Crash Course: Protests in Brazil

If you aren’t a big world soccer fan, you may not have heard of the Confederation Cup, but if you pay attention to the news, you have heard something about its aftermath. As the Confederation Cup, a sort of warm-up to the World Cup, began this year, so did mass protests across the host country of Brazil.

The Confederation Cup and the World Cup might seem like a thing that Brazilians would get really excited about. On a superficial level, soccer/futbol is an incredibly popular sport. And of course, government officials are quick to describe all the possibilities for economic growth hosting those events would create: jobs in construction and tourism and all that tourist money circulating through local businesses.

And while I’m sure some Brazilians are really excited for both those reasons, there are also many residents who point out some of the flaws in the government’s argument for the economic boons of the events.

The jobs that hosting something like the World Cup create are almost all going to be relatively short-term. You help build a stadium, but once its done, you’re out of a job again. Or you work as a tour guide for some of the tourists who visit, but once they’re gone, so is your paycheck.

So essentially, a lot of Brazilians are concerned that the World Cup will not fulfill its promise to stimulate the economy, and indeed might be drawing government resources away from public services and employment programs. And the same is also happening as the country prepares to host the 2016 Olympics.

And there is definitely reason to question the government’s projections on how the Cup and Olympics will improve life in Brazil. Past hosts of such events, like South Africa and even the U.K., have ended up with massive debt and not much of a return on their investments. The construction efforts so far have failed to attract the private investments promised, and their cost has been triple what was originally estimated.

Add to that the fact that people are being evicted from their homes in order to make way for construction projects related to the events, and you have a potent recipe for protests. Demonstrations in Sao Paolo were initially sparked by an increase in transportation fares, but quickly became a more generalized expression of frustration with the government’s focus on these “mega-events.”

Government Response

The initial government response was confusion. The Workers Party, the party in power, is left leaning and has in the past been pretty popular. And when Brazil was chosen in 2007 to host the 2014 World Cup, there were mass celebrations.

But in addition to the problems raised specifically by the World Cup and Olympic Games, the party has been caught up in a number of corruption scandals, further contributing to public dissatisfaction.

When the protests first started, officials thought they would peter out quickly and chose to try to ignore them, but as they grew and spread to more cities across the country, they began to take more notice. The government finally agreed not increase public transportation fares, but it turned out to be too little, too late. By that time, the protests had evolved to express bigger frustrations.

Since then, President Dilma Rousseff and other party leaders seem to be taking the demonstrations more seriously. She has called an emergency meeting of the government and canceled a trip to Japan planned for next week.

The police response, like that of police dealing with protesters in Turkey, has drawn criticism. Tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets have been used to disperse crowds. While some of the protests have turned violent, peaceful demonstrators have also gotten caught up in the police response. And the country is set to have federal troops start guarding the areas around the stadiums hosting the Confederation Cup.

So as Brazil’s leaders meet to discuss how to respond to widespread dissatisfaction on government priorities, even as they seem to remain committed showcasing the country’s growth by hosting these mega-events.

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