for the first time since the 1988 constitution, which marked the end of military abuses in the name of eradicating “terrorism.” The draft law, still to be voted on, establishes tough penalties for those who “promote generalized panic.”
For social movements, the vague phrasing is a serious concern because it would allow for the criminalization of democratic protests such as the ones happening now. On June 19, the Brazilian intelligence services established an online monitoring group to track profiles of protesters on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp, according to the newspaper Estado de São Paulo.
The overall budget for security in the World Cup is about $900 million. Expenses include a $30 million contract with Condor, which has not only supplied arms such as tear gas bombs, pepper spray and rubber bullets to the Turkish police but to the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. The contract included the delivery of 1,800 taser pistols and 8,300 light and sound grenades.
Lack of transparency and of public consultation is the rule in many of these investments, which are often made in projects that are not in the public interest. In Fortaleza, capital of the northeastern Ceará state, a giant aquarium is being built without proper environmental licenses at a cost above $140 million, which exceeds the amount spent to address one of the worst droughts ever faced by the state.
The seven biggest construction companies in Brazil, who are major campaign donors, have benefited from a differential regime that allows them to increase the costs in the event of delays in the construction of stadia. Therefore, many of the projects are over budget, and proven irregularities occurred in Arena Amazonas in Manaus, Maracanã in Rio and in the stadium of Brasilia.
This is all on top of investigations of corruption by FIFA officials and the former head of the Brazilian Football Confederation, Ricardo Teixeira. After “winning” the 2014 World Cup to Brazil, Teixeira resigned last year, under several corruption allegations, and now lives a tranquil life in a $7.4 million house in Miami.
FIFA’s requirements for stadium renovations led to a reduction of their capacities ― in some cases of 50 percent ― and an expansion of VIP and sitting areas. In Maracanã, the renovation wiped out the popular areas where people once shared a common bench, danced and played the drums.
As a result, ticket prices increased, and while 200,000 people were able to watch the final match of the 1950 World Cup in Maracanã, only 74,000 will be able to watch the final of the 2014 World Cup in the same stadium.
Finally, FIFA’s rules have crushed the spirit of the lively football fans in Brazil. Playing drums and opening big flags is forbidden. Most Brazilians feel that the biggest football festival in the world is being stolen from them.
Natalia Viana and Marina Amaral are directors of the investigative journalism non-profit “Agência Pública” in Brazil.