Brazil’s World Cup goals still not reached even after final whistle

São Paulo Letter: the party is over but Brazilians are waiting for promised benefits

The Portal del Morumbi camp, in one of the richest areas in Sao Paulo, which is occupied by 4,000 homeless families, supported by the Homeless Workers Movement. The MTST has intensified its protests in Sao Paulo in the last week, having compromised with the Brazilian government for a truce during the World Cup. Photograph: EPA/Sebastião Moreira

The Portal del Morumbi camp, in one of the richest areas in Sao Paulo, which is occupied by 4,000 homeless families, supported by the Homeless Workers Movement. The MTST has intensified its protests in Sao Paulo in the last week, having compromised with the Brazilian government for a truce during the World Cup. Photograph: EPA/Sebastião Moreira

Wed, Jul 23, 2014, 01:00

For several years during the build-up to the World Cup, Brazilians exasperated at the regular inconveniences suffered in the course of daily life here would exclaim to each other: “Imagine during the cup!”

Funnily enough the one thing no one imagined beforehand was the national team being humiliated on the pitch. In contrast to preparations elsewhere the football side of things was the one area in which most Brazilians were relatively confident going into the event.

How wrong everyone was.

The tournament has been and gone and the games went ahead in stadiums finished or not and the football, Brazil’s historic meltdown excluded, was great and getting around the country’s congested cities was no worse than usual despite a record influx of foreign visitors and a string of unfinished World Cup infrastructural projects that were promised as justification for hosting the event.

Dramatic drops in activity

Much of this is due to Brazil having taken a month-long holiday. With schools closed and businesses and commerce reporting dramatic drops in activity there was plenty of artificial slack in the system. Hotel bookings in São Paulo were actually down for the month, while one airline reported a 15 per cent drop in bookings as business took the month off.

That will have to be paid for later with a hit to GDP but it undoubtedly made for a surprisingly successful tournament off the field.

“For a long time we were a joke of a country with a dazzling national team,” noted writer Antonio Prata when evaluating the month. “I would not be exaggerating in saying the equation has inverted. We are far from being a dazzling country – socially, economically, ethically – but what I perceived in the middle of all the craziness and saved me from depression was that today Brazil is better than its national team.”

This has led to some understandable gloating on the part of the government. Brazil “defeated the pessimists” and delivered the cup of cups, according to President Dilma Rousseff; and only a begrudger would deny her this moment of triumph, given the vulgar abuse she suffered at the hands of what passes for Brazil’s elite when she handed over the trophy to Philipp Lahm.

But just as the cup was never likely to be an abject failure neither can it now be considered a complete success.

While Mrs Rousseff was at the Maracanã for the final, Rio’s police were systematically denying Brazilians their constitutional right to protest, something she has promised to uphold. A small group of anti-Fifa demonstrators were violently set upon by police in plain daylight. Journalists covering the event were also beaten and had equipment broken. It was the latest episode in a nationwide campaign to criminalise social protest which now includes the arbitrary detention of activists.

Authorities say they will investigate the police riot in Rio but no one should hold their breath. The inquiry into a similar outbreak of police violence in São Paulo last year which sparked the massive nationwide protests has gone nowhere.

In a fittingly Orwellian touch during the final days of the tournament a government minister gave a talk entitled “Democracy and Large Events” which revealed that 35,653 people had been forcibly removed from their homes, often violently and with inadequate compensation, to make way for infrastructure projects linked to the World Cup. The government never made these numbers available previously, waiting until the event was almost over before doing so.

Negative legacy

This must all be added to the cup’s negative legacy for Brazil. Much of it is counted in debt. Despite promises that no public cash would be used, 90 per cent of financing for stadiums came from the public sector. While the president has argued that no federal money has been spent on these, almost half of the €2.6 billion spent has been in the form of loans from federal-controlled banks, principally the national development bank BNDES.

Four of these stadiums are instant white elephants with no anchor tenant or viable means of maintaining themselves no mind pay off the capital loans. Given that BNDES is funded by income tax it is no exaggeration to say Brazil’s poor helped fund the month-long party enjoyed by the country’s rich who got to go to the matches while the poor watched on TV at home or in bars.

Now the party is over and, proud of having hosted the best World Cup in decades, Brazilians have returned to their daily reality, which for millions means sitting in gridlock waiting for World Cup legacy projects they have now been told will arrive some time after the event itself.

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