This week more than 200,000 protesters took to the streets of Brazil’s largest cities to protest — well, a number of things, but major issues include increased bus fares and a too-high cost of living. And this Monday New York Times story on the protests reveals one major flashpoint for the unrest: Lavish spending by the government on the World Cup, set to take place in 2014 across a dozen Brazilian cities.
Writers for Next City have previously pointed out why large-scale sporting events, and the huge stadium projects that accompany them, rarely benefit the neighborhoods and populations in the areas where they pop up. Hosting an Olympics or a World Cup may gain a country international prestige and mucho tourism dollars, but for cities it doesn’t make much economic sense and could mean displacement for residents in the way of shiny new buildings.
Yet the Brazilian government has spent $14 billion on the World Cup, and will add to that large bill (and do a lot more large-scale building) when the Olympics arrive in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. Such outsized spending is taking place at time when basic infrastructure needs remain unmet and the nation’s higher education system remains a mess. Wisely, authorities in Sao Paulo and Rio agreed to suspend their respective transit fare hikes on Wednesday, following days of loud protest.
As the Times reported, this was the largest protest in the country since its military dictatorship ended in 1985.
Most of the protests were peaceful, though things occasionally turned violent with rock-throwing and the police response of rubber bullets and tear gas. Some videos of the police crackdown on the protests have already received hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube, plus many outraged comments.
These events not only cast a shadow over President Dilma Rousseff’s possible reelection campaign next year but also hurt Brazil’s image as an economy on the rise. Over the past few years, Brazil has been spending a great deal of money trying to secure its reputation as one of the world’s richest and most powerful countries, a place for the elite.
Oftentimes this involves building over slums and other poor areas. The informal favela settlements in Rio have endured militaristic police occupations in anticipation of high-rise condos going up nearby, while the “Nova Luz” development project threatens to smother a 123-acre neighborhood in central São Paulo.
As Greg Scruggs reported for Next City, in Brazil “the revitalization process is marked by demolitions.” Now it seems the people displaced by these demolitions, as well as thousands of others, at least want to see their money go toward improving services that ordinary Brazilians can actually use.