Demonstrators carry a banner made of Brazilian national flags during a protest against the Confederations Cup and President Dilma Rousseff’s government, in Recife City June 20, 2013. Reuters/Marcos Brindicci
On Wednesday, 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 are hosting 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 twelve 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.
What’s Wrong With the World Cup
“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 over $14 billion, only a little less than the annual national budget for education ($37 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 works demanded by the local communities have been suspended, while huge investments have been made to improve the access to the opening stadium of the 2014 World Cup.