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The social cost of the World Cup’s fun and games

It is estimated that over 3 billion people will watch at least some of the World Cup live on TV this summer, but how many will see the depth of poverty in the host country, Brazil, asks Rico Rodrigues

The remaining months of 2014 will be very important politically for Brazil. The World Cup begins on 12 June, while in October there will be elections for the president, state governors and parliament. When the government, then under President Lula, brought the World Cup to Brazil, practically everybody thought this would be a safe number.

No nation in the world is more avid for football than the Brazilians. The sequence seemed perfect, first the World Cup, then the re-election of the Workers’ Party (PT). However, as the World Cup approaches, the country is like a pressure cooker and nobody knows whether – or when – it might explode. The elites had certainly not reckoned on this.

A big business World Cup
FIFA had already moved into the sights of protesters last year with demonstrations against transport fare increases that, at their height, brought over a million people onto the streets. The resentment about the World Cup and related policies was expressed in the demand for “FIFA standards for Education and Health” which was heard everywhere on demonstrations.

The message is clear; for the bulk of the population, mainly the working class, the situation regarding public transport, education, health and housing is increasingly precarious, especially in the big cities, yet political concessions for FIFA are decided in no time at all and piles of money are made available.

With about £8 billion in public spending for stadiums, infrastructure and airports, this World Cup is the most expensive of all time. The costs, especially for the stadiums, have exploded to four times the original estimates. To this can be added approximately £320 million in tax breaks for FIFA and its partners, plus an unknown sum for the security apparatus and state funding paid to the development bank, BNDES.

In the course of building the stadiums and infrastructure, it is estimated that some 250,000 people – 70,000 in Rio alone – were forcibly resettled. This mass forced relocation includes preparation for the 2016 Olympic Games.

National legislation was often broken; compensation payments were frequently not paid, were too low or paid only after years of legal battles. The infrastructure projects are primarily of benefit to tourists and the rich. In Rio, a super expensive metro line into the rich district of Barra da Tijuca has been built, while the trains in the poor parts of the city to the north more resemble cattle transportation.

Then there is the exclusive legislation for FIFA that has outraged many people. The Brazilian working class have been fighting for a century for their rights, yet even minor reforms could only be wrested from the capitalists by long struggles.

Twice an initiative to increase the property tax for the rich has been rendered ineffective by the courts in Sao Paulo. In contrast, a whole series of special laws granting privileges to FIFA have been passed without any delays; the Law for the World Cup (Lei Geral da Copa), which encourages municipalities to amass additional debt for World Cup-related expenditure, grants complete tax exemption for FIFA, its “official partners” and others. Of course, special laws for the repression and restriction of demonstrations during the World Cup are also under discussion.

Above all, FIFA will once again make a handsome profit from the spectacle. The association currently expects a profit of $2.7 billion. Special zones have been established around all stadiums in which only official partners may sell goods. All street traders are to be excluded, if necessary with police violence.

To enforce this, President Dilma Rousseff, who like Lula is in the PT, is planning to use 170,000 police officers who will be given extra training by Academi (the US mercenary company formerly known as Blackwater, which achieved international notoriety with its criminal actions in Iraq). It has also been announced that the army will be on standby, in case that is not enough.

Bubbling at the base
FIFA is like a mafia organisation that sweeps from one country to the next. It no longer has anything much to do with football. So it is very positive that demonstrations, protests and strikes in Brazil now dominate the international media.

The mass movement last year failed to develop into a generalised challenge to the ruling PT government. The absence of leadership was demonstrated by the disappointing turnout of the anarchist and communist-organised “Comitês Populares da Copa” demonstration of 15 May which brought just 15,000 onto the streets.

While the propaganda saturation and football fever will probably diminish popular protest during the summer, the work of these rank and file popular committees, which exist in all 12 World Cup host cities, opens the possibility of mobilising popular resentment during the autumn election period.

On 22 April, the dancer Douglas Silva Pereira was shot by police in the favela “Pavaozinho” in Rio, close to the districts of Copacabana and Ipanema. The suspect, who has not yet been officially identified, is in all probability an official of the “peace police” (Polícia da Pacificacao), which have imposed military occupations to “pacify” the various favelas in Rio for years.

Protesting residents staged a militant demonstration through the rich district and set fire to barricades – and this is happening shortly before the World Cup, when only tourists should enjoy the sand and the sun in Copacabana. The politicians and FIFA are nervous.

Another great wave of protest has gathered in Sao Paulo. In May, the city was shaken by a strike of bus drivers. As we go to press, news is coming in of Sao Paolo’s Metro workers being tear-gassed and baton-charged by riot police, on the second day of their indefinite strike for a 10 per cent wage rise.

The homeless workers’ movement MTST is also mobilising for its demands. On 23 May the MTST organised a demonstration of 15,000. On 28 May 2,500 demonstrated in front of the city council and demanded legalisation of the “Copa do Povo” (People’s Cup) occupation in the east of the city. And with success: the PT group on the council has agreed under pressure to support the claim and to force a vote on it before the World Cup.

The organisers of protests all know that it is an enormously opportune moment to enforce social demands. The eyes of the world media are focused on Brazil. Guilherme Boulos, one of the leaders of the MTST makes the point very clearly:

“We all know that the opening of the World Cup will take place in Itaquerao, a stadium in Sao Paulo. If there has been no vote on our demand by then, a lot of people without tickets will want to get into that stadium.”

Brazil before the election
No one can say exactly what will happen during the World Cup. But perhaps the situation after the World Cup, before the important elections in October, will be even tenser.

During the protests last year, Rousseff was pressed to propose an “exclusive Constituent Assembly” to carry out a fundamental political reform. The proposal was quickly shelved, but a part of the base of the PT, including the trade union confederation CUT and the landless workers’ movement MST, has now taken up the proposal and are campaigning for it. They have drawn in many social and leftist organisations.

The PT, of course, hopes to turn this into an election campaign, and maybe they will succeed in that, but the proposals being discussed now go far beyond what Rousseff originally proposed, and there is no guarantee that the PT leadership can control how the initiative develops.

In addition, the topic is causing friction with the PT’s main bourgeois coalition partners PMDB, which is of course strongly opposed to it. If the campaign gains momentum and Rousseff is forced to the left, this could lead to a rupture of the electoral alliance.

So, the situation is politically exciting, and Rousseff’s re-election is by no means guaranteed. Of course, the right wing hopes to profit from all this and to return to power after 12 years, but the PT are still well ahead in the polls.

For the working class, what matters is to finally establish its own political force that can fight independently against the bourgeois state and the reformist bureaucracy of the PT for a socialist perspective. Today, what needs to be put in place in Brazil is the foundation stone for the building of a new revolutionary party.

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