Protest returned to the cities of Brazil at the weekend, reports Ollie Vargas. Thousands took to the streets to protest the cost of the World Cup at a time when public services are seeing no improvement despite economic boom in the country.
The protests, named ‘Operation #stopworldcup’, were largely organised through social media via the group ‘Anonymous Rio’. In some cities, including Rio, demonstrations were small with only around 50 protesters, but riots erupted in Sao Paolo with reports of cars being torched and banks having their windows smashed in. As of Sunday, there were still over 100 protesters held in custody in Sao Paolo. This is a shockingly large proportion of the 1000 people who took part in the demonstration. The Brazilian government have already announced that the police presence will be heavily stepped up as the World Cup draws near. It is likely that this week’s crackdown will look like kid gloves compared to what the state has in store for those prepared to ‘embarrass’ Brazil when the world descends on the country in June
These were the first anti World Cup protests of 201. They were notably smaller than those in the summer of 2013, and now almost exclusively made up of young people, including an increased presence of groups such as Black block. Though these demonstrations were smaller, they will nonetheless cause headaches for the government. This weekend showed that a relatively small band of young protesters can throw major cities into chaos, and draw the police into clashes of the sort that the state will want to avoid at all costs when the World’s eyes turn to Brazil in the summer.
The Brazilian government is increasingly under siege over the World Cup. On the one hand they face street mobilisations that often descend into violence. On the other, they are under increasing pressure from FIFA and others, as the country is well behind schedule in organising the infrastructure necessary to host the tournament. Airport expansions in Fortaleza are so far behind that the civil aviation authority have raised serious concerns about the ability of the privatised contractors to complete the job in time. FIFA have laid down an ultimatum that if it is not completed by 18th February one of the largest venues in Curitiba lose its status as an official host venue.
The biggest challenge yet is the prospect of an escalation of strikes across multiple stadiums. The construction workers union announced the possibility of further action just before Christmas, after another worker tragically died at the site where the England team is due to play its first game. There have now been fatalities at a quarter of the 12 stadiums under construction. Further strikes now would throw the whole tournament into chaos as it looks increasingly unlikely that the stadiums will be finished even without disruptions. Finishing will require further intensification of work at the sites, which itself is likely to trigger more fatalities and more strikes, delaying everything further. The power Brazilian construction workers now hold is considerable.
This World Cup has been built on a foundation of blood, sweat and tears, both those of the youth in the street facing increasing repression, and the workers who make it possible. Protesters have not called for a total boycott of the World Cup but many placards at the weekend called on foreign fans not to come to Brazil for the tournament. As June draws nearer it is unclear whether protests will escalate or if increasing repression will deter people from taking to the streets. Either way, Brazil, and indeed the rest of the region, will be a place to watch in 2014.