Rio’s Olympic preparations under the spotlight

By Adam Talbot On August 21, 2015

Post image for Rio’s Olympic preparations under the spotlightIn the run-up to the Rio Olympics people have been forced from their homes and killed in the streets, while the environment has been permanently damaged.

Photo: violent eviction of the Vila Autódromo communtiy (by Kátia Carvalho).

In August 2016, Rio de Janeiro will host the 31st summer Olympic Games. Preparations have been underway for the past six years. With one year to go, it is time to look at how these preparations are shaping up compared to recent mega-events, which, as a rule, often serve to ensure the continued dominance of neoliberal capitalism.

Evictions in the ‘State of Exception’

The Olympics create a state of exception, similar to Naomi Klein’s disaster capitalism, which capitalists are able to exploit. For the philosopher Giorgio Agamben, a state of exception refers to a “threshold of indeterminacy between democracy and absolutism” wherein the conventional process of governance is temporarily circumvented. Importantly, a state of exception can only be declared by the state. As Carl Schmitt put it back in the 1920s: “the exception reveals most clearly the essence of the state’s sovereignty.”

The imminent arrival of the Olympic circus provides a justification for governments to enforce new undemocratic laws and disregard planning legislation. In this state of exception, developers and civic elites systematically mislead governments to their own ends. Essentially, the Olympic Games are not about sport; they are about real estate development. While the overriding goals of the Olympic movement are presented as peace through games, the Olympics ultimately serve the real estate and construction sector in bid cities and constitute a healthy, untaxed profit for the IOC.

At previous mega-events, the state of exception has manifested itself in various ways. At the Brazilian World Cup in 2014, the so-called “Budweiser law” reversed government legislation banning the sale of alcohol in stadiums at the behest of the event sponsor. Perhaps more worryingly, the state of exception also frequently erodes civil liberties.

In Australia, for example, the powers available to police to detain people in Australian sporting arenas was greatly enhanced in the lead-up to the Sydney Olympics, and these powers continued to be used after the event. The state of exception in Rio has been used to justify not only the pacification of favelas, but also the wholesale removal of entire communities.

Vila Autódromo has been targeted for removal (and the community has resisted) for over twenty years. Now, with the state of exception induced by the impending mega-event, the removal of Vila Autódromo is being pursued ferociously by the city, given its location next to the Olympic Park.

In recent years, the city has attempted to avoid negative headlines by offering increasing amounts of compensation to residents, resulting in the first ever market-value compensation for favela housing. However, this is still executed in an underhand way, with residents approached individually, unable to know whether they’re being offered more or less than their neighbors. Many residents did not want to leave but felt they had no choice. Nevertheless, the sums of money provided in compensation mark a major achievement for activists in the face of the Olympic machine.

Many residents took these offers and left the community, but a determined few remained. As the opening ceremony draws nearer, however, the authorities seem to have changed their approach to a much more repressive policy of forced evictions. Dubbed “lightning evictions”, this is not confined to Vila Autódromo: forced evictions have also taken place in Morro da Providência, Favela do Metrô, and Santa Marta.

It appears that no warning was given to residents, who were in some cases unable to save some of their belongings, with the military police and municipal guard overseeing evictions. Where resistance was encountered, as in Vila Autódromo, the municipal guard responded with rubber bullets, pepper spray and police batons.

A judicial intervention suspended the evictions in the community and various activists from existing movements and organizations have bolstered the numbers resisting the evictions. Their struggle goes on, but based on evidence from previous Olympic cities, unfortunately, it will likely be in vain.

Repressive pacification of favelas

The Olympics are now characterized by repressive policing strategies and the removal of undesirable populations within the state of exception. Michel Foucault describes surveillance using the metaphor of the panopticon: a prison where each prisoner may be being watched at any time, but they do not know if they are being observed at any given moment.

This individualized surveillance forces people to self-regulate their behavior and can be seen clearly at Olympic events with huge investments in CCTV and in stadia designed so each individual spectator can be easily identified. For many years, particularly since 9/11, the threat of a terrorist attack on the Games has been used to justify spiraling security budgets.

At the first summer Games since the attacks, Athens 2004, the Greek government was pressured by NATO — and particularly by the US government — into spending US$1.5 billion on security. These inflated budgets allow the security industry to invest in the most advanced hardware available, which remains post-Games. The latest developments in security equipment, including military grade technologies, are then used to intimidate activists seeking to make political statements about the Games.

Undoubtedly, some of the security equipment used to quell protests in Athens recently is part of their Olympic legacy. The questions of social control raised by activists are routinely marginalized, with security fears cited incessantly.

Rio’s favelas have for a long time been strongly associated with drug gangs and criminal activity. To have such (perceived) hotbeds of criminality — areas where the safety of spectators could not be assured — so close to the Olympics and World Cup was considered untenable. Hence, the pacification program was launched, a collaboration between federal, state and city government, with the “laudable aim” of permanently removing criminal gangs from Rio’s periphery.

In essence, pacification entails the occupation of favela communities by BOPE (Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais – Police Special Operations Battalion) followed by the establishment of a UPP (Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora – Police Pacifying Unit). These units then police the communities, with UPP Social, recently re-branded as Rio+Social due to its woeful reputation, providing services to these communities.

The Brazilian police responsible for administering this program have a well-deserved reputation for brutality dating from the years of military rule (1964-1985). The mentality of the police lumps favela dwellers with the drugs gangs targeted by the UPPs, tarnishing all as the “enemy within”. This is borne out by the statistics: in Rio de Janeiro alone, the state police were responsible for 362 killings in the first half of 2013. Favela’s undergoing pacification are essentially urban warzones, yet families continue to live in these communities through this process, with children as young as ten killed by police.

Investment has not always followed the UPP, and where it has, services have been provided by the market as opposed to state provision, meaning residents are often unable to afford to continue living in the favela. The state is absent from favelas and with the market barely regulated, residents are priced out and forced to leave, with nowhere else for them to go.

As such, the pacification program aims to incorporate land into the city and improve its value, leaving the population excluded and homeless. Therefore, pacification can be seen as part of a deliberate policy of gentrification, removing the poor from Rio de Janeiro and seizing their homes for profit. Similar processes of gentrification have occurred, albeit less violently, in almost all recent Olympic host cities.

Serious about sustainability?

In 1999 the IOC adopted environmental sustainability as the third pillar of the Olympic movement. Alongside this, claims are frequently made about the ability of sport to contribute to social development. These claims serve to ensure the support for the Olympic venture within the host cities, despite warnings about the nature of delivery affecting outcomes.

The potential benefits of sport, while genuine, should be approached critically, as social benefits are dependent on a plethora of factors and should not be taken for granted. It is a regular occurrence that marginalized populations are pushed further towards the periphery of society by Olympic events, as seen, in the case of Rio de Janeiro, in the pacification policy and evictions in Vila Autódromo.

Yet the evidence from previous games seems to suggest organizers of mega-events simply pay lip service to environmental and social issues, dropping their apparent principles the moment they become costly and inconvenient. This contributes to the feel-good, mythical rhetoric of ‘Olympic values’ and allows sponsors to enhance their social and environmental credentials.

No Olympic games has ever been, or will ever be, genuinely positive for the environment. The massive construction projects and the flying of athletes, media and spectators around the globe, among other issues, serve to ensure this. The question for Olympic organizers is never “how can we be good to the environment?”, but is rather “how much environmental damage can we avoid?”. This question then becomes interpreted as how much damage a host city can afford to avoid. This invariably results in commitments made for the environment being dropped when deadlines loom large and budgets spiral out of control.

In Rio de Janeiro, the organizing committee promised to clean up Guanabara Bay, where sailing events are planned to take place during the games. However, the state of the bay has regularly made international headlines due to the disgusting nature of the water, which has been described by sailors as an open sewer. The Mayor of Rio de Janeiro admitted in 2014 that the environmental commitments made during the bidding process would not be reached.

Not only are the promises to make improvements dropped at the first sign of a bill, the Olympics also actively damage the environment. For example, the natural wetlands of Eagleridge Bluffs on the outskirts of Vancouver were destroyed to make way for a new highway to Whistler, where the mountain events would take place.

Environmental destruction in preparation for the Olympics has been increased by the return of golf to the Olympic games for the first time since 1904. The construction of golf courses is intensely environmentally damaging, due to deforestation, large-scale use of chemicals, the destruction of natural habitats and large-scale water usage.

This is particular pertinent in Rio de Janeiro, as Brazil faced its most severe drought for decades in early 2015. While the problems were most keenly felt in São Paulo, steps were taken in Rio to cut down on water usage, but the irrigation of the golf course continued, suggesting that plush greens are prioritized over hydrated citizens.

A different role for the mass media

The role of the mass media is crucial for celebrating capitalism in disseminating the imagery of the spectacle across the nation and wider world. The Olympic Games, according to the IOC, are watched by over 4 billion people, making it one of the world’s largest media events. This global reach provides a platform for the spreading of neoliberal capitalist doctrine, through the spectacular imagery of the Games.

The mass media organizations often act as overt or covert promoters of the bid, providing value in kind donations and censoring critical journalism. Even when journalism critical of mega-events is published, it is then condemned.

In the context of the recent shift to hosting mega-events outside the first world, particularly in the BRICS nations, the Western media has tended to become more critical of event preparations. The majority of criticisms in the lead-up to these events comes from external, Western sources. It has been suggested that this is due to reluctance from Western audiences to cede power and credibility to emerging nations.

A similar trend was observed in media coverage of the 1996 Cricket World Cup in South Asia, suggesting government attempts to present positive images of nations are hampered by existing stereotypes and criticisms. As such, critical journalism will be more likely at the Rio Olympics than at similar events in the Global North, although this coverage will not necessarily criticize the Olympics directly, instead focusing on organizational inefficiencies or poverty in an attempt to maintain the cultural dominance of the West.

The Rio Olympic games will undoubtedly be a spectacular festival of sport. But the production of this spectacle has transformed Rio de Janeiro, turning it into an even more divided city with expanded zones of exclusion in which the poor are no longer welcome. Residents have been physically and economically forced from their homes, they have seen their friends killed in the streets, and their environment has been permanently damaged. In response, residents have protested — and will continue to protest — even though they have had only small and symbolic victories so far.

As the Olympic machine rumbles on, the concerns of Rio’s residents will likely be drowned out by the cheers.

Adam Talbot is a PhD researcher in the School of Sport and Service Management at the University of Brighton. He tweets at @AdamTalbotSport.This article has benefited greatly from reports produced by, a key source for news on the restructuring of the Olympic city.

The “Fight of the Century”: An orgy of wealth and profit


By Joseph Santolan
6 May 2015

On Saturday, Floyd “Money” Mayweather Jr. and Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao boxed for twelve rounds in the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. The bout had been billed as the “Fight of the Century.” At the end of the 36-minute fight, Mayweather defeated Pacquiao by unanimous decision by the three fight judges.

The fight was the subject of extravagant media hype. It was broadcast in the United States and many countries internationally by Pay-Per-View (PPV) television. Some poorer countries, such as the Philippines and Mexico, broadcast the bout without charge, subsidized by advertising revenue.

The figures involved in this one boxing match are mind-boggling.

The fight had a $300 million purse. Mayweather will make around $180 million while Pacquiao will pocket an estimated $120 million. But these figures pale before the total revenue that the fight generated.

The final figures have not yet been released, but the Wall Street Journalreported that Pay-Per-View industry executives have estimated there were three million paid viewers in the United States. HBO and Showtime charged viewers $99 to watch the fight in high definition and $89 for standard definition. Total PPV revenue in the United States is now estimated to be $300-$400 million.

But the money does not stop there. The fight brought in profits from ticket sales, hotel bookings, gambling, promotional merchandise and advertising. For the promoters and profiteers of the boxing and entertainment industries, the bout was a bonanza of over a billion dollars.

Ostentatious amounts of money oozed from every pore of the event. The shorts that Pacquiao wore in the ring displayed seven advertising logos that netted Pacquiao $2.5 million. A two-square-inch space on Pacquiao’s rear end cost Nike $416,000. Burger King paid $1 million to have their mascot walk in Mayweather’s entourage as he entered the arena, displacing the pop star Justin Bieber.

The bout was quite the fashionable to-do. Hedge fund managers and A-list actors and celebrities rubbed elbows as they posed for selfies. Many were there to be seen and not necessarily to watch the match. They spent a total of $80 million on the 16,000 tickets available for the event.

Ringside tickets sold for $250,000. About six rows back could cost anywhere from $85,000 to $100,000.

According to ABC News, the fight was “one of the most exclusive boxing events the destination has ever hosted. Only 500 tickets were offered to the public, and they sold in seconds.” To get your hands on a ticket you needed connections.

Celebrities of Hollywood and the music industry were there in droves. Music moguls Jay-Z and Beyoncé were in attendance as was billionaire heiress Paris Hilton, Robert de Niro and Michael Jordan, Clint Eastwood and Nicki Minaj, and real estate billionaire Donald Trump.

Long-time Democratic Party operative and charlatan purveyor of identity politics, Rev. Jesse Jackson, was seated in a section that averaged at least $10,000 per ticket. There were so many celebrities that many could not find space on the floor level and had to sit among the ordinary folks in the $4,000 nosebleed seats.

The multimillionaires and billionaires flew to Las Vegas in their private jets for the fight and turned McCarran International Airport into a parking lot. Pictures posted on Instragram and Twitter show the tarmac covered in hundreds of Gulf Streams and Cessnas and Lears, the exclusive air transit of the extremely wealthy. The tarmac was so crowded that McCarran had to temporarily close the terminal. Forty members of the National Guard were brought in to ensure that no one would disturb the arrival and departure of passengers for the fight.

Some late arrivals jetted in for the fight from the Kentucky Derby horse race. The Derby ran at 6:26 pm Eastern time. According to the Washington Post, they raced in police-escorted limousines from Millionaire’s Row at Churchill Downs where they had just watched a horse named American Pharaoh win at the races, to the airport. From there they boarded private jets, which flew them to Las Vegas to round out the day with the Pacquiao-Mayweather fight.

Less prominently featured in the press, but very much in attendance, were the billionaire managers of the world’s leading hedge funds. The Pacquiao-Mayweather bout had been scheduled to take place the day before the opening of the annual SkyBridge Alternatives (SALT) convention in Las Vegas.

The SALT convention is an annual gathering of around 2,000 executives from the world’s largest hedge fund companies that collectively control the majority of the planet’s wealth. This year’s convention has a speakers list that includes former head of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke, former head of the NSA Keith Alexander, former US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, former director of the CIA David Petraeus, and former secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. The former prime ministers of Australia and Greece, Julia Gillard and George Papandreou, were among dozens of other world leaders and CEOs.

What better way was there to kick off a convention of the financial aristocracy and its war criminals than watching a high-ticket gladiator bout?

Then there was the money to be made off gambling. Early estimates predicted over that $80 million would be placed in bets in Nevada alone. Celebrities Mark Wahlberg and P. Diddy announced to television crews that they had each bet $250,000 on the fight.

Many working people gathered on Saturday night in homes with a friend who happened to have cable or DirectTV, and they often pooled the money to pay the $100 cost for the pay-per-view. But then pay-per-view broke. Cable companies across the country, unable to meet the demand, displayed blank screens. HBO and Showtime delayed the bout as cable companies tried to restore service. Most customers were denied refunds.

Todd DuBoef, the president of fight promoter Top Rank Inc., threatened to carry out legal action against video-sharing companies and individuals who used smartphone apps and other technology to watch the fight for free.

Nevertheless, the promoters of the fight are understandably pleased with the result. The inconclusive character of the bout lays open the possibility of the “rematch of the century,” and there are again immense sums of money to be made.

The entire farcical affair was the athletic equivalent of a derivatives swap. Obscene amounts of profit were extracted from a spectacle that had little connection to any real event.

Professional sports have always labored under the deadening influence of too much money and the rapacious pursuit of profit. Nowhere has this been more evident than in boxing, with its intimate connections with casinos, gambling and organized crime. The competitors come from the most oppressed layers of society, and the vast majority have been exploited and then beaten to a pulp.

The traumas and dramas of post-Cup, pre-Olympic Brazil

by Christopher Gaffney on August 25, 2014

Post image for The traumas and dramas of post-Cup, pre-Olympic Brazil

A decade of mega-events is unrecognizably transforming Brazil’s urban landscape, with the poor excluded and the benefits reaped unequivocally by the rich. 

Image by Edimar Soares for O Povo, taken during the 2013 Confederations Cup in Fortaleza.

Tied to a period of economic growth and political stability, Brazil has aggressively pursued a series of mega-events from the Pan-American Games in 2007 to the 2016 Rio Olympics. These events are used by the Brazilian national and local governments to showcase their economic prosperity and to promote the country as one that is on equal footing with global powers. However, with the comings and goings of the international sporting caravans, each requiring billions in public financing, the question remains: where is the benefit for the ordinary Brazilian that stays behind after the parade has moved on?’

For nearly a decade, major international sporting and cultural events have descended upon Rio de Janeiro. Starting with the 2007 Pan American Games, followed by the World Military Games, Rio+20, the Confederation’s Cup and World Youth Day in 2011, 2012 and 2013, respectively, this year’s FIFA World Cup and, to conclude a decade of mega events, the 2016 Olympic Games will be held in Rio too. To this list we can add Revellion (New Year’s) and Carnaval, both happenings drawing many hundreds of thousands of people.

Each one of these events is financed in full or in part with public money. Some of them leave behind infrastructure that is specific to the event and each comes with its particular demands and challenges. The events that have the most impact upon the city are undoubtedly this year’s World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.

With a combined budget of an estimated US$40 billion, both events have been met with strong resistance as well as loud boosterism. Rather than having a clear, drawn-out plan as to how the hosting of these international sporting events would benefit Brazilians in the future, this question has been met with a careless “let’s wait and see” response. However, based upon experiences in the recent past, one prediction has proven true every single time: it will be the rich who benefit most, and the poor who will pay the highest price.

Human Rights for Sale

The legacy of the World Cup will vary depending on one’s position within Brazil’s socio-economic hierarchy. Wealthy Brazilians will look back on this decade of mega-events in an entirely different way than the average citizen, and thus the “legacy”, whether positive or negative, can only be framed in a wide array of class-specific analyses.

One of the defining elements of class distinction in Brazil is dependence on the state. The choice of the rich will always be for private health care, education, security and transportation. In neoliberal governance frameworks around the globe, the state is considered the provider of last resort. As education, transportation, environmental remediation and health care budgets are slashed and the private sector is favored, citizens are forced to look to the market for the provision of basic human rights.

One is entitled to clean water, good education, health care, mobility, leisure, and security to the degree to which one can purchase those “rights”. The World Cup has consolidated this tendency in Brazil and some of the most globally visible elements of this trajectory were the FIFA-standard stadiums, most of which have passed into private hands.

For wealthy Brazilians, the tournament will have very much been “worth it” (an economic calculus which we should also try to avoid) as they were able to see World Cup games in brand new stadiums that were constructed explicitly for their benefit. The upper classes in Brazil typically see the privatization of state-owned infrastructure as a step towards more efficiency and better service. These are, of course, the very same people who do not depend on the state for the provision of basic services. In post-World Cup Brazil, the Brazilian upper-middle and upper class will revel in their transfiguration from fans into clients.

The middle and lower-middle classes will likely feel that the World Cup was a wasted opportunity to materially improve their lives. Brazilian transportation, education, sewage, health and security infrastructure is notoriously poor and the World Cup has not been used as an opportunity to restructure cities in progressive and forward-thinking ways.

The vast majority of infrastructure projects associated with the World Cup did not pass through any kind of public contracting or permitting processes but were pulled out of the drawers of the civil construction firms that dictate public policy. Thus, the hasty insertion of major infrastructure into cities to attend to the short-term demands of the event and the medium-term interests of real estate speculators has wasted a golden opportunity to make use of unique political alliances and easy credit. As a result, billions of reais have flowed into the coffers of civil construction firms and bus companies under the guise of legacy projects.

The privatization of public transportation eliminates the public sector from taking responsibility for the expansion of mobility networks or the quality of service. On the contrary, the only guarantees in the contracts are for the profits of the private companies that run the transportation system. Many of the protests of 2013 and 2014 were focused around the disastrous state of mobility in Brazilian cities. The World Cup will have done very little to improve this situation.

In Brazil, the notoriously poor conditions of state-run infrastructure have facilitated the association of the word “public” with “belonging to nobody.” This is one of the reasons why Brazilians who can afford to escape public services do so at the first opportunity, and it is but one of the ways that middle class Brazilians can distinguished from the lower classes. More evidence that World Cup spending was targeted towards the elite were the contrasting investments in airports versus passenger rail service. The former received more than R$5.6 billion, while there was not a single real invested in intercity rail transportation.

Sacrificed for the Greater Good

The lower classes have been left both better and worse off with the World Cup. As within all levels of Brazil’s socio-economic scale, the diversity of social positions within favela communities and in lower-class, formalized neighborhoods makes it very difficult to generalize winners and losers.

However, in the realm of sports, one thing is certain: there will be a generation of poor children in Brazil that will never get to see a professional football match in any of the iconic Maracanã, Minerão, Castelão stadiums, or on any of the traditional football grounds of Brazil that have been reconstructed for the World Cup. Ticket prices for Brazilian football matches have increased 300% in ten years and are the most expensive in the world relative to minimum wage. The people’s game has been taken from them.

In the favelas themselves, and in particular in Rio de Janeiro, the arrival of the mega-events and the pacification process has radically altered political, social and economic dynamics. Most Brazilian cities have seen a sharp rise in real-estate values since 2009, when FIFA announced Brazil as World Cup host. This rise has been particularly acute in the “pacified” favelas of Rio de Janeiro: rents have increased by as much as 400% in some places.

While the majority of favela residents own their properties — even if they do not have legal title — they will not have benefited from a rise in rents. The only way they can benefit from the urban transformation projects is through increased access to manual labor in the civil construction sector. This extra money has generated a construction boom of sorts in the favelas as families are able to build extra square footage, which in turn increases the value of their property.

In the larger economy of a given favela, this additional constructed value benefits landlords and hurts small residential and commercial renters. That is, those who were in a position to benefit from price increases and entrepreneurial activity before the World Cup (and Olympics) will be those who benefit during and after.

The tens of thousands of families that were removed from their homes for World Cup-related infrastructure projects are the biggest losers of the month-long tournament. Hastily conceived and executed road building projects are to blame for the majority of these removals. In a country in which the poor have limited access to institutional democracy, those in the way of “order and progress” are simply considered collateral damage, sacrificed for the greater good.

Every World Cup host city, except Brasília and Manaus, expelled residents from their homes to execute publicly financed road projects that were managed by extra-legal authorities whose projects were largely exempt from environmental impact studies and due diligence in contracting. The state of exception that dominated the preparation for and realization of the World Cup radically impinged upon the constitutionally guaranteed right to housing. The stories are as innumerable and tragic as the human rights violations are grotesque.

Securitization, Evacuation and Fetishization

The differences in urban legacy predicated on class position also apply to the realm of public security and human rights. Brazil mobilized more than 150,000 armed police and army personnel and more than 50,000 private security guards for the World Cup. This means more jackboots and guns on the streets, in stores, around stadiums and in public spaces. It also means more data collection, less transparency and more aggression.

Before the World Cup final, dozens of activists were arrested as a preventative measure, and more than 25,000 armed security personnel were on high alert in Rio de Janeiro. Throughout the tournament, the police were under clear instructions to use maximum force against protesters. This security apparatus is intended to be part of the spectacle itself, but it acts very differently upon different populations. As ever, the presence of the state in the form of armed military police has its most devastating effects on young, black men.

The governor of Rio de Janeiro state called in the Brazilian army to “pacify” the Maré favela complex on the eve of the World Cup. The expanding pacification program in Rio de Janeiro is a hugely controversial and woefully partial measure to secure the city, its infrastructure, and its image for mega-events. The rapid up-scaling of military force in Brazilian cities brings to mind the military dictatorship. Journalists are beaten while covering protests; civil rights are suspended for the extraordinary conditions of the event.

The problem is compounded by the fact that cities are being managed so as to have an extraordinary event every year, every month, every week. The preparatory period for these events is filled with a sense of urgency, and the events themselves carried of within political regimes of exception. The positive results are always in the future, a “legacy” that will be forthcoming if we are only patient and gullible enough to wait for the delivery of a more just city, a better society.

The security apparatus is designed to protect the event, its infrastructure, its sponsors, dignitaries and the fans and tourists who are able to afford the party. When we see the white elites of Brazil posing in front of tanks and robocops on their way into the shopping mall-esque stadiums, we witness the fetishization of weapons of mass destruction. The right to consume is guaranteed by the state. Human rights are guaranteed by your ability to consume. The exercise of democratic rights, to protest, to freely circulate, to assemble — the right to the city — are curtailed by those same forces. The two-kilometer “zone of exclusion” that radiates out from FIFA stadiums is not offset by a “zone of inclusion” anywhere else.

Physical, Economic and Political Restructuring

In Rio de Janeiro, the epicenter of Brazil’s global mega-event production, the alignment of city, state and federal political forces stimulated investment and created a hegemonic discourse of legacy, urban development and valorization. As we approach an election cycle, this alignment is fraying somewhat, but the funding for the projects has been guaranteed so power and wealth can accumulate.

The extraordinary situation of preparing the city for a decade of mega-events has ushered in a state of exception that suspends ordinary paradigms of urban planning, security, construction and circulation. The privatization and militarization of public space, rampant real-estate speculation, exemptions to environmental regulations and zoning laws, illegal land grabs and rule by mayoral decree have defined the trajectory of the city since construction for the 2007 Pan American Games began in 2005. The 2016 Olympics will be the apogee of exceptional urban governance that will define the shape and texture of the city for the next generations.

Each of these events has brought increasing stakes for civil society. Having used each one of the previous events as a testing ground, the 2016 Olympics are being used as an excuse for the physical, economic and political restructuring of the city. Physically, major transportation lines are being directed to the residential suburb of Barra da Tijuca. Barra is the main site of the Olympics and is a closed-condominium, car-dependent landscape where the upper-middle classes have taken “refuge” from the expense and chaos of the traditional residential redoubts of Rio’s Zona Sul. The city government has called the Barra da Tijuca region a “natural zone of expansion”, but by design it is one of spatial fragmentation and social exclusion.

Economically, the Olympics are continuing with long-established traditions of public subsidy for private profit. The best example of this is the Olympic Village. Two of Brazil’s biggest civil construction firms, Andrade Gutierrez and OAS, formed a consortium to build closed-condominium residences for the 15,000 athletes who will compete in 2016. To do so they took a R$2.33 billion loan from Brazil’s Caixa Economica, a state bank.

After the Olympics, the consortium will be able to sell the apartments on the open market and use the profits to repay the loan. They will have risked no money of their own to build the Olympic Village yet will profit immensely from the real-estate deal. This scenario repeats itself endlessly across the Olympic landscape of Rio de Janeiro.

Politically, all of this makes very good sense for Rio’s elites. The current mayor comes from Barra da Tijuca and has civil construction and real-estate firms as his biggest campaign financiers. The tight and opaque relationships between big business and big government turn the Olympics into an excellent opportunity to make money and to consolidate political alliances. The lack of transparency in planning, bidding, financing and accounting for the Olympic projects makes it difficult to follow the money, but the general trend in all mega-event hosts is a consolidation of power and wealth at the top. In a city as unjust and unequal as Rio de Janeiro this is especially troubling.

The post-event utility of the mega-event projects is obviously questionable and may serve to distract from bigger debates of urban restructuring. The privatization of the Maracanã stadium is a tragedy for public life and culture and is indicative of the larger tendencies in the city.

The nearly complete absence of benefit from the 2007 Pan American Games appears to have been entirely forgotten. There is no facility remaining from that event that can be used without major upgrades. The Olympic Stadium was closed in 2013 for fear of a roof collapse; the velodrome was destroyed and a new facility must be built; and the swimming facility does not meet IOC requirements. The Maracanã underwent a R$330 million reform between 2005-’07, yet suffered a R$1.2 billion renovation for the World Cup and will likely need more public money for the Olympics.

Worryingly, the same people in charge of the Pan-American Games are heading up Rio 2016 — but now they are dealing with bigger projects, working under more pressure and with less time. How, then, can the result be any different?

Christopher Gaffney is an academic geographer who has lived in Rio de Janeiro since 2009. His research explores the wide-ranging impacts of sporting mega-events on cities. He is editor of the Journal of Latin American Geography and will be joining the Geography Department at the University of Zurich as a Senior Research associate in January 2015.

Brazil, Defeat and the High Cost of Hosting the World Cup

Bidding for Trouble


Rio de Janeiro. 

While smoking his tobacco pipe in front of his small cinder block home toward the top of his native Vidigal, a sprawlingfavela  overlooking some of Rio de Janeiro’s most luxurious neighborhoods, Jamil Jorge offered his thoughts on Brazil hosting the World Cup in the midst of the tournament: “The World Cup only benefits people and institutions with money, not people like me.”

Jamil had just finished meditating during a breezy ocean-side night at one of the many stunning lookouts that Vidigal offers. The public viewpoint lies at the foot of one of the many homes of none other than David Beckham–reflective of the uneven and volatile development Brazil has undergone over the last decade alone. Recent years have brought tens of millions into the middle class but left plenty of others behind, as suggested by a low 85th ranking in the United Nations Human Development index.

When asked about the FIFA (International Federation of Football Association, in English) and its motives in relation to the Cup, Jorge grinned and then made the universal gesture for money with his hands. “Someone is profiting from this World Cup, but it isn’t me … or our favela.”

Seven years ago when Brazil was announced as FIFA’s selected host country for this year’s World Cup, Brazilians celebrated in the streets. The country’s then forward-looking President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva was in the midst of an economic boon that had catapulted the Brazilian economy into seventh place among the world’s largest economies. During the same time FIFA officials were greeted by what they proudly described to the media as “spontaneous celebrations” by Brazilians, polls revealed nearly eighty-percent support for the hosting of the Cup.

The subsequent announcement in 2009 that the Olympics would also be held in Brazil two years after the 2014 World Cup only compounded the excitement. By all accounts, Brazil was abuzz with anticipation.

In this election year, however, support for both hosting the Cup and the incumbent President Rousseff, who hails from the same Worker’s Party (PT) as her popular predecessor, have plummeted to low levels. Contrary to nearly anyone’s expectations, polls have demonstrated that most people in the very country that has enjoyed more World Cup victories than any other no longer wanted to host the tournament whose final match played out July 13.
Why the drastic change in public opinion, over a game Brazilians clearly adore?

Collapsing Promises

“It was like an earthquake. The ground shook violently,” Daniel Magalhaes told reporters huddling around the scene of an accident. “I heard a deafening sound. I looked and saw the collapsed overpass.”

Headlines around the world were instantly posted in the news media on July 3 when a bridge located in the host city of Belo Horizonte and near the Mineirao Stadium where World Cup matches were held collapsed on top of a bus and passenger cars in a gruesome scene captured by video. Hanna Cristiana Santos, a bus driver, and Charlys do Nascimento, aged 24 and 25 respectively, were instantly killed. Almost two dozen more people were injured. The construction company, the city announced, would pay for the funeral arrangements for the two families.

The Belo bridge collapse was not the only thing that collapsed. The very next day, Colombia’s defender Juan Camilo Zúñiga recklessly jumped into the air for a loose ball and came crashing directly down on none other than Neymar Jr., Brazil’s great hope for the World Cup. Neymar told his teammate, “I cannot feel my legs,” after suffering Zúñiga’s blow.

For many Brazilians, their hopes of Brazil winning the World Cup were significantly dented if not dashed altogether with Neymar’s and Silva’s exit. As it turned out, theseleção wound up suffering a historic defeat in the World Cup’s most lopsided knockout round loss ever. The Germans, who ultimately won took home the Cup trophy, mercilessly pounded against a brittle Brazilian defense and won 7-1. Adding to the cruel irony was that the defeat occurred in Belo Horizonte–the same place where the bridge collapsed.

The subsequent third place match added to the pain, as Brazil was humiliated again 3-0 at the hands of Holland. The match was played in Brasilia, a city that doesn’t even have a first division Brazilian soccer team and rarely can attract attendance to second division matches of more than a thousand people. Now the capital will have to struggle to find a use for the FIFA-standard stadium.

Many observers before the World Cup agreed that one of the few ways that FIFA and the Brazilian government could salvage a losing public relations front when it came to hosting the event, was for Brazil to win the Cup on its home turf and in the same stadium where it suffered its most stinging historic defeat. Brazil lost to Uruguay in the 1950 final (known as the “maracanaço” to Brazilians, a reference to Rio’s Maracanã stadium, which then had a capacity to hold almost two hundred thousand people). But alas, there would be no final in Rio. Instead, Brazilians rioted in the city’s streets, where mass robberies were reported especially in the famous Copacabana beach district.

While no Brazilian expected the trouncing the team suffered against Germany, probably few Brazilians were surprised that one of the unfinished infrastructure projects promised for completion by the World Cup’s start wound up literally killing several of its own people. Fewer than 10 of the 56 infrastructure projects racking up billions of dollars in public expenses were completed on time for the tournament.

“Nearly nothing about hosting this World Cup surprises me anymore,” says Leonardo Silva, a 59 year-old cab driver who has long been working in Natal, a tourist-driven beach city that hosted the Me xico and United States matches.

On FIFA’s Terms
Before the World Cup started, the atmosphere in many cities in Brazil was noticeably dialed down from what one would have expected in 2007. One after another, local press accounts described the pre-tourney atmosphere as “lackluster” and “way less supportive than in previous World Cups hosted abroad.”

Widespread protests, attracting millions of angry people raging into the streets in cities across Brazil, surged a full year before the World Cup even began. International press coverage largely focused on a bus fare hike as what sparked the protests. Gil Castello Branco, the director and founder of Open Accounts, a Brasilia-based NGO that serves as a budgetary watchdog group over the Brazilian government, pointed out that the issues ran deeper than the bus fare hike and included the World Cup.

“You saw the protests last year, right, Andrew?” asked an impassioned Castello the day after the bridge collapsed. “The Brazilian people were demanding to get public benefits out of the event. They said they wanted FIFA-standard schools to be built for Brazilian children, just like the stadiums.”

The nation’s youth, who showed up in droves to protests last year and at the start of the tournament, continue to be a glaring developmental hole for Brazil. While close to 40 million Brazilians have left poverty during Brazil’s rapid developmental climb since the turn of the century, the youth are often left out of this picture when it comes to long-term and stable employment. According to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, close to 42% of young people have to depend on the precarious informal economy for a livelihood.

“Promising 12 stadiums in 12 cities to FIFA was too much to offer. These stadiums, especially in Manaus, Brasilia, Cuiaba and Natal, won’t ever be used to their capacity,” said Castello.

Other experts, such as Claudio Weber Abramo, the Executive Director of Transparency Brazil, echoed Castello’s sentiments. “FIFA makes its demands and then they arranged to have twelve different places to hold games. This was simply too much. In some of these cities, like Manaus, there was no professional football there whatsoever. It is ridiculous.”

Apparently, Brazilian officials did not pay heed to the words of one of Brazil’s most famous icons–singer, song-writer and poet Chico Buarque–who warned, “You cannot place your faith in a football stadium – that’s the lesson that sunk in after 1950.” He was referring to the belief that a shiny new stadium filled with Brazilian fans would lead the team to victory. His statement could be applied to the politics of hosting mega-sports events as well.

As early as the Confederations Cup, the World Cup warm-up tournament held in the host country the year before the big event, the press began reporting on worker fatalities and construction delays with cost overruns in the billions of dollars. Millions of Brazilians seemed to remember Buarque’s words when they took to the streets. Neymar, who rarely voices any political sentiments, announced on Facebook that, “From now on, I will enter the field inspired by this movement,” explaining further that he desired to see a, “Brazil that is more just, safer, healthier and more honest, which is the obligation of the government.”

Even the face of Brazilian football, the legendary Pelé, expressed sympathy with the protests and criticized the way public funds have been spent. “Money could have been invested in schools, in hospitals,” Pelé told the press this past May. “Brazil needs it. That’s clear. On that point, I agree with the protests,”

Plans to erect a 300-kilogram statue of Pelé before the start of the World Cup in front of the Maracanã stadium also stalled. The frustrated artist commissioned to finish the piece explained to the Times of India that the project was “politically abandoned” a few days after Pelé’s remarks.

As the tournament got underway, the rap sheet of World Cup-related problems was already lengthy. Neil de Mause, co-author of Field of Schemes and a specialist in public spending utilized for private sports stadiums published an article online shortly after the World Cup began that highlighted the worst social and political problems caused by the World Cup:

• Spending on World Cup preparations ballooned to $15 billion, swallowing entire regions’ development budgets and helping spark widespread strikes over low wages.

• An estimated 200,000 people were evicted from their homes, either to make way for World Cup construction projects or because their neighborhoods were designated “high-risk” areas.

• Eight workers were killed in construction accidents during the rush to have new stadiums ready in time for the cup — despite which the stadiums were still decidedly not ready.

• Planned new schools, hospitals and other public projects that were initially promised fell off the construction agenda once the budget ran dry.

• The government spent an additional $900 million on police technology, including surveillance drones, to ensure that anyone upset about all this didn’t cause too much of a ruckus.

De Mause explained that these problems were part and parcel of a “sports model designed to socialize all of your costs so that you can privatize all of your profits. It is a lot easier to make a whole lot of money if someone else is paying your costs. That’s something you see whether it is the New York Yankees or the World Cup.”

Should these problems have been anticipated? Chris Gaffney’s answer is an adamant “yes.” Gaffney, a visiting Professor at the Universidade Federal Fluminense, has been living in Brazil for a half a decade and studies the way mega-events, such as the World Cup, are run and managed.

“Public officials could have demanded FIFA to ask for more from their corporate patrons,” Gaffney explained. “But this isn’t about wise use in public money. It’s an extractive business model in which FIFA articulated its business interests and found willing partners among Brazilian governmental and economic elites.”

The picture of an “extractive” business model that Gaffney paints is similar to how Professor Bent Flyvbjerg, another specialist on mega-events, from the Oxford School of Business, describes in his research findings. Particularly when it comes to Olympic and World Cup spending, Flyvgjerg said that, “costs wind up being significantly higher than what was initially estimated… while on the benefits size, we found the opposite. We found that the actual benefits are lower. So you get this double whammy with higher costs and lower benefits, which any businessman would say is not a good situation.”

Flyvgjerg added, “We find in general that politicians like to build flashy monuments and certainly something like expensive FIFA-inspired World Cup stadiums are an example of that. Unfortunately, we find that it is very difficult for officials to find a sensible use for these stadiums after the World Cup is over.”

Not a good situation for the public, in particular, added Weber. FIFA “says I want this and that. That is their role. And they get what they ask for, at the cost of the public.”

The bidding and negotiating process behind what is offered, asked for and agreed-upon remains clouded in mystery and secrecy. Weber noted, “Everything is confidential. FIFA and the Brazilian organizing committee can and did hide whatever they wanted.”

That is the reason why, as Gaffney explained, “The bid book for Brazil hosting the World Cup has never seen the light of day. The bid was given by disgraced former FIFA Vice President, Ricardo Texeira, to FIFA chief Sepp Blatter in 2007 and the document never surfaced publicly.

What has surfaced since FIFA awarded Brazil the bid and the government began the preparations has been FIFA-related public spending and projects.

In 2007, Lula made lofty promises and voiced high expectations of public-private partnerships in the aftermath of Brazil being chosen as a host country. He promised, “Stadiums will be completely built with private money. Not one cent of public money will be spent.” During the same time, excited officials from the Brazilian Football Federation echoed Lula’s claim. However, because of the failure of public-private plans to ever come to fruition, public spending exploded and a significant paper trail followed, one that Weber and Castello have been closely following.

In the case of the country’s capital, Brasilia, a municipal auditor’s court released a 140-page report detailing over $275 million in over-spending for a $900 million stadium-building project for the World Cup host city. The stadium is the world’s second most expensive among soccer venues,standing in sharp contrast to the lack of a professional team to fill the seats there after the Cup ends.

For Weber, even with the revelations of the scathing Brasilia audit report, there are still sharp limits to what is known thus far. “The actual totals on over-spending on stadiums and corruption related to it is already bad and it will be much worse than what people know and think right now.

Carol Campos, a 22 year-old Brazilian woman who attended many of the protests against the Cup, railed against another lavish stadium built for the Cup up in Natal. She asserts that the expensive arena will have no clear use after the Cup.

“It really is a beautiful stadium, if you see it from the sky, it looks like a sand dune, which are typical here in Natal. But the thing is, it’s a crazy situation. They built a whole stadium for four games. Four games!”

Bidding for Trouble?

The bid for the 2014 World Cup, which by FIFA rules had to be held in Latin America this year, had one entrant: Brazil.

Some experts speculate that the reason why Brazil had no competition on the bid for the Latin America-designated FIFA rotation is that there’s a political cost for politicians wanting to build flashy monuments bearing their name, in addition to the economic costs. In political terms alone, and certainly in Brazil’s case, hosting mega-events has proven to be risky and unpredictable. The way matters are shaping up for President Rousseff as of late is a strong case in point.

Brazil’s close association with FIFA and its slowing economy have not won political points for President Dilma Rousseff. During the current World Cup, FIFA has stirred controversy. After being booed in a Confederation Cup appearance with President Rousseff, its president NAME decided not to even participate in the opening ceremony CHECK. Scandals regarding reports on bribery being a factor in Qatar’s successful attempt to win the 2022 World Cup bid. The awarding to Qatar raised the eyebrows of football observers the world over, in no small part because of the scorching desert-like temperatures in Qatar during the summer months the Cup is held. Other scandals included one where a FIFA official was implicated in a Brazil-based ticket-scalping ring that reaped millions of dollars in resale profits, and an alleged match-fixing scandal, implicating players and possibly officials from the Cameroon squad.

In Brazilian politics, an Associated Press investigation published last month revealed that companies receiving publicly funded and FIFA-related construction projects turned around and raised their election campaign donations to the same public officials who awarded those contracts. In some cases, donations leaped by over 500% higher than their previous donations.

President Rousseff’s approval rating fell to a paltry 38% in April 2014 and at the start of the World Cup, was hovering around 34%. Nevertheless, Rousseff’s closest challenger for the October presidential election is still many percentage points behind her in terms of how they are polling.

While President Rousseff may be able to weather her lowered popularity in the face of a disastrous World Cup, governments – particularly those of newly developing or under-developed economies – may now think twice about hosting the World Cup.

Such second thoughts may be particularly weighty if the people in the host nation have any political decision-making power over the decision.

Andrew Kennis writes for America’s Program, where this story originally appeared.


Overcrowded Holding Center for Migrant Children

Brownsville, TX

Detainees sleep in a holding cell at a US Customs and Border Protection processing facility in Brownsville, Texas. (Reuters/Eric Gay/Pool)

Under mounting pressure from lawmakers and immigrant rights groups, Border Patrol officials on Wednesday finally let reporters visit two processing facilities where hundreds of unaccompanied migrant youth are being detained.

Some 900 children are being housed at a former warehouse in Nogales, Arizona, which was recently outfitted to handle an unprecedented surge of mostly Central American child migrants across the US-Mexico border. Another facility in Brownsville, Texas, is holding around 500 children, double its intended capacity. The Los Angeles Times described conditions there as “overcrowded and unsanitary.” CBP is required by law to turn over any migrant children to the Department of Health and Human Services within seventy-two hours of detaining them. Officials at the Nogales and Brownsville facilities told reporters they are struggling to meet this requirement.

Earlier this month, the White House requested $2 billion to handle the surge of migrant youths, which President Obama has declared an “urgent humanitarian situation.” US Customs and Border Protection reports that around 47,000 unaccompanied children have crossed the border since October 1, 2013, nearly double the amount of last year. A majority of the migrant children arrived from Central American countries, seeking refuge from rampant violence or hoping to reconnect with family members already in the states.

CBP officials took reporters on highly controlled tours of the Brownsville and Nogales facilities, in which visitors were prohibited from bringing cellphones and sound recorders, or speaking with any of the children. Only two photographers, one for each facility, were allowed to bring a camera. Here are some of their photos:

Some 900 unaccompanied children are being held at a converted warehouse in Nogales. Border Patrol officials set up the Arizona facility after a similiar processing center in Texas ran out of space. (Reuters/Ross D. Franklin/Pool)
Female detainees sleep in a holding cell. According to The New York Times, children held at the Nogales facility are allowed just forty-five minutes of outdoor time a day. (Reuters/Ross D. Franklin/Pool)

Child detainees are escorted to make phone calls. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)

Child detainees wait to use a portable restroom, as a World Cup match plays on a suspended television. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)

Rio de Janeiro: a story of occupations and evictions

by Vik Birkbeck on June 17, 2014

Post image for Rio de Janeiro: a story of occupations and evictions

The Homeless Worker Movement occupied a building in Rio, helping to shelter thousands — but in the run-up to the World Cup they were violently evicted.


Illustration by Luciano Cunha, creator of O Doutrinador.

It’s been five years since Brazil celebrated its selection by FIFA to host the ongoing 2014 World Cup. The announcement was made in great style on Copacabana Beach, packed with thousands jumping, dancing and in many cases partying all night — in what many would consider to be true Brazilian style. FIFA clearly thought that this was the safe choice in its gradual march around the globe, bringing recalcitrant nations and continents into its orbit. Brazil, after all, is the prototype football-crazy nation, where the whole country grinds to a halt to watch its squad in action. So who could possibly imagine that four years later millions of people would be marching through the streets not only of Rio and São Paulo but also Brasília, Belo Horizonte, Recife, Salvador, Goiania, shouting Não Vai ter Copa! (‘There won’t be a World Cup!).

The original impetus for the massive demonstrations of 2013 was a nationwide rise in bus fares, but with the upcoming Confederations Cup, FIFA’s dress rehearsal for the World Cup, public attention quickly focused on the vast sums being invested in stadiums and the infrastructure for the tournament. The “FIFA standard” of the new stadiums was contrasted with the recurrent problems of public transport, health and education. The double whammy of also being selected to host the 2016 Olympics engendered a wildly ambitious restructuring and development plan in Rio de Janeiro.

On December 5, 2009, the Strategic Plan of the City Government announced by Mayor Eduardo Paes presented as one of its core aims the reduction of the total surface area occupied by favelas (shanty towns) by 3.5%, purportedly because they were located “in areas at risk of landslides or flooding, conservation areas, or areas of public utility.” But as a banner carried by a protesting victim of this eviction policy read: “When rich people live in the South zone, it’s called a noble area, when poor people live there it’s called an area at risk.”

Graffiti on the walls of Metro Mangueira by the Moroccan-French artist Pleks Kustom (photo by author).

Even the beloved Maracana stadium, an international icon of Rio’s identity, had to be entirely reconstructed in line with FIFA directives. In the process the geral — the cheap standing area occupied by Rio’s most ardent football fans — has been abolished, effectively excluding the poorer part of the population from attending games. Watching live football is now the privilege of the “whites”, the upper and middle-class spectators who are able to pay more for the right to watch the game sitting down. In the process of reconstructing Maracana, the developers hit on a perfect scheme for earning more money by knocking down the surroundings as well to make space for a massive parking lot and shopping mall.

The destroyed surroundings of the stadium included Friedenreich School, one of Rio’s best municipal schools (in a country which ranks 78th for quality of education); Lanagro, Rio’s only laboratory for analyzing foodstuffs (while Brazil has the highest consumption of pesticides in the world and all corn and soy plantations are genetically modified); the Olympic-standard Celio de Barros athletics complex and Julio de Lamare water-sports complex (both newly reconstructed at vast expense for the 2007 Pan-American Games and used for training Rio’s Olympic athletes); Metro Mangueira, a poor community built 34 years ago by the construction workers of the Rio underground, hence its name; and finally Aldeia Maracanã, a multi-ethnic indigenous community created in 2006 around the abandoned 19th century building, which had long been associated with indigenous culture and which housed the Indian museum for over twenty years.

Metro Mangueira is emblematic of the many evictions carried out or planned in the lead-up to the World Cup and the Olympics. It was once an orderly, close-knit community and, although poor, the houses were solidly built by construction-workers. In October 2010, employees of the City Council started informing the inhabitants that their community was “at risk”, marking their houses with crosses and numbers, reminiscent of the Nazi practices in Jewish ghettos. The 107 families who accepted were moved to Cosmos, some 45 miles away, causing enormous hardship for those with jobs or schools nearby. The City Council tractors then moved in to demolish the newly abandoned homes, leaving huge holes and piles of broken masonry, opening the community to drug dealers, prostitution and a plague of rats and mosquitoes.

As a result, the official explanation used to justify the eviction became a self-fulfilling prophecy. With families and individuals occupying the ruins and rubble of the demolished homes, the area was soon transformed into a risk zone. Finally, at the beginning of 2014, with the World Cup in sight, the demolition trucks moved back into the community. Instead of a real option for those about to be evicted, the city council proposed to register them in the federal programme Minha Casa, Minha Vida (My House, My Life) which subsidizes low income families to acquire houses. Although federal, this program is administered by city councils in each state. There have been no new public housing developments in the central area of Rio, so the register is just a piece of paper. Popular resistance to the demolition of Metro Mangueira lasted several days and led to a large contingent of military police attacking young and old alike with pepper spray, bombs and rubber bullets.

Resistance during the final eviction of Metro Mangueira (photo by Paula Kossatz).

Before the advent of Google Maps, maps of Rio de Janeiro depicted the older, more traditional areas of the city and the newer expansions towards Barra and Recreio while the rest of the area was apparently uninhabited space. Google maps dealt a serious blow to this bucolic image of the Cidade Maravilhosa (‘Wonderful City’) by revealing that all available space in the urban area — hills, valleys, rough ground — was occupied by favelas. The reaction of much of the elite was a sense of betrayal, but it’s impossible to sweep these satellite images under the carpet. Suddenly everyone was forced to admit the favelas‘ existence.

After the draconian austerity measures and structural reforms imposed by the IMF during the debt crisis of the 1980s, the favelas had spread rapidly as more and more people were driven to the cities by the expansion of industrial agriculture. In their new urban dwellings, the inhabitants lingered in a sort of limbo-state, as an auxiliary labor force at wages insufficient to adequately feed their families, let alone pay for housing. Signs of the acute housing crisis in Rio are reflected in the number of people — even entire families — sleeping in the streets in the city center, while new favelas continuously spring up in every available space.

So when at the beginning of April 2014 some of the leaders of the Movement of Homeless Workers identified a large building and surrounding yard and out-houses which used to belong to the former telephone company Telerj, and which had been abandoned for nearly twenty years, they quickly set about occupying the area. Thousands of families invested their minimal resources into buying planks to construct huts in the area which in the space of a week was occupied by ten thousand people. Although the occupants of the Telerj building included pregnant women, elderly people and thousands of children from babies to adolescents, no real attempt was made to identify the occupants or investigate their necessities.

TV Globo, Brazil’s biggest television network, was quick to denounce the “invaders” as criminals, flying over the area for aerial shots of the “invasion.” The telephone company that took over from Telerj — Oi — had never occupied the building, which was going to be sold to the city government and which was destined for the ‘My House, My Life’ program. However, with the impasse of the occupation, the “owners” soon appeared and a suit for reintegration of the property was rushed through the courts. On Wednesday, April 9, Mayor Eduardo Paes announced that the occupation had been carried out by organized professionals, implying criminal intent, and declared that the area should be “disoccupied” and returned to its owners. The mayor went as far as stating that “really poor people who need houses don’t stake out their plots with planks and construction materials.”

Rubble is all that remains of the Metro Mangueira community (photo by author).

So what was the solution for all this “criminal activity”? At dawn on April 11, 1.600 heavily armed military police invaded the area. Sleeping women were kicked awake, huts were knocked down, everyone was sprayed with chemical spray — not from the usual hand-held canisters but from massive cylinders the size of fire extinguishers, which the police carried in backpacks. All members of the press, whether corporate or independent, were expelled from the area and even one of the Globo reporters was arrested by police on the spurious charge that he was “throwing stones.” Occupants allege that four infants succumbed to the chemical spray and rumors circulated that one of the reasons for keeping reporters out was to prevent them from witnessing the fatalities.

The sheer number of people involved, the fact that noone had time to create a real register of the occupants of the building, and the pandemonium that ensued makes it impossible to corroborate the facts. Nonetheless, the photographs and videos of independent reporters on the scene bear witness to the terror of the “disoccupation.” Testimonies of many of those involved reveal that these are people who have already been evicted from other areas in recent demolitions and evictions, while others are victims of the rising prices engendered by the militarization of the favelas.

The occupation and subsequent eviction of the Telerj building, just as the destruction of the Metro Mangueira community, is exemplary of the complete disregard for right to housing of Brazil’s poorest people. On the one hand, entire neighborhoods are demolished to make space for parking lots and shopping malls, and on the other many favelas have been occupied by militarized police forces (UPPs). This means that communities lacking any form of public services are basically placed under permanent curfew, which goes under the dubious title of “Public Security,” and any kind of protest is treated as a criminal uprising.

The contagious spirit of the mass protests that have been rocking Brazil over the past year has also found fertile soil in the favelas, where the death of every young person murdered by police is another rallying cry for popular resistance. As the current wave of anti-World Cup protests shows, the genie is out of the bottle — and it will take a lot more than violent evictions and police repression to silence the awakened and indignant multitude.

Vik Birkbeck is British by birth but is a long-time resident of Brazil. As a media activist she has been filming and photographing popular culture and street movements since the eighties. All the photos in the article are by the author.

Luciano Cunha is a Brazilian author, cartoonist and graphic designer. His latest creation is the anti-hero O Doutrinador (‘The Indoctrinator’), who — dressed in black, sporting a Sepultura t-shirt, carrying a machine gun and with his face covered by a gas mask to avoid identification — has set out on a mission to rid the country of its corrupt politicians. In less than a year the comic has drawn a lot of attention from infuriated Brazilians who in some way feel connected to the anti-hero’s mission. The popularity of O Doutrinador has sky-rocketed in the past year, drawing attention not only from those who support Cunha’s work, but also from government figures who attempt to muzzle him via lawsuits, violating his freedom of expression and trying to kill his creative liberty. We at ROAR are therefore very excited to feature a series of unique drawings by Cunha to illustrate our Brazil coverage in the coming weeks. O Doutrinador can be found on Facebook, YouTube, and his personal website.

Brazilian workers clash with police on eve of World Cup

By Rafael Azul

10 June 2014

With just days to go to the June 12 opening of the World Cup football (soccer) tournament in Brazil, the country has been shaken by a series of strikes and protests, including a six-day walkout by transit workers that has paralyzed the country’s largest city, São Paulo, with a population of nearly 12 million people.

São Paulo Metro strikers [Photo: Oliver Kornblihtt / Midia NINJA]

The authorities have confronted the transit strikers with naked repression and violence. Military police shock troops have been deployed against workers’ picket lines and demonstrations, employing tear gas, rubber bullets and sound grenades against strikers and their supporters, dozens of whom have been arrested.

A São Paulo labor court, in an unprecedented Sunday session, ruled the strike “abusive” and illegal. A mass assembly of transit workers voted the same day to continue the walkout in defiance of the court ruling and of the threat from the state government that all strikers who failed to return to work on Monday would be fired.

A meeting between union officials and representatives of the São Paulo state government Monday afternoon broke up without any agreement being reached. Brazilian media reported that the union had been willing to accept a wage settlement below the 12.2 percent hike it had demanded, but insisted that the firing of some 60 strikers for actions on the picket lines be withdrawn.

São Paulo Governor Geraldo Alckmin, who was the 2006 presidential candidate backed by the Brazilian right, took a hardline position that there was “nothing to discuss,” i.e., that there would be no wage offer other than 8.7 percent originally offered, and none of those who had been fired would be given their jobs back.

Transit officials claimed Monday afternoon that 29 percent of the workforce was on the job Monday and that 50 out of 65 train stations were open, but with limited service.

The union held an assembly late Monday in which workers voted to suspend the strike until Wednesday, when they are to meet again to decide whether to resume the walkout—on the day of the World Cup’s first game—if their demand for the rehiring of the fired strikers is not met.

The transit strike follows similar actions by teachers in both São Paulo and Río de Janeiro, bus workers and other sections of the working class. These strikes have been accompanied by mass demonstrations across the country rejecting the vast expenditures on the World Cup amid mass poverty and inadequate government spending on education, health care, housing and other basic necessities.

Organized by the International Football Federation (FIFA), the tournament, which takes place every four years, brings in the national teams of many countries. The football tournament is expected to generate US$4 billion and over US$2 billion in profits for FIFA and the Cup’s corporate promoters. This record sum is roughly twice the revenue generated at the South Africa games in 2010.

Authorities claimed to have “learned the lessons” of the protests that rocked Brazil a year ago, when demonstrators fought pitched battles with security forces outside stadiums hosting the so-called Confederation Cup, which serves as a rehearsal for the larger World Cup tournament.

The government is spending close to $1 billion on organizing a huge repressive force, including an army of 57,000 troops and 100,000 police and security agents to protect the games primarily from social protests and strikes—though inevitably terrorism has been raised as a pretext.

The buildup to the tournament was a major factor in the mass demonstrations that brought millions into the streets of Río de Janeiro, São Paulo and other cities a year ago. While those protests were triggered by threatened transit fare hikes, the demonstrators pointed to the public expenditure of 18 billion reais (US$8 billion) that the government had budgeted for building and upgrading stadiums and airports, while education, health care and other human needs were neglected.

In the wake of last year’s mass protests, the Workers Party (PT) government promised to comply with the demands for improved education, health care and housing. However, since then, President Dilma Rousseff has failed to make good on these promises and instead has repeatedly made use of federal security and military forces to repress strikes and protests.

The military police have been employed as an occupation force in the favelas (shantytowns), including the Maré complex of 15 favelas in Río de Janeiro, which straddles the route between Río’s international airport and the wealthy tourist districts.

As early as 2009, the government had begun building walls around Río de Janeiro hillside slums (favelas) in preparation for their militarization in anticipation of the World Cup. Having failed to resolve the social issues, the government has made use of the police. Government security forces have killed over 5,600 Brazilians since 2007, many of them in the occupied favelas.

This is the second time that the FIFA cup is being held in Brazil. The first was in 1950 and marked the resumption of the games following their suspension during World War II.

Brazil at the time was a nation in the process of rapid industrialization. War-imposed shortages had stimulated domestic production, spurred by government import-substitution policies. Millions were abandoning the countryside and settling in the coastal cities and the industrial south. Plans would soon take shape for creating a new capital, Brasilia, in the center of the country, in large measure to isolate the government from mass strikes and social struggles. Even though more than half of the nation’s inhabitants were in poverty, living standards and life expectancy were on the rise, infant deaths had declined, and more Brazilians had access to medical services.

Despite this accelerated growth, successive governments were unable to resolve long-standing social and regional conflicts and free the country from the stranglehold of US imperialism. The latter played a crucial role in imposing, in 1964, a brutal military-fascist dictatorship that lasted until 1985.

Sixty-four years have passed since the 1950 World Cup. In contrast to that earlier event, this time the country is in the midst of economic decline. For many Brazilians, their country is moving in reverse. A poll released last week showed that 72 percent of the population are dissatisfied with the way things are going, compared to 55 percent a year ago.

In 2003, when FIFA announced that Brazil would host the championship, a PT government, under former union leader Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, had come to office and had raised expectations that Brazil, along with the group of so-called emerging economies known as the BRICs (including Russia, India and China), would find a path to increasing economic growth and greater social equality.

The PT model of “Lulalism” or “Brasilia consensus,” consisted of free market policies, privatizations and de-regulations combined with populist demagogy and minimal assistance programs for the most impoverished layers of the population. It was promoted as a free market alternative to both the “Bolivarian Revolution” of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and to the “Washington consensus” of savage cuts in social programs. The government was to deregulate businesses and privatize state industries, and create a Central Bank independent of the government but under the control of global financial institutions, while still devoting some resources to social programs.

In the end, neither Brazil, the BRICS, nor the rest of the emerging economies proved stronger than the world capitalist crisis and the deterioration of global commerce and the collapse of world commodity prices, due in Brazil’s case to a drop in orders from China.

The world price of iron ore, for example, up until recently Brazil’s main export product, has fallen by more than 20 percent this year alone. The Reuters news agency recently interviewed officials of Brazilian iron producer Vale, who indicated that less efficient and exhausted mines are being shut down in an attempt to support ore prices. Since 2010, Brazil has faced rising inflation, unemployment and capital flight.

The PT was created as a political instrument for diverting the explosive eruption of mass workers’ struggles at the end of the military dictatorship into safer reformist and parliamentary channels. Various pseudo-left tendencies participated in its construction and hailed it as a model for organizing workers internationally.

Since then, it has been exposed as a corrupt bourgeois party and, after over a decade in power, the favored instrument of rule of the Brazilian financial and corporate elite. The pretense that this party has anything to do with social reform has become more threadbare with each passing day. As it hosts the 2014 World Cup, the Rousseff administration reveals itself as a government that lives in fear of the Brazilian working class and poor and which is prepared to resort to police state repression to guarantee the interests of big business.