BRAZIL’S FAVELAS AND THE OLYMPICS: RUSH TO HIDE SOCIAL ILLS


By Ariana Criste
Staff Writer

As Rio De Janeiro rushes to prepare itself for the upcoming 2016 Summer Olympics, they are taking questionable measures to mold itself for the international eye. Politicians and business leaders in Rio problematize the “favelas,” the urban slums that the public views as being centers for poverty, drug activity and gang problems. Pacification and eviction have been the primary strategies for controlling the favela “problem.” Growing police presence in the area has created a noticeable drop in homicide rates, but some argue that this drop in the areas measured is just pushing criminal activity outside of the scope of the pacification efforts.

Police pacification units (UPP) have been deployed to an increasing amount of favela neighborhoods. With this rise in police presence, the homicide rate in the occupied areas has dropped by what some scholars estimate to be 65 percent. With homicide as the measure of success for the program, the drop in homicide in the favelas has led to almost a 30 percent drop in homicide within the state of Rio de Janeiro in general. While this is a significant decrease, homicide should not be the only measure of UPP deployment success. It is also likely that the drop in homicide may be attributable to a displacement of the activity itself, as other regions have experienced increases in their homicide rates. Even still, Rio is under fire for its lack of commitment to addressing the underlying social problems of the neighborhoods that the police presence is occupying.

The deep poverty and lack of opportunities have created an environment that can breed violence and criminal activity. In November 2011, Nem of Rocinha was arrested and detained by the Rio police force. Nem was the head of the drug trade in the Rocinha favela that is situated near Leblon, São Conrado and Gávea, the wealthiest areas of the state. In an area that the capital had long ignored or even outright abandoned, Nem was viewed by residents as bringing order to the neighborhood. Written into the business expenses of the expansive cocaine trade were social benefits for the neighborhood that the drug trade took place within. Compared to many trafficking empires, the empire that Nem created was relatively free of the bloodshed typically associated with the drug trade, and the commanding officer for the investigation that would eventually capture him spoke of how he “wasn’t a man of violence.” In the absence of the order of states and state association, these favelas are run by the criminals and gangsters who fill this political void. In the Antares favela, the Red Commando, one of Rio’s oldest criminal gangs, controls the security and culture. Like Nem of Rocinha, the Commando pumps money into the public works and even hosts social events. What started as a prison group association, climbed the ladder in seriousness of crimes until it reached hegemonic command over the drug trade and the people of Antares. In exchange for social assistance and community events, the Red Commando reigns relatively conflict-free over the culture and commerce of the area. This is not uncommon for the communities within the favelas, which have real economic and social grievances with the state.

Since the capture of Nem, community mistrust against the pacification efforts directed at Rocinha have grown. This is not unsubstantiated, however, as violence has been carried out by the police presence against the favela community. The murder of an innocent bricklayer by the Rocinha favela police force in July 2013 pushed the favela close to a total revolt. In 2013 alone, the number of reported police killings was 2,212. This does not include killings in states that choose to not report. Conservative leaders within Brazil have created political identities based on this state-led violence. As a leader for an institution tracking police issues explained, “There are parts of the middle class that accept killings by the police as a legitimate practice.” Cases of police violence perpetrated against children of these favelas have cycled through national political discourse and still little change in policy has been implemented. This is not far from the norm as many have accepted violence against civilians as a norm in the mission to clean up the favelas.

Police violence is not the only concern of the residents of the favelas, however. Favela neighborhoods are being leveled as the government gears up for the Olympics. Residents were offered money to relocate, as Rio searches for prime real estate for the new Olympic infrastructure it is building. Residents who have chosen to stay in the favelas are cut off from water and electricity. As poor people have been relegated to the peripheries of Brazilian society, poverty has become more problematized. Some are hopeful that, despite the civil and human rights issues that have characterized the planning stage for the Olympics, it will serve as a platform for the world to see the issues of intense urban poverty that countries such as Brazil are experiencing. As international eyes turn towards Brazil, they argue, they will also turn to the income inequality and issues of the favelas.

Image by João Lima

PLAYING HOST TO THE WORLD CUP: PROMISED LOCAL BENEFITS TAKE A DIVE?

By Andrew Muse-Fisher
Staff Writer

Over the next eight years, the world will watch as Brazil, Russia and Qatar respectively host the World Cup. Though the money and labor that goes into the preparation of the world’s most viewed sporting event is ultimately used as a show of the strength and vitality of these nations, the efforts of these nations have exposed the individual issues that hinder their establishment or re-establishment of a positive global image. And as this trio works to rid themselves of the domestic problems within their own borders, they are also working towards the goals of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association. A closer look into the relationships of the host governments with its people and with FIFA reveals how the spirit of the World Cup is being pushed out by the search for profit and growth at the expense of the citizens of these countries.

In June of this year, the World Cup will commence in the country with a history of zeal for the sport. Brazil, whose five World Cup wins are the most by any country, began preparing in 2007 after its bid to host was approved by FIFA.[1] Naturally, the Brazilians celebrated this opportunity to develop infrastructure, increase health and education and reduce poverty within the country, just as the government promised in its campaign to win the bid. [2] The government, too, saw potential to reinforce Brazil’s developing economy. After two decades of economic growth that allowed Brazil to develop a strong economy, it has done little to sustain continued growth. [3] Brazil has relied on increased internal consumption in recent years, while simultaneously losing prospective outside investors. [4] This has slowed economic growth and has created a need to draw attention from the outside world to their potential for further development and possible investment. [5]

It is hardly surprising that they pursued the 2014 bid, but since they started preparing, they have put their need to attract foreign investment and global recognition before the needs of the Brazilian people, especially those living in the favelas. During the initial planning stages in 2010, the costs of building and renovating stadiums was estimated to cost 5.4 billion Brazilian Reais, or $2.3 billion. However, by 2013, the cost reached BRL 8 billion– $3.4 billion. [6] The total cost of the Cup stood at BRL 25.6 billion, or $10.8 billion. Unfortunately for Brazilian taxpayers, investors will cover only 15% of the total cost. [7] These costs only cover the expenses of staging the cup, and do nothing to fund improvements to healthcare, education or the reduction of poverty as Brazil promised to do in its winning bid. [8] This places the burden of the Cup largely on the citizens of Brazil, while they are receiving very little of what they were promised at the outset. In some cases, the government’s actions have directly contradicted their pledge to share the benefits of the World Cup with all Brazilians.

Though the country has experienced growth in recent years, a large amount of the Brazilian population still lives in slums or favelas. In order to construct roads necessary to connect the host cities, some residents of favelas were evicted with little notice and their homes were then demolished to make way for the infrastructure. [9] To follow this, the government raised public transportation prices. In response, 1.5 million Brazilians protested outside the last game of the Confederation Cup, a small-scale version of the World Cup, in June 2013. [10] Initial protests centered on the destruction of favelas and the price hike; they soon grew to include calls for greater urban mobility, and investment in health and education. [11] The protestors were met with tear gas and rubber bullets, and two protestors died in the chaos. [12] Shortly thereafter, the government announced promises to increase spending on urban mobility, while several cities retracted the increased transportation prices. [13] Though the government acted quickly to pacify the protestors, the question remains on whether they will act on their promises or if the government is simply trying to calm down dissatisfied Brazilians until the World Cup passes. If some of the most avid soccer fans in the world are too busy protesting to cheer on their team and country, Brazil will have a difficult time attracting positive attention.

On top of the obstacles Brazil has faced in allocating funds, it also has had trouble meeting deadlines, especially in terms of stadium construction. Though twelve stadiums were supposed to be built or renovated completely by 2012 in order to meet FIFA regulations, three of the stadiums were still under construction at the beginning of 2014. [14] These last-minute preparations have done little to alleviate the atmosphere of chaos in Brazil. Regardless of the amount of progress Brazil has made in the time allotted, they still had to restructure regulations in order to cut corners and meet deadlines set by FIFA. [15] That is, early on in the process, Brazil passed legislation that allows them to ignore certain environmental regulations in construction, while their debt limit was raised. [16] Both of these shortcuts suggest long term problems if Brazil does not take action to reverse the environmental and economic effects these might incur once the games are over. In other words, by putting FIFA’s guidelines before the demands of the public, while simultaneously searching for the support of investors, Brazil is potentially wasting an opportunity to ensure a strong future for both the economy and its people.

Four years after having hosted the winter Olympic games in Sochi, Russia will host the 2018 World Cup. Russia won the bid on the grounds that they do not currently have the infrastructure in place to hold the games, but do have the economic resources to establish this infrastructure. The decision was further sealed by the fact that Russia has experience in planning an event on such a large scale, partly because of their preparations for Sochi. It is indeed a win-win for both FIFA and Russia in that FIFA can have confidence in Russia’s ability to prepare, while Russia will get the much needed opportunity to strengthen its infrastructure. [17] Currently, Russia is constructing high-speed rails to connect cities with stadiums. While the government is paying 70% of the cost for the rails, it sees it as an endeavor with great potential to help create jobs and help the economy overall. [18] Even if the railways are not going to pay for themselves, the government is confident it will help to better connect the country. [19]

In addition to stitching the country together, Russia is also hoping to boost GDP from tourism from 2% to 7%. [20] The World Cup is, of course, a perfect opportunity to augment their tourism industry, but it also provides another chance for Russia to brush off the remaining parts of its image reminiscent of its communist days. By further opening itself to the world’s view, it can portray itself as a modern democracy and not a backwards regime, an image from which Russia is trying distance itself. [21] So far, Russia’s 15 billion Euro venture is remaining more or less free of complications, at least when compared to Brazil’s effort. [22]

That is not to say, however, that Russia has remained free of the drama that is typical of these processes. Similar to the discussions of Russian homophobia that were hot button issues before Sochi, there have been accusations of racism within the Russian soccer fan base. Black players playing for and against Russian teams have been subjected to racist chants and banners from the crowd. [23] Manchester city player, Yaya Toure, has gone so far as to call a protest within potential participants against the Russian World Cup. [24] Though Russia has ample time to recover from such incidents of racism, a protest by high-profile players could be detrimental to the success of Russia’s Cup and all it is trying to achieve by hosting it. [25]

At the same time, Russia is dealing with allegations of corruption in regards to its bid for the World Cup. While the country has denied these accusations, they have opened themselves up to an investigation. [26] This investigation was hindered as Michael Garcia, a representative of the FIFA ethics department, was denied access to the country for unrelated reasons. [27] Though these allegations may just be standard procedure, they stand to show the potential for corruption in an event where there is so much to be gained. If Russia continues steadily on its course to the 2018 World Cup, the games should go off without any major snags, and ultimately help Russia’s economy and image as intended. Russia, however, is not new to accusations of corruption or misconduct so there are no guarantees it will be able to emerge unscathed in the court of world opinion.

Beyond the horizon of Brazil and Russia lies the Qatar World Cup. Like Brazil and Russia, Qatar sees the World Cup as a prospect for increased economic activity and as a way to show the world its strength as a developing nation. The latter is especially important for the tiny oil rich country, as they strive to make a name for themselves that Brazil and especially Russia earned years ago. [28] In order to guarantee a successful Cup, Qatar has allocated around $100 billion for the games. [29] Regardless of this large sum of money, the country has been quick to cut costs, particularly when it comes to labor. Qatar has recruited migrant workers from several South East Asian countries to work on stadiums and infrastructure projects. [30] During the summer of 2013, nearly one worker died per day. [31] If workers continue dying at this rate, then around four thousand workers will be dead before the games start. [32] These deaths are largely attributed to the high temperatures, and minimal access to water and food in some cases. [33] The workers are also subjected to cramped living conditions, and job mobility is almost nonexistent because of contracts the workers agreed to in order to work in Qatar. [34] Though the majority of workers report decent working conditions, these extreme cases cannot be ignored. [35] Labor groups outside and within Qatar have called for FIFA to push the Qatari government to amend labor laws to prevent further instances of abuse, though it ultimately comes down to the government’s discretion on whether or not to do so. [36]

Simultaneously, the U.S. Treasury Department has released accusations that former members of the Qatar Football Association may have ties to Al Qaeda and Hamas. [37] Others closely tied to the selection process have been accused of anti-Semitic speech. [38] Though these may be a political smear campaigns on behalf of the United States, they may also represent racial and ethnic tensions that might form a roadblock later on in Qatar’s preparations. [39] A more prevalent issue facing Qatar’s hold on the World Cup is the possibility of corruption in the bidding process. [40] The FBI is currently investigating whether or not a member of FIFA accepted money from a Qatari company in order to secure the bid for Qatar. [41] Between abuse of the labor force, possible links to terror and corruption, and the fact that the Qatar is relatively far off, it is conceivable that the bid might be revoked from Qatar. This holds especially true if the corruption allegations are found to be legitimate. Though it is the farthest away of the three World Cups to come, the Qatar World Cup is already encountering complications that make it stand out as the most worrisome. Indeed, it not only highlights internal issues that Qatar must deal with or ignore, but it also implies either a weakness or neglectful attitude that allows such abuse and scandal to occur under the umbrella of FIFA.

Brazil, Russia and Qatar are three very different nations, but each stand to receive similar gains by hosting the World Cup. In order to host the games effectively, they need infrastructure to sustain such large crowds and the development of infrastructure can act as a boost to their growth. And if they pull off the games successfully, then the trio will be able to show the world their strength in resources and organization. While the individual governments know what they want to gain from hosting the World Cup, their populations also have wants and expectations from the process. Unfortunately, the motives of FIFA, the group that runs the games, trump the desires of citizens in hosting countries. Moreover, FIFA and host governments have more in common in what they are trying to achieve. This has in part caused the marginalization of the people that, ideally, should be receiving the benefits. Brazil has forgone attempts to increase access to education, healthcare and overall quality of life, especially to those with lower incomes, while construction and consulting firms are getting paid regardless of their slow pace. In Qatar, the benefits are not making their way down to those at the core of the process: laborers risk dying only to end up a statistic of the poorly planned preparations.

Of course, if these governments are successful in using the World Cup to strengthen their economies as planned, then the people will experience at least some of the profits. However, the long term benefits are not likely to be as direct or as effective as what they have demanded. If this holds true, then these countries are not utilizing the potential of the World Cup to the extent that they could to greatly aid those of all income levels, not just elite segments of society. And if it is the case that the gains of the World Cup are not distributed efficiently, then this raises questions about corruption in the sense that those in charge of the planning of the Cups can manipulate the effects in the favor of a select few. But there are questions that remain. Is this corruption caused, at least in part, by the demands set out by FIFA? And furthermore, does this corruption exist in these countries normally, or is it something that is only brought out in the spirit of the Cup? Regardless, as Brazil, Russia and Qatar each take the spotlight, they have the opportunity to show the world their strengths as a nation and to prove that they are above corruption, while simultaneously reinvigorating the spirit of the cup for both their underserved communities and avid soccer fans.

Photo by Catalytic Communities

Notes

[1] Carrión, Maria. “Brazil’s Poor Pay World Cup Penalty.” Progressive 77.7 (2013): 26. Master File Premier. Web. 5 Apr. 2014.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Taberer, Vivienne. “Brazil’s Economy Could Be Primed For A Comeback Going Into The World Cup.” Institutional Investor-International Edition (2013): 244. Business Source Complete. Web. 5 Apr. 2014.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Conti, Juan Pablo. “Brazil 2014 The Last-Minute World Cup.” Engineering & Technology (17509637) 9.2 (2014): 50-53. Academic Search Complete. Web. 5 Apr. 201 4.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Wahl, Grant. “The Two Brazils?” Sports Illustrated 120.9 (2014): 60. Master File Premier. Web. 5 Apr. 2014.
[9] Amaral, Marina and Natalia Viana. “Brazil Vs. The World Cup.” Nation 297.3/4 (2013): 6-8. Academic Search Complete. Web. 5 Apr. 2014.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Conti, Juan Pablo. “Brazil 2014 The Last-Minute World Cup.” Engineering & Technology (17509637) 9.2 (2014): 50-53. Academic Search Complete. Web. 5 Apr. 201 4.
[15] Amaral, Marina and Natalia Viana. “Brazil Vs. The World Cup.” Nation 297.3/4 (2013): 6-8. Academic Search Complete. Web. 5 Apr. 2014.
[16] Ibid.
[17] “From Russia With Love.” New African 501 (2010): 66. Master File Premier. Web. 6 Apr. 2014.
[18] “High Speed To The Urals.” Railway Gazette International 168.9 (2012): 39. Business Source Complete. Web. 6 Apr. 2014.
[19] Ibid.
[20] “From Russia With Love.” New African 501 (2010): 66. Master File Premier. Web. 6 Apr. 2014.
[21] Ibid.
[22] “Russia’s World Cup Set To Cost €15 Billion.” Construction Europe 24.7 (2013): 4. Business Source Complete. Web. 6 Apr. 2014.
[23] “From Russia With Love.” New African 501 (2010): 66. Master File Premier. Web. 6 Apr. 2014.
[24] “Yaya Toure Suggests Black Players Could Boycott 2018 Russia World Cup.” International Business Times 25 Oct. 2013: Regional Business News. Web. 6 Apr. 2014.
[25] Ibid.
[26] Interfax. “Russia Says Will Assist FIFA in Probing Bidding Campaign to Host 2018, 2022 World Cups.” Russia & FSU General News 07 Oct. 2013: 1. Regional Business News. Web. 6 Apr. 2014.
[27] Ibid.
[28] Rawlings, Nate. “Qatar Gets Scolded Yet Again For Migrant Worker Abuses.” Time.Com (2013): 1. Business Source Complete. Web. 6 Apr. 2014.
[29] Ibid.
[30] Ibid.
[31] Ibid.
[32] Ibid.
[33] Ibid.
[34] Ibid.
[35] Ibid.
[36] Ibid.
[37] “The World Cup Hosts in Bed with Terrorists.” Daily Mail 19 Mar. 2014: 72. Regional Business News. Web. 6 Apr. 2014.
[38] Ibid
[39] Ibid.
[40] “Call to Take World Cup off Qatar if Votes Were Bought.” Daily Mail 19 Mar. 2014: 73. Regional Business News. Web. 6 Apr. 2014.
[41] Ibid.