Lost Sambista

A Brazil never seen.

The war against the World Cup and the Olympics


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It must be strange for people who are used to see Brazilians as a smiley and youthful nation, proud of its country’s sporting exploits, to learn that most of them are hating to host the Olympics and the World Cup. While the costs are astronomical and no one knows for sure who actually benefits from these soulless mega-events centred on big business, very few countries get the privilege of hosting them and doing so usually is a matter of big national pride. Brazil seems to be an exception, and the question that comes to mind is why.

Ask the average Brazilian and he will give you the standard answer: The anger is because the government decided to throw money on these useless events instead of investing in hospitals, schools and infrastructure. You will also hear accusations of corruption together with some strange complaints about the ruling Workers Party’s (PT) programs for instituting financial help packages for poor families who send their children to school and for allowing Cuban doctors in the country to work in areas where urban middle class doctors refuse to go. What also will strike as strange is that the discontent took years to surface and that the apparent lack of investment in infrastructure has been happening since the 1970’s and only now have Brazilians awakened to this fact.

However, whoever bothers to study the numbers closer will be surprised at what they reveal. The 8 Billion Reais ( 3.6 billion US dollars ) spent of the construction of stadiums is tiny when compared with the 825 Billion Reais spent in the health system since the works began while the investment in education only in 2014 is predicted to be 115 Billion Reais. This is without taking into consideration that there will be a return on the investment in the both mega events, not only with the selling of tickets and with tourism but also in jobs and in the construction of infrastructure related to the events and the rippling effect that economic activities always have.

Havinf got this out of the way, the question remais, where does this anger come from? Ask an angry Brazilian if he would be happy if the Olympics and the World Cup would happen under another government and he will most probably say yes. He will also say probably say that, as a matter of principal, he has nothing against these mega-events taking in his country; what he doesn’t like is the government that is handling it nor the way it is doing it. Which kind of government would he like instead? Not sure, but definitely not this hateful PT one.

Based on the above, we can say with a degree of certainty that the problem is with the Government and not with the events per se. If this is so, we have to ask ourselves what is so evil in the ruling party that makes people take the streets, and almost dedicate their lives on a political crusade against it? Corruption? Well… this has been a national institution for at least the past eight decades, and is due to the way the Brazilian economy works. The engineer of this mechanism was the dictator Getulio Vargas who started ruling Brazil in the 1930’s, and who stayed in power for more than twenty years. His strategy was to set up a strong interventionist government that would support the country’s development together with local capital. Simply put, this means that the government would come up with big projects such as setting up oil companies, constructing roads, building hydroelectric plants, ports etc… which would open opportunities for Brazilian and sometimes for international investors as well as generate jobs and stimulate the economy as a whole. In broad line this is similar to the American President Roosevelt’s New Deal and to the Marshall plan in post-war Europe. This all sounds great in paper, and Vargas set it up with the best of intentions, but the system would generate unlimited possibilities for corruption.

The reason for this is that the result is that the most important economic deals in Brazil are related to the government and who is heading it makes a huge difference in terms of which project will go ahead and who benefit from the, ultimately who will get rich and who will not. It is important to remember this and that although the PT is a left wing government and defends state intervention, this system was in place long before it ever ruled Brazil.

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Some people will also blame the police brutality, not only towards the protesters but also, and mainly, towards the poor population on a daily basis. The police is there to serve the state so, according to this way of thinking; the exaggerated use of force would reflect the willingness of the PT to transform itself in a left wing dictatorship. This is worthwhile examining; the brutality of the Brazilian police dates from before the PT’s ascension to power, actually of its older members experienced this brutality when they were in the opposition. The public security forces’ ethos is an inheritance of Brazil’s slavery past and has traditionally been brutal. Also, with the exception of the elite Federal Police, they are under the control of local governments. In this context, they are almost self-serving organizations with a history of protecting the local powerful, and that are very hard to control from the outside. In fact, their greatest fear is being supervised by outsiders who could make them respond for their excesses, or at least limit them. As a corporation, they are by no means immune from corruption and tackling them is a touchy business that any government is the world tries to avoid. In any case, it is very hard to sustain that the interests of the police and of the PT are the same, and it would be insane to suppose that the Brazilian police would collaborate in installing a Left Wing dictatorship in the country.

The strongest argument against the Government is that it is using both the Olympics and the World Cup as a political card. There is an undeniable truth in this, but we point out that any political party in the world would. If things go well the opposition will look stupid and Dilma’s popularity will be restored. We do not hear this accusation so much because the opposition is using these mega events as much as they can to do anti-PT propaganda. They are actually using all the weight they can to promote an anti-Government crusade that now resembles a public lynching. The attacks are constant in almost all the media, social media included, and are vicious.

There is a war going on against the World Cup and the Olympics. The opposition is frustrated in realizing that the Government has absorbed most of the punches and is still set to win the upcoming elections despite the economic downturn and all the PR efforts against it. This discontent has set a wide portion of the Brazilian society to want these two mega-events to fail. They prefer the country to look bad in the eyes of the world and investors to run away, rather than to give support to a government that may damage some of their private interests. This reminds us of the story of the genie who comes up to a man and says. “Tell me what you desire and it will be yours, but bear in mind that your enemy will have double”, the man responds “Take out one of my eyes”.

So what is it in this government that they dislike so much? It is our view that what angers the middle class is that after more than ten years in the government the ruling party has privileged the poor rather than business. This is serious, as it was the more instructed Brazilians who put the PT in power and not the lower classes. These voters feel entitled to policies in their favour. While there has been an undeniable improvement in the standards of living of the poorest segments, in many cases over-taxation has made the middle class see their standards of living lower. One issue that is emblematic of this anger is that now households must treat domestic workers as office workers and must pay regular taxes to employ them.

As in most countries under left wing governments, people are paying high taxes but are not seeing this money return to them in services or any other benefits. The construction of big stadiums and the hosting of big events has been an easy target to catalyze this anger.

For us there are deeper layers to this war on the Olympics and on the World Cup. Internationally this is a moment of great changes. We have seen the US and its allies fail to impress the world with their invasion of Iraq and their intervention in Afghanistan. Although they have moved away from their failed tactics of direct intervention, it seems obvious to us that they have tried to cling on to their receding supremacy by using indirect pressure. By this we mean that they have incited and made allegiances with locals to carry out their strategies. The recent examples are plenty, some with happy endings and others with tragic consequences: Libya, Tunisia, Turkey, Syria, Iran, Egypt, Ukraine, Venezuela… What all of these countries had in common was the threat of abandoning the American “mentoring” and ended up having “spontaneous” uprisings, which were supposed to be sympathetic to the Western dominance.

In a time when Brazil has abdicated its status of being one of the darlings of global investors to become closer to emerging Russia and China via the BRICS, it would be reasonable to expect that the West would react. Brazil is by no means an insignificant country and its success or its failure, the paths it chooses, will affect the world’s power brokerage and relevant on how the international economic machinery develops. It is reasonable to believe that it would not only be the Brazilian political opposition who would benefit from a possible failure in the two biggest sporting events in the World?

In its quest to “deliver the goods” Brazil has two unlikely allies FIFA and the IOC. Both of these organizations are aware that over-commercialization is turning their events dull and are making a great effort to maintain a business as usual approach for the events to be a success. The IOC has already threatened to make the next Olympics in London, which is highly improbable, but FIFA is the one who has more to lose, if a world cup in Brazil, the country of football, is a flop they will not be able to do much to keep the audiences for the next one.

All in all, the heated debate on the advantages of a state administered economy versus one ruled by “business” that will happen in Brazil during the interlude of FIFA’s World Cup and the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics promises to be more interesting than what will happen inside the stadiums.

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13 thoughts on “The war against the World Cup and the Olympics

  1. Reblogged this on Obzervashunal and commented:
    Thought this one from Lost Sambista worthy of a reblog. Read the full article for a slice of unfortunate truth…

  2. I hear lots of people say this government didn’t do such a bad job. There’s still a lot of work to do, but there’s less misery now then say 10 years ago. Its the FIFA and its bossiness they don’t like…

  3. First off, anger and frustration at the planning of the World Cup and Olympics is nothing new. It perhaps hasn’t been publicized on the same scale, but I read about mistreatment and displacement of the poor and homeless during the planning of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. These events have a lot of prestige attached, but are rather draining in real life, regardless of the city or country.
    I think the outrage is not just about the WC/Games themselves, but it’s a culmination of Brazilians’ frustrations towards the government. Yes, it’s a system that’s been going on for awhile, but that doesn’t mean the complaints are any less worthy.
    As for the claim that the middle class are angry because the poor are getting attention, well, I have yet to see anything of substance to back that claim. I won’t claim to speak for all Brazilians, but for the most part the discussion seems to be centered on the rampant corruption, high taxes and not seeing the results of such taxes in infrastructure. Completely reasonable grievances, in my opinion.
    Not to mention, protests have not been exclusively middle class. Poor communities in Rio have held numerous protests against the UPP, which isn’t exactly protesting the WC/Games, but is certainly a byproduct of it.
    It’s not comfortable to see people making a fuss “in front of company,” and certainly the WC/Games are acting as symbols of problems that have plagued Brazil for a long time, but I think it’s a positive sign to see citizens demand more from their government instead of smiling through the pain. (I don’t approve of the vandalization and destruction of property though. That accomplishes nothing.)

    • The disillusionment with the PT comes from the middle class. The party was the big hope of many of them when it came to power and the reality of the Brazilian system made it become a party like all others. To rule the country it had to “play the game”. This is one thing.

      The other aspect is that the international configurations helped big businesses during the good days and, yes, the PT did prioritize the poor. The middle class in general remained the same and this, for me, is the reason for so much anger. The economy is now slumping, the taxes are high the return for them is not visible, they work their butts off and life is only getting more expensive.

      Of course the poor that have been displaced or that have lost out with the construction of stadiums and with the “pacification” of the favelas are unhappy and are protesting but in the big picture, who is organizing the protests, who is in the forefront of the protests is the middle class.

  4. It is costing US$4bn on stadiums alone to host the 2014 World Cup, plus at least another US$7bn (and probably US$10bn) on associated infrastructure, according to The Guardian.

    http://www.theguardian.com/cities/2014/apr/23/world-cup-olympics-rio-de-janeiro-brazil-sensation-disaster

    It was supposed to cost US1bn, with most of the money coming from private businesses. Instead the majority of the money has been paid from the public purse.

    The 2010 World Cup in South Africa recouped 10 per cent of its US$3bn outlay. Brazil can expect the same.

    The Brazilian ministry of tourism bravely predicts tourists will spend US$3bn, but that’s total spend, not profit. If you guessed 20 per cent of that were profit that would equal a return of investment of five per cent.

    http://documentingbrazil.com/2014/05/14/brazil-2014-world-cup-tourists-will-spend-a-billion-reais-278000000-in-rio-de-janeiro-alone/

    The great majority of infrastructure projects promised have either fallen too far behind or been abandoned completely. A train-line between Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro – set for completion now after its original proposal 8 years ago – has yet to be tendered.

    Workers have died building the stadiums because of poor health and safety.

    US$11bn is a huge amount of money in such a poor country, and a kick in the teeth for anyone that’s ever had to visit a hospital (where nurses are currently on strike because of low pay) or put a child through public education (where teachers are currently on strike because of low pay), or been robbed in the street (where police have been on strike because of low pay).

    To say protesters are angry at the PT party, or lazy for not kicking up a fuss about corruption sooner, is besides the point.

  5. I would not call Brazil a poor country at this stage of the game. In the big picture it is closer to China (that absorbed the costs) than to Greece (that went broke partially because of the costs of the Olympics).

    As I stated in the article, the investment in education only this year is greater than the entire cost of the of the WC/Olympics and the investment in health is 100 times bigger.

    The whole point is that there has been an over-politicization of the two events, by the opposition now and probably by the PT after the events if they prove to be a success.

    There are a lot of half truths being used to galvanize the population against their government which is normal in politics but in the case of Brazil it is creating a poisonous atmosphere that is disproportionate to what is really happening in relation to these two mega events.

    • 10 billion dollars is 10 billion dollars. That’s: 10,000,000,000 dollars. It’s a lot of money to waste on something unnecessary. FIFA doesn’t care about return on investment, it cares about making itself money.

      People know it treats host-countries like mugs, and that’s why Brazilians are mad.

      People were just as angry about the Olympics in London before it came around. It’s normal, it’s to be expected. And so, yes, the government that lobbied for it and accepted it gets the flak.

      • I partially agree. In London they obviously got the flak, in all countries every government gets criticized this is the normal thing. What is happening in Brazil is an exageration of the discontent there are people trying to take the protests to the next level, if some of the forces behind the protests had their way they would destabilize the government in similar ways that happened in the Middle East and in Venezuela.

        I can see by your blog that you are someone with social awareness. Remember that the PT, believe it or not is on the side of the poor, its great difficulty is to govern the country with a tricky congress that has always been run based on “exchanges of favors”. The people who want the PT, don’t like the social preoccupations of the current administration, they want to go back to Brazil’s “wild west” past, which I lived through very closely.

        There are forces in Brazil, and in the world at large, that want all the gains earned by the many struggles of the working class to be wiped out of politics. I am not sure if you live in Brazil or not, but this is what is at stake, and as I said in the article the result of this debate will determine a lot of things not only in Brazil’s future but perhaps in other country’s futures too.

        I repeat; there is a subtle war going on and the failure or the success of the PT is an important asset in this debacle.

  6. Tem um ponto do texto que eu acho que está sendo esquecido ou algo parecido… Muitos protestos estão acontecendo pq varias reivindicações do inicio dos protestos não foram se quer vistas e algumas até regrediram. Como é o caso dos professores no Rio de Janeiro. Além deles terem saído na ultima greve pior do que entraram, ainda assim não cumpriram nem a decisão ruim passada. É claro que vão aproveitar o momento para reivindicar. Não ignoro todo o jogo politico macro em cima do PT e etc etc etc… mas para quem moro no rio e são paulo os protestos e manifestações que ocorrem é tb pelas coisas que não foram mudadas e pela repressão que está acorrendo a lá ditadura. Por exemplo o bairro cultural do rio Santa tereza onde está em obras, tudo mal feito e não vão terminar o bonde. O muito do dinheiro foi feita tudo errado e isso esfregando na nossa cara e ainda mandando sermos felizes com os turistas.
    Não teve melhora em nada, nada e nada… Para não ser tão pessimista… melhorou um pouco a violencia com upps(que mesmo assim possuem varios efeitos colaterais), tem uma brt, e algumas pequenas coisas… Nem os estagios estão completamente funcionais.
    Os protestos não são por uma coisa só, eles vão continuar durante algum tempo, a copa só é um grande simbolo que de muitas coisas ruins e que pessoas de todo o nivel social vai se manifestar cada um a sua maneira. Quando a copa passar, vai continuar, independente do que acotnecer no cenário politico, ganhando sociopata pt ou tucano… vai continuar. Pq estamos aprendendo a reclamar, pq houve de fato uma mudança no pensamento geral… é pequena, estamos aprendendo, mas não tem mais volta.
    Repetindo, não ignoro a guerra politica, mas ela é uma parte do processo e não o todo.

    • Concordo que ha muita reinvindicacao justa no meio disto tudo e que ainda existem muitos problemas graves no Brasil de hoje que foram sendo empurrados para debaixo do tapete porque a economia estava indo bem. O que acontece eh que os protestos pelo menos na epoca da Copa das Confederacoes foram um saco de gatos com muita gente se aproveitando dos outros para engrossar o caldo e fazerem suas vozes serem ouvidas. Pensando bem os comicios das Diretas foram um pouco assim. O que me preocupa eh que ninguem vai me convencer que nao hove uma coordenacao profissional por traz daqueles protestos. Tanta gente na rua no pais inteiro nao acontece sem uma organizacao previa. E se este for o caso, eu acho que muita gente que protesta/ou por motivos perfeitamente justos acaba/ou sendo usada num contexto que talvez nem concordem.

  7. Alex on said:

    Nobody forced the World Cup on Brazil. Where were these people seven years ago when they decided Brazil would be host?

    Sorry, but they make it seem as if all their countries wooes are FIFA’s fault.
    Brazil has been a mess long before that.

  8. Pingback: The war against the World Cup and the Olympics | Scissors Kick

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