It all supposedly started because of a hike in bus fares that is the equivalent of $.10 in USD. However, Brazilians are quick to clarify that the angry demonstrations that lit up the streets of Salvador da Bahia, Sao Paulo, Brasilia, Rio de Janeiro, Curitiba and Belem from June 10th to June 20th were in response to gross government mismanagement of the country’s resources—favoring the elite while the mostly-Black poor languish in Third World conditions. As one Brazilian put it, “[The protests are] the result of what happens when a society is forced to put up with the ludicrous nonsensical laws… which results in a wealth and social gap so outrageous, it would be cause for hilarity if it weren’t true.”
With a GDP of $2.4 trillion Brazil is the world's seventh-largest national economy, yet most Brazilians have been shut out of the prosperity. Meanwhile, the government is projected to spend $13.3 billion and $18 billion respectively to host the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. Even more infuriating to many in the country, people are being evicted from their homes, allegedly to make room for stadiums.
Since 2009, about 20,000 people in Rio de Janeiro alone have been resettled—placed in housing projects sometimes 40 miles from their original homes, given rent subsidies, or bought out below market value. Though Secretary of Housing Pierre Batista denies the relocations are to make way for World Cup or Olympic grounds, an advocate for the evicted points out the removals are taking place near areas identified as proposed sporting arenas.
“We’re acting in the favelas, in the communities, bringing improvements,” Batista told ABC News, adding, “The ones that will benefit the most are the residents themselves.” But in Sussuarana, a favela (shanty town) in Salvador da Bahia, a girl named Itamara describes a situation in which the government plays an agitating role in her neighborhood—when they aren’t ignoring their needs altogether.
“[The police] enter here not on our side. They strike good people because they think they are bad,” Itamara explains, adding Sussuarana was without water supply for six months forcing residents to pay R$35 to 45 for water from a truck they were lucky to have show up once a month. Meanwhile, the local health clinic has “no medicine, no nutritionist, no doctor, no pediatrician…it’s not helping anyone.”
The country’s hospitals are described as 'war zones', so overcrowded, women are forced, in some cases, to give birth on the floor for lack of beds. In other cases, patients have been refused admission and instructed to take public transportation in hopes the nearest hospital will have room. Writer João Vanderlei de Moraes Filho sums it up like this: “Most of the 5,570 municipalities in Brazil [do] not meet the basic needs of citizens such as health, education and security, even with the increase in social investment since the [former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva] government.”
Through it all, lawmakers earn about R$17-27,000 a month ($7,500-$12k in USD), plus expenses and spending allowances, while Brazil’s minimum wage is R$600, or just under $266.
Not quite the paradise of beaches, bundas and soccer gods most people conjure, with the help of the Brazilian government.
Mable Ivory, Director of Brazil Initiatives for the Joe Beasley Foundation, has been working for the last three years to expand the global perception of Brazil. Among the misconceptions she says people have is that Blacks are the minority. As of the 2010 census, over 50% of Brazilians identify as African-descended. Most recently, Ivory has launched “The Favela Report” a video series aimed at giving face and voice to the nation’s diversity. Itamara’s aforementioned commentary animates one episode. Ivory believes the country’s all smiles and samba branding is at the expense of remedying the situation.
She points to Coke’s social marketing strategy at South Africa’s World Cup as an example. For every goal scored during the 2010 FIFA World Cup and celebrated by players with a dance, Coke donated $1,500 to the Company’s “Water for Schools” effort that helps provide schools access to safe drinking water, part of the company’s $30 million commitment to the “Replenish Africa Initiative." Will 2014 World Cup sponsors be as conscious of Brazil’s needs?
Brazilian filmmaker Carla Dauden challenges the assumption the World Cup will bring a sustained boost to the economy. “The truth is that most of the money that comes from the games and the stadiums goes straight to FIFA and we don’t even see it. And the money that comes from the tourists and investors goes straight to the hands of those people that already have money. So, yeah, maybe the guy who’s selling ice cream on the beach will do better that week, but will the event really change his life?” Dauden adds that after the fanfare of the games, the nation will be stuck with a large bill to maintain the sporting grounds.
In a video of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff spliced with contradictory footage, President Rousseff vows “You will find a country that is very well prepared to host the World Cup with all the necessary infrastructure, with an efficient system of transportation, with advanced technology for communication, and with a lot of safety. We are doing our part for the 2014 World Cup to be the best of all times. You can be sure that this new Brazil will be ready to enchant the world in 2014.”
Responding to the June protests, Rousseff insisted, “The federal money spent on the stadiums is in the form of financing that will be duly repaid by the companies and governments that are exploiting these stadiums. I would never allow these funds to come out of the federal public budget or to damage priority sectors such as health and education.”
Dauden asserts, “We do not need stadiums… We do not need Brazil to look better for the world; we need our people to have food and health. We do not need more parties, we need people with jobs and sustainable ways of living.”
Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond is the author of the novel Powder Necklace and founder of the blog People Who Write. Follow her on Twitter @nanaekua.