Why has Brazil turned against its religion?
“Pelé is a poet when his mouth is shut”
A day before the 2014 World Cup Finals kick-off and São Paulo, the city hosting the first game, is recovering from the longest subway strike in its history. The five-day strike, which was declared “abusive” by the courts, cost the union a bit more than U$200,000.00 a day. The strikers were beaten and gassed in the streets, thirteen were arrested and forty-nine fired.
They are not the only ones taking industrial action. While traditionally militant unions like the teachers were expected to strike, the year was peppered with strikes, from security guards to trash collection to police officers. In Rio de Janeiro, defying both the State and their union, trash collectors stage a massive eight day wildcat strike starting the last day of Carnaval, one of the busiest trash days of the year, winning a 37% wage increase. Even university students had their strikes.
Although the mass protests last year gathered a lot of attention, they faded quickly when the government at first acquiesced to the immediate demand (lower the bus fares), a victory easily lost as a month later all bus fares had gone up again. Much like Occupy in the U.S., the protests were tacitly supported by a great majority of the population, but the actual participants were mainly from the middle-class – in their majority university students.
Brazil winning the Confederations Cup amidst the most violent protests helped calm down the general sense of anger and to cool the protest movement momentarily.
The slogan of the protests also gave a momentary boost to the right-wing in the country. Decrying corruption became a rallying cry of the right against the left-of-center Workers Party government. While their direct influence inside the protests was fairly short-lived, they were successful to bring their particular brand of populism to the mainstream of Brazilian society, with a mix of anti-taxation, anti-government waste and anti-crime (including calls for vigilante justice that led to a woman being lynched to death after being mistaken identified as a child kidnapper.)
Brazil’s endemic corruption, the cost-overrun in stadiums that were either doomed to be abandoned after the cup or, if profitable, immediately privatized (including Maracanã, Brazil’s most famous stadium), while hospitals, roads and other public services continued in their appalling state of disrepair. Popular anger even turned against soccer greatest, Pelé, after he said that Brazilians should wait until after the Cup to protest and that the death of a worker during the construction of Arena Corinthians was “normal.” Ronaldo, another one of Brazil greatest, also felt the popular ire when he said that “You can’t host a World Cup in hospitals” in response to people’s complain that all the spending in the Cup should be used to ameliorate the deplorable conditions of Brazil’s health care system.
One former player, however, emerged as the voice of the disaffected. Romário (The greatest striker I ever seen play), elected in 2010 to the Chamber of Deputies on the Partido Socialista Brasileiro (Brazilian Socialist Party) ticket, has become a vocal critic of the cup’s organization and management. He has gotten in a war of words with Pelé, Ronaldo, FIFA’s Secretary General Jérôme Valcke and FIFA’s President Sepp Blatter (whom Romário called a “thieving, corrupt son of a bitch” on national television). He has tirelessly attacked what he called “the worst World Cup of all times.”
Romário’s criticisms had echo both in FIFA and in those opposing it. FIFA has harshly criticized the organization and the delays of the cup (a worker was quoted in a Monday article saying that only God could get Arena Corinthians finalized before kick-off). At the same time, the criticisms against FIFA stem from the organization’s demands (no taxation in any level, the overturn or adjustment of laws that prohibited the sale of alcohol in stadiums and of for-profit organizations as defined by Brazilian law using volunteer work), and restrictions (many of the traditional items used by fans in Brazilian stadiums will be prohibited, including drums, flares and the really big flags we are very fond of).
The World Cup will happen, and it will be memorable, whether Brazil wins or loses. It has opened the wound of discontent and politicized a whole generation.