President Obama’s proposal in his State of the Union address for tuition-free community college could change...
Editor's Note: This is an expanded edition to the piece that appears in the July issue of The Progressive.
On June 15, the opening day of the Confederations Cup in Brazil -- a warmup to the World Cup -- thousands protested across the country against the amount of money being spent to host these mega-events. With signs that said "We don't need the World Cup" and "We need money for hospitals and education", protesters were sprayed with tear gas and dispersed with rubber bullets before the opening match in Brasilia. At least 39 were injured and 30 were arrested. Inside the stadium, president Dilma Roussef was booed as she inaugurated the Brazil-Japan match. Today, June 17, there are protests going on all over the country. Why are soccer-crazy Brazilians so upset?
On a warm evening this past February, about 100 residents of the Bairro da Paz, a favela located on the periphery of the northeastern Brazilian city of Salvador da Bahia, gathered in a community center to hear a presentation by Ney Campello, Bahia's secretary of state for the World Cup. Perched on a hill not far from the city's airport, Bairro da Paz is one of Salvador's most politically active slums, and the crowd that evening included schoolteachers, health care workers, and youth activists anxious to hear firsthand how the 2014 World Cup would affect their community.
Campello seemed keenly aware of the tension that clung to the evening air as he cracked a few jokes before launching into a peppy speech on the multiple benefits of hosting soccer's greatest tournament. Residents patiently listened as he described plans that included creating thousands of construction and service jobs, recruiting volunteers, erecting canopies with giant TV screens for the matches, and providing free English lessons under a program called Olá turista ("Hello, tourist").
As Campello concluded his talk, several residents jumped from their seats for a turn at the microphone. "What about the evictions?" asked a young man.
"Can you tell us about plans to build a road through our neighborhood?" asked a woman.
"We need health care and education, not mega-events," said an older man to applause.
Nearby, local journalist Paulo Almeida broadcast the event live on Bairro da Paz's community radio station.
As a parade of residents made their claims, Campello seemed overwhelmed. "I have to get back to you with that," he kept repeating.
"We are not interested in waving Brazilian flags or volunteering for the World Cup," said longtime Bairro da Paz resident and community activist Rafael Lima after Campello had left. "We need jobs. We need education. We need land titles. We need health care.
And we need to know where this road they are planning to build is going, and who will be affected."
Bairro da Paz is just one of many poor communities in Brazil facing evictions due to construction projects related to the 2014 World Cup, which will be held in twelve cities throughout the country, and the 2016 Summer Olympics, which will take place in Rio de Janeiro. As the Confederations Cup, a warm-up to the World Cup, kicked off this past June 15 in Brasilia, thousands of people in Brazil have already been expelled from their homes, many in the middle of the night, as bulldozers waited nearby to make room for roads, stadiums, and other infrastructure. Citizens have responded by creating a network of organizations to monitor and report abuses.
Raquel Rolnik, U.N. Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, warned in 2011 about large-scale human rights abuses committed across Brazil in the name of World Cup and Olympics construction. "I am particularly worried," she said, "about what seems to be a pattern of lack of transparency, consultation, dialogue, fair negotiation, and participation of the affected communities in processes concerning evictions undertaken or planned in connection with the World Cup and Olympics."
With legendary players like Pelé and a national soccer team revered for its graceful, inimitable style, Brazil is considered the world capital of soccer. In 2007, when the country was awarded the hosting of the 2014 World Cup, Brazilians celebrated enthusiastically. Then-president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, of the Workers Party, which has done much to eradicate extreme poverty, pledged that the Cup would help Brazil upgrade its faltering infrastructure, create thousands of jobs, and promote the country internationally as a modern, dynamic and diverse place worth visiting and investing in. In 2009, Lula's impassioned speech before the International Olympic Committee also won Brazil the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.
Soccer fever still abounds in Brazil, but I found little enthusiasm for the World Cup during my visit to Salvador in February. Instead, reality has set in. As my taxi driver, a fervent soccer fan, told me on my first day, "I wish Argentina was hosting the World Cup instead, and that's coming from Argentina's eternal rival, a Brazilian."
According to estimates by the University of São Paolo, the World Cup and the Olympics will together cost Brazil about $33 billion. This includes the massive overhaul of national transportation infrastructure such as airports, highways, train and metro lines, and urban public transport, and the construction of stadiums and other sporting facilities. The government has promised that these investments will benefit all Brazilians not just through improved infrastructure but also through long-term indirect benefits from tourism and foreign investment.
But many Brazilians are questioning the government's projections. They point to South Africa and the United Kingdom as countries that ended up with massive debt and little return on their investments.
The Brazilian government's promises that construction projects would attract private financing have largely failed to materialize, so taxpayers are picking up most of the tab. Of twelve stadiums built or revamped whose costs have almost tripled their projected budgets, ten are publicly financed and between four and eight will probably become "white elephants" similar to those that now dot the landscape in places like Athens and Johannesburg.
Salvador, Brazil's third largest city, will host the World Cup for one week. The city has made commitments to FIFA, the soccer governing body, to upgrade its crumbling infrastructure, by building two access roads to the airport, completing a subway line whose construction has languished for twelve years while its original $500 million budget vanished, and building a $300 million state-of-the-art stadium, the Fonte Nova, which was inaugurated in April.
One criticism echoed by many residents is the city's decision to raze its old stadium, which offered public sporting facilities, including athletic fields, basketball courts, and the state's only public Olympic-size swimming pool, where Bahia's professional swimmers have trained. There are no plans to rebuild these installations.
The new stadium was built by a private-public consortium that includes the Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht, also involved in reconstruction efforts in Iraq and New Orleans, diamond mining in Angola, and oil production in Venezuela. Odebrecht, which is building many of the other stadiums for the Cup, has advanced the money along with another company, OAS, owned in part by the uncle of Salvador Mayor A.M.C. Neto. The government pledged to reimburse the full amount while allowing the companies to exploit the venue for the next thirty-five years -- a sweet deal by all accounts.
"We came to this arrangement because the state does not have the cash right now to build the stadium," explains José Sergio Gabrielli, secretary of state for planning, whose office is responsible for seeking resources and planning for many of these projects.
Gabrielli, of the Workers' Party, also acknowledged to me that except for the stadium and a pedestrian bridge linking it to the historic center, none of the other promised infrastructure designed to improve transportation will be ready for 2014. Instead, the city will declare World Cup week a holiday and create special transportation corridors.
With 3.5 million residents, Salvador da Bahia was Brazil's first capital city and the point of entry for millions of African slaves brought by the Portuguese to toil in the sugar fields. Tourists are attracted by its unique Afro-Brazilian culture and a carnival that rivals that of Rio de Janeiro. But Salvador is also a deeply divided city. The gap between the very wealthy and the very poor remains dismal, public health and education face shortages of every kind, and the city suffers from high rates of violent crime.
Salvador's population is overwhelmingly black, yet the city has never elected a black mayor. Its political and economic power structures are controlled by whites and remain practically out of reach for black Brazilians.
Its increasingly segregated carnival is dominated financially by wealthy white carnival groups, who get the best slots on the parade route. Director Spike Lee, who was in Salvador this February during carnival filming for his upcoming documentary "Go Brazil Go", expressed dismay at the lack of black political and economic power in Salvador. "If we compare the evolution of African-Americans and Afro-Brazilians, we are 20 years ahead," he told the local media.
The upcoming World Cup has brought these inequalities to the surface. On the one hand, Afro-Brazilian culture is used by the city and by FIFA to attract visitors, but on the other, most black Brazilians are excluded from participation. The choice of Ivete Sangalo, a popular white singer, to perform Brazil's national anthem during the inauguration of Salvador's stadium has offended many Afro-Brazilians, who take pride in Salvador's rich, African-influenced musical tradition. As renowned black activist Silvio Humberto, co-founder of the Steve Biko Cultural Institute, who was recently elected to Salvador's city council, told me: "We are not invited to this party."
Humberto's words echoed throughout my stay in Salvador as I interviewed ordinary Brazilians about the World Cup. Perhaps the most publicized example of this exclusion is the ban imposed by FIFA against Salvador's food street vendors, including the emblematic Bahianas da Acarajé, black women in lace dresses who sell traditional food rooted in the Afro-Brazilian religion known as candomblé. The ban, designed to benefit official sponsors such as Coca-Cola and McDonald's, will apply not just inside the stadium but also within a two-kilometer perimeter.
The soccer organization "has shown a total lack of respect for our local culture and for what we represent," says Rita dos Santos, president of the Association of Bahiana Sellers of Acarajé, who has circulated a petition on Change.org. "Ten Bahianas worked in the old stadium and now we are told they cannot return because of the ban and because they did not design any space for them. So now people will eat hamburgers instead?"
The FIFA-imposed ban will also affect the livelihood of hundreds of other vendors who work the streets of the city center, within the exclusion zone. The city is already trying to regulate street vending for the Cup by corralling sellers in officially designated areas. "They will put me in a corner, hidden from view, so how can I make a living?" says Vera Luzia Mesias dos Santos, who braids hair in the central Plaça da Sé.
One of the more controversial construction projects is a pedestrian bridge linking the stadium to Pelourinho, Salvador's historic neighborhood, a UNESCO World Heritage site and Salvador's main tourist attraction.
With its rows of bright pastel colonial houses interspersed with Renaissance churches, Pelourinho's cobblestoned streets are lined with souvenir stores and restaurants, and many of its buildings house Afro-Brazilian cultural and social centers. Its streets abound with vendors, capoeira groups, and musicians. Its prettiest square, Largo do Pelourinho, was the site of the first slave market in the Americas.
But Afro-Brazilians describe the place as an empty shell, a "shopping center for tourists," and they hardly visit the neighborhood. In the 1990s, as the city began to restore the crumbling buildings, it expelled its black residents to peripheral favelas with no infrastructure or social services.
Jecilda Melo is one of the survivors. In 2002, she founded the Association of Residents and Friends of Pelourinho, and she and other families fought to remain in their homes. "We were a group of women who said: 'No, we are not leaving,'" Melo says as she sits in the association's small headquarters. Taking their case to the local authorities, they finally obtained the permanent right to remain in the homes, although the land still belongs to the government. "They do not want poor people living here; we are an embarrassment to them," she tells me. "And during the World Cup, they will want us out of sight."
The projected pedestrian bridge, with a conveyor belt, air conditioning, and a $100 million price tag, would ferry fans from the matches to the center of Pelourinho, bypassing poor areas below. "Meanwhile, the mortals underneath will receive the empty cans and the banana peels," says Melo, wondering how the cash-strapped city will maintain such a costly bridge.
Up the street, Maura Cristina da Silva, a housing rights activist, ponders the fate of her community as she sips coffee in her home on the ground floor of a restored colonial building she and another six families occupied several years ago. "Mostly we are black women with kids who have been expelled or priced out of the housing market," she says. "We are fighting for the right to remain."
Da Silva forecasts a "major social cleansing effort in the historic district" by the city before the World Cup and worries about a possible wave of evictions in Pelourinho.
"They will try to get rid of the street people, the meninos da rua, and anyone else who does not fit into their postcard image," she says. "The message is: Poor and black, out of sight."
In the sky-blue building next door, the indigenous painter known as Sol Brasil, whose naive, revolutionary art has toured the world, has resisted eviction for 30 years. "In 1989 we suffered a violent eviction but managed to return, " he recalls from his studio, where paintings of indigenous resistance to Portuguese colonists hang next to souvenir art. "They will probably try again with the World Cup, but we will resist and we will win."
Bairro da Paz, where many of Pelourinho's evicted ended up, is particularly vulnerable to forced removals because more than 95 percent of its residents do not have titles to their homes or the land they are built on, which means that they would receive little or nothing in compensation. Much of that land is privately owned, and a 2010 city plan showed a large section targeted for eviction.
"Even the building we are in right now has no title and could be expropriated," explains Marinalva Souza Santos, president of Bairro da Paz's neighborhood association, as we sit in the association's community center.
"There is a revolving door between politics and real estate, and the World Cup is the perfect excuse to go ahead with development plans that had little chance a few years ago due to local opposition," says housing rights lawyer Manoel Nascimento.
These plans are in plain sight as I approach Bairro da Paz on a hot summer morning. The view from my bus window as we veer off the main highway and dip into Bairro da Paz shows a landscape of inequality. In the forefront, tiny compact brick and wood houses cling to steep hills connected by almost vertical staircases carved into the dirt. Sewage flows down potholed streets, and small children play in the dirt. Just a few hundred yards away, dozens of high-rise luxury condominiums, some still under construction, encircle the favela: The impossibly wealthy elites, barricaded behind electrified fences and protected by private armed guards, loom over the poor underneath.
"Unfortunately for the residents, they are sitting on prime property," explains Nascimento, who works with CEAS, a nonprofit founded by liberation theologists during Brazil's dictatorship. "This area is highly valuable: It is close to the airport and to the beaches.
The sales offices for these high-rises airbrushed Bairro da Paz from their promotional photos and replaced it with a green area. That definitely gave away their real intentions."
Nascimento describes his surprise when he saw the buildings begin to go up in 2010 because the only way in and out of them is through nearby favelas.
"Soon afterward, the local government unveiled its World Cup development plans and it all became clear: They had designed a road to service these closed-gated communities," he says. "This is the road that would split Bairro da Paz in two and displace hundreds of families."
As in Rio de Janeiro, local authorities in Salvador are also implementing a controversial community police project known as Pacification Police Units or UPP's in some of the most violent neighborhoods, including Bairro da Paz. While the idea of community policing is welcomed by residents, community leaders and experts on violence point out that many of these units are used to contain violence within certain neighborhoods in preparation for the World Cup and the Olympics, and that so far they have failed to address problems and needs of these communities. In Rio, favelas selected for UPP's happen to be the closest to tourist areas and valuable real estate.
"Existing UPPs are located in places where middle and upper class people live close by, " says John Gledhill, an anthropology professor at the University of Manchester who has written extensively on poverty, violence and policing in Salvador and Rio de Janeiro. "So it seems that it is their sense of security rather than the security of the residents of the favelas that is the real priority. "
Gledhill says that "the danger of this approach is that it marks out particular communities as the source of all crime and violence throughout the city, transforming their social problems of poverty, lack of clear titles to land and property, and substandard infrastructure and living conditions, into problems that threaten the security of all the city's residents".
Gledhill and other experts point out the difference between the idea of community policing, where relationships between residents and police should be protective and supportive, and reality on the ground, which still emphasizes repressive policing.
As part of the state of Bahia's Pact for Life, which includes UPP's, the head of the state's public security issued a pack of cards known as Deck of Crime, similar to the deck issued by the Bush administration of Sadam Hussein and his government officials to get citizens to turn them in, only with the faces of Bahia's most-wanted criminals.
In Bairro da Paz, the military police incursion that preceded the community police base drove out the neighborhood's main drug trafficker, known as Flor (the deck's Ace of Diamonds), who nonetheless still retains control over local drug dealing from a nearby neighborhood. Residents point out that the violence is merely being displaced to less coveted areas and report frequent abuses by some of the unit's seventy officers.
Bairro da Paz's UPP base commander, Lt. Henrique Alves, attends some community meetings in an effort at dialogue with residents. At a recent encounter, local leaders complained of frequent episodes of abuse and deliberate humiliation by the officers against youths and protested the unit's policy of breaking up cultural street events in the name of crowd control. Alves responded that his officers were there "to protect public security. "
"They do not distinguish between law-abiding citizens and criminals because they are not from the community and have not been trained in peaceful interaction, so they profile all young black males, stop them on the street and use any excuse to beat them," explains Tom Nascimento, a local musician from the militant hip-hop group Clã periferico that organizes cultural activities for local youth. "They don't understand that these cultural events steer young people away from the drug gangs.
Instead of supporting them, they send everyone home."
Outside the community center, local kids kick up a cloud of dust as they play a game of pickup soccer with a punctured ball.
María Carrión, former senior producer for Democracy Now!, freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker based in Madrid, was recently named Executive Director of the Western Sahara Film Festival.