Since last year over a million people have participated in protests all over Brazil to show their dissatisfaction with the excessive expenditures on the World Cup and the 2016 Rio Olympics. And, with only two days to go before the opening match of the football World Cup between Brazil and Croatia, protests are continuing in many of Brazil’s major cities. On Monday the 9th of June, Brazilian riot police used tear gas to disperse protestors from the Ana Rosa metro station located in the centre of São Paulo.
The president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff stated that the government would “fully guarantee people’s security” and that violent protests interrupting the World Cup would not be allowed. Indeed, the Brazilian government has launched its biggest mobilization of armed forces since 1950 with 30,000 military personnel patrolling the national border of 17,000 km to guarantee safety during the World Cup.
The metro workers of São Paulo called the latest of many protests on the 5th of June, demanding a salary increase of 12.2%. In return the employing company has offered a rise of only 8.7%. Due to the protest traffic jams in São Paulo, considered to be one of the most congested cities in the world, got even worse with over 200 km of jams being reported during rush hour on the 6th and 7th of June.
Concerns are being raised about the continuation of this protest in particular as, if it continues until Thursday, the opening match of the World Cup will be affected, especially as the stadium, Arena Corinthians, is located on the periphery of São Paulo and access to it without public transport will be difficult.
The president of the metro workers’ union, Altino Prazeres, has stated that: “it is not our intention to continue the strike into the World Cup”, but declared that Såo Paulo governor Geraldo Alckmin is “throwing gasoline in the fire” after the company that runs the metro sent out 60 resignation notices to staff members that had allegedly taken part in public disorder through protesting.
Life, work and traffic in São Paulo
In a dynamic and vibrant but crowded city such as São Paulo most people live in the outskirts so they depend heavily on public transport to travel to and from home. Many travel over an hour to reach their destination on a good day, so a disruption of public services has a huge impact on the average worker.
Before moving back to Europe, I myself lived and worked for a number of years in São Paulo, and struggled many times to get home from my job in the centre the city. During the 2013 protests I would often have to wait over an hour for a bus that was stuck behind protests, or having to take an alternate route consisting of a subway trip, a train journey and a bus ride just to get back to my neighbourhood. On one occasion that I managed to catch a direct bus home, it had to suddenly stop because protestors had closed off a main highway. I had to get off the bus and walk home along the highway with the other passengers.
Reasons behind the protests
The protests began last year when citizens in São Paulo took to the streets and started to demonstrate against a 10% increase in bus fares. This encouraged people to speak out about their dissatisfaction with the Brazilian government.
Last year, as sports correspondent of The Nation, Dave Zirin, reported: “The financial capital of São Paulo was brought to a standstill. The political capital, Brasília, saw protesters climb onto the roof of the National Congress building. In Rio, several thousand marched on legendary Maracaña Stadium, the epicenter of the 2016 Summer Olympics, at the start of the Confederations Cup”.
When it comes to the World Cup people are protesting against the extravagant use of public resources. According to the federal government 25,8 billion Reals (an estimated US $11 billion) were spent on the World Cup. This amount is ten times higher than the estimated amount of 2.5 billion Reals (around US$1.1 billion) in 2007 when Brazil was elected to host the cup. At that time it was predicted that the money would be primarily raised through private funding.
The 2014 World Cup is considered to be the most expensive, and the most lucrative, in the competition’s history. South Africa, the country where the event was last held in 2010, spent over US$3 billion in preparing for the event.
Brazilians are demanding more access and investment for education and health facilities. More schools and teachers are needed throughout the country to give poor children an opportunity to break the vicious cycle of poverty. The health system also needs improving; people spend hours in queues and sometimes don’t even get the chance to see a doctor. I myself had to go to a public hospital on one occasion; I waited for 8 hours to see a doctor and left without being attended. This is the reality for many Brazilians; those that can afford it all have private health insurance.
Paulo Sotero, director of the Brazil Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars compares the protests in Brazil and those that occurred in Egypt and Turkey: “Although parallels with mass demonstration that have shaken Egypt and Turkey are inevitable, this is not Tahrir or Taksim Square.
“Brazilians did not take to the street to overthrow an authoritarian government. Having tasted and liked the fruits of almost two decades of democracy with economic stability, they are now asking for more democracy and better outcomes from a political system that has become increasingly dysfunctional and incapable of producing concrete solutions to real problems related to people’s quality of life in a stalled economy.”
It remains to be seen if these latest protests disrupt the opening game of the World Cup and if the Brazilian government will be able to keep its promise of keeping order on its cities’ streets. But it is certain that despite their love for football, many Brazilians will not simply forget what they have been protesting for.
*Cover image ‘Brazil world cup 1982 – 01’ by Oyosan