Weekend protests a reminder of Brazilian tension

Posted by Tim Vickery

Predicting the political climate in Brazil during the World Cup is a bit like trying to make a long-term weather forecast.

It is possible to identify a number of key features but the relationships between them -- which will determine the final outcome -- are much harder to preview with any degree of certainty.

One thing, though, would seem to be certain: There will be protests and demonstrations are planned outside every game played in the tournament.

That this is the case is the consequence of the mishandling of the organisation of the World Cup.

Back in the middle of the past decade, when it became clear that Brazil was going to be the host nation, there was no effective public debate about objectives and how much society was willing to pay to achieve them.

Indeed, promises were broken, such as that made by the then-president of the CBF (Brazil’s football association), Ricardo Teixeira, who said all of the money spent on stadiums would come from private resources.

Civil society had little chance to influence the way the tournament was being prepared. For years the Local Organising Committee had no participation at all from the people’s elected representatives; it was dominated by Teixeira and his cohorts.

All the petty-minded politicking and bureaucratic delays have had two clear consequences: The price of what needs to be done, such as building new stadiums, goes up, while the scale of what can be done goes down (urban mobility projects, the area where society had most to gain, have been particularly vulnerable in this case).

Even Carlos Alberto Parreira, a veteran coach and currently the coordinator of the Brazil national team, has been moved to comment.

Cautious by nature, in an interview with CBN radio he described the World Cup as "a wasted opportunity to show a different Brazil."

There is, then, plenty to protest about and on Saturday, in big cities all over Brazil, demonstrations were taking place in a day of action against the World Cup.

- Dozens arrested after protests
- World Cup Central blog


However, in comparison with the spontaneous mass protests which took place during the Confederations Cup last June, they were much smaller affairs, with a couple of thousand people in Sao Paulo and barely a hundred in some of the other cities.

Is it possible to identify a dynamic here? Might it be the case that, over the course of the protest movement, many of the less politicized Brazilians have been alienated by the activities of the radical wing? It is a possibility.

If so, this might mean that, in comparison with the scenes of last year, the World Cup protests will be more restricted to the activists.

Miguel Schincariol/AFP/Getty ImagesA car burns following protests in Sao Paulo on Saturday.

The demonstration in Sao Paulo ended in clashes and confrontation, with images of a burning car proving a godsend for the press photographers. Might these events also scare off some of the millions who took to the streets last year?

Other dynamics are possible too. For example, the demonstrations last year were given extra impetus when film was shown of brutality by the Sao Paulo police. On Saturday it appears that one young protestor was shot and seriously injured by the security services.

What possible justification could there be for firing on demonstrators? Popular anger could rise as a result and, during the World Cup, with the international media looking for stories and an abundance of mobile phones that shoot images, there will be no place to hide if the police are guilty of truculent behaviour.

Moreover, coming up soon after the World Cup are the Brazilian elections which means that someone, somewhere will be looking to channel popular dissatisfaction with spending on the tournament into advantage at the ballot box.

The bigger the dissatisfaction, the greater will be the potential political gain. Some, then, have a vested interest in hitting the accelerator rather than the brake.

It’s just one more factor to throw into the mix as Brazil braces itself for a fascinating few months.

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