Editorial, by Stone Korshak
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – All eyes are on Rio and Brazil as the final preparations are being made to host the hundreds of thousands of fans set to watch FIFA World Cup games around twelve cities in Brazil from June 12th – July 13th. Somehow, at the last minute, the stadiums should be ready for kickoff and the throngs of visitors will choke through the transportation system, find lodging, and experience Brazil.
The stadiums themselves have become news — most observers now agree that many will be white elephants left to rot after the games end, as cities without major teams in the national championship contests will be hard pressed to fill seats. However, a bigger story is: how this can be the most expensive FIFA games to date, i.e. how has so much been spent to benefit so few? Perhaps even more important, given Brazil’s stuttering economy, what does its future look like?
Brazilians want to know the answers, they want the world to know, and they will use the international spotlight to draw attention to the social inequalities here. Last year in June nationwide protests broke out, sparked by a bus fare increase that strained the budget of the majority of citizens. The protests lasted almost a month but seemed to peter out as the FIFA Confederations Cup (the “pregame” to the World Cup) ended.
Those protests caught the attention of the authorities, though, and since then the issue of security has become even more intense. In Rio crime rates have spiked, and violence in and around the city has resulted in new criticism of the UPP (Police Pacification Unit) program.
It was reported that more police have been killed in Rio by March of 2014 than in all of 2013, although the majority of them were off-duty. This makes me wonder why they are being targeted and hunted: is it because they are doing something they shouldn’t be doing, on or off duty? In Rio, you never know.
In December 2013 we reported that the Military Police in Rio de Janeiro are Brazil’s most corrupt police force, according to the National Victimization Survey, commissioned by the Ministry of Justice and the United Nations Program for Development. Unfortunately, this surprised no one.
Last year a presumably innocent man in Rocinha, Amarildo de Souza, disappeared after last being seen with the police, sending many to the streets in protest. Just last month Douglas Pereira was shot in the back by police and somehow launched off a roof in Pavão/Pavãozinho, sending more to the streets demanding justice. Both are ‘pacified’ favelas with UPP stations.
Yet these are just part of what most Brazilians want answers for. They want to know why so much corruption is still swept under the rug. They want to know why the minimum wage (R$722.90 in 2014) is so low while Brazilian executives are the highest paid in the world. They want to know why the cost of basic goods and services has gone up 15-20 percent in the last year, and they want to understand where all the money is going.
Even the police have been going out on strike (again), and Brazilian army troops have been deployed en masse in both Salvador and Rio; my guess is, a whole lot more boots will be on the ground across the twelve host cities before the month is up.
Security will be paramount, seeking to deter opportunistic police strikes, petty and not so petty crimes, as well as protests by the masses which (although I hate to be so cynical) are much more likely to happen should the Brazil national team lose.