Brazil 2014: business, war and soccer… it´s all in the game
I see the pictures of five men in full combat gear standing in an alley with blood on the floor; the bodies of six children laying on the ground in unnatural positions, riddled with bullets. It's claimed to be one of the many examples of the “social cleansing” that the Brazilian government is carrying out in the World Cup host cities.1 I´ve heard about it before, but with only two weeks left before the kick-off I think it´s time to dive into the less glorious side of Brazil 2014. Dozens of articles, pictures and videos later, it´s clear to me: Brazil has lost already, long before the first game will be played.
Oh, I don´t mean the eleven Brazilians in microfiber breathing Nike or Adidas shirts and a personal stylist and physiotherapist. Neither do I mean the few managers of corporations and multinationals that are invited for the FIFA Christmas celebration, nor the Brazilian government that signed FIFA's “General Law of the World Cup” (?! Flabbergasted!) which seems to be accepted as a license to break the real law and become the biggest criminal of the country at once.
No, I mean the real losers: the almost two hundred million other Brazilians, a lot of whom have been ignored, robbed, expelled, abused and even killed in the name of “A Copa”. The real interests of the world cup haven´t been found on the field anymore. And the winners have already been announced.
The only thing that remains now is playing soccer.
To make sure that all international visitors can watch the games comfortably, that they can check the scores on their iPads and walk around with their cameras, the government has been busy with an approach that´s known as “social cleansing”. In many dictatorships that South and Central America has known (it's not even that long ago!) this strategy was used to eliminate those who thought differently, but that target group has changed to other dangerous “undesirables” of society.2 Still, the lawlessness exposed in these eliminations has stayed the same for all this time: the Dictatorship of the World Cup has been reigning in Brazil for years now.
“Modern totalitarianism can be defined, in this sense, as the introduction, by means of the state of exception, of a legal civil war that allows the physical elimination of not only political opponents, but also of entire categories of citizens who, for some reason can not be integrated into the political system.“ – State of exception. Chicago: university of Chigaco press. 3
The idea is as follows. A big group of people has been living for generations in a slum close to the city center. Sometimes the police or the army comes in with a group of special forces, they shoot a few people and take a few people away, and then they leave to come back again about six months later.4 That´s all, as the Brazilian government you don´t really pay attention to them in any other way. But then it turns out that the collection of slums, glue sniffers and crack addicts, street kids and drug gangs is situated right where you want to build something beautiful for the soccer world championships. That can be a highway, a cable car, a stadium, a shopping mall, or a hotel (complex) for soccer players, journalists or soccer fans. A little inconvenient: all those people in the favela won´t voluntarily leave their slums and possessions (read: everything they have) just because you ask them nicely. So you don´t ask them anything. You send a fully armed police force to drag them out of their “houses”, preferably at night, for the surprise effect.5 Shooting is allowed: just call it “resistance when arrested” and you won´t be prosecuted, even if you've shot someone in the back.6 That´s not something new related to the world cup though.
As an alternative or additional mean, you can also draft a government letter stating that the residents have "exactly zero days" to get their belongings and leave their house. That doesn´t mean that shooting isn´t still allowed when they refuse or resist to go though, or when you think they may want to refuse or resist. If the neighborhood has electricity or water, you can cut that off to drive people away. When everybody has left, you wipe away everything in the area with bulldozers and excavators, and then the construction of something beautiful can start. “Ordem e progresso”, order and progress: the national slogan of Brazil.
You don´t have to give an official reason for this if you're in power. But if someone would ask you, you can always say that it has nothing to do with any sports event, but that the current situation was “dangerous” for the residents. You can call that “danger” structural, health related, spiritual, extraterrestrial or gravity, but you´re not obliged to give any theoretical foundation for your statement. If you happen to decide that only the neighborhoods close to the stadiums are “in danger”, you can still insist that the forced migrations are part of a plan designed to improve the situation of the favela people. By the way, they often aren´t in any way compensated for the loss of their house, their belongings or their family members, but some of them are offered social housing with governmental support, usually about thirty to fifty kilometers away. The support isn´t sufficient to be taken seriously though. And besides that: who´d accept an offer like that from the government after all that terror? So practically all families from the “cleansed” slums become homeless. Homeless in the name of the FIFA world cup. Participating is more important than winning. Oh no, that´s the Olympics in 2016. I´m curious already to see what will happen then.
On the other hand, this huge sports event also gives Brazilians the opportunity to make a lot of money, right? There´s a lot of things to be built and renovated, and there´s a lot of tourists coming who´d all like to have a hotdog, an ice cream or a beer from time to time. The FIFA has also thought of that while drafting the Overpowering Soccer Law: the guarantees that Brazil gave to the FIFA by signing, practically took the form of demands from companies, investors’ groups, and financial institutions for more legal certainty in their transactions and investments. Indeed, that´s not really something that the average Brazilian benefits from. But the average Brazilian can always become an employee of one of these construction companies: for a pittance they can work for fourteen hours a day without proper safety measures, and help building a stadium, hotel or shopping mall that has expelled them from their house. Together for the homeland. We count on you.
Oh, and because it´s such a generous gestion to put all these fictive money making opportunities in the empty hands of the Brazilians, the FIFA doesn´t pay taxes. Naturally.
During the actual event, only entrepreneurs contracted by FIFA are allowed to do business in the stadiums and in a radius of two kilometers around them. So local shop owners and street venders in the area, who have often lost their homes already, are all put off side at once. Just like the other small Brazilian businesses that haven´t made it to the FIFA friends list yet. Usually off side provokes a certain kind of penalty, but it seems that somehow all the referees just looked in another direction.
“General Law of the World Cup” - Article 37: “Special trials for the processing and judgment of cases related to the events may be formed.” Article 38 provides that FIFA, its legal representatives, consultants and employees “will remain free from costs, emoluments, fees, and other expenses to the institutions of Federal Justice, Labor Justice, Military Justice,” and other branches of Brazilian government.
So far the (lack of) money to be made. Let´s have a look at the other side of the balance: Bloomberg estimates that Brazil will spend 14,5 billion dollars on the whole event.7 That´s a lot more than they initially thought it would be, mainly due to corruption and the monopoly of the companies and investors in the FIFA contract.8 And by far the main part of that money is government money, that should be spent on projects and services that benefit the citizens. Not so much benefits for the citizens though, who will be the ones paying the debt redemption for decades when the supporters have long gone home.
All this could just make one believe that in business, war and soccer everything is allowed, let alone what happens if you combine it all in a mega soccer event in a developing country. And who still believes that sports and politics don´t go hand in hand: explain that to one of the homeless surviving family members of the ones who lost their life in the long run-up to the Big Final.
Brazil has lost already. And the winners have already been announced.
The only thing that remains now is playing soccer.
But that´s just a sideshow. Right?
I will share this story before the Netherlands or Brazil plays a match, because I want that nobody will become homeless or be murdered in the name of the FIFA World Cup next time, and everyone should be able to join the "party". If you agree with that: join me and please share this story too before your country or Brazil plays a match. Let´s get the sports back in the game: the world cup should be of all of us, for all of us.
The main basis for this story has been the "Report from the national coalition of local committees for a people´s world cup and Olympics", a report on the Brazilian law and human rights concerning housing, labour, information and participation, environment, access to public goods and services, transportation and security in the context of the 2014 world championships. Read more here: https://rioonwatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/2012-World-Cup-Olympics-Dossier-English.pdf . Or the summary, The bitter taste of Brazil s world cup: https://www.cipamericas.org/archives/6434
1 According to this post, the Brazilian police posted these pictures on facebook after a "succesfull" operation in the slums in Rio.
Death squads in Rio
“Death to undesirables”
2 New internationalist: “social cleansing” history South America article
3 Report from the national coalition of local committees for a people´s world cup and Olympics.
Or the summary: The bitter taste of Brazil s world cup
4 Artikel over situatie in Rio de Janeiro over het algemeen en in aanloop naar de wk.
5 The guardian article about favela evictions: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/poverty-matters/2014/jan/17/rio-favela-evictions-brazil-world-cup
“Rio´s favela residents fight mega-event eviction”
“Homeless in the name of the FIFA world cup”
BBC article on evictions: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-13957096
“Brazil relocates more than 15.000 families ahead of world cup”
6 Police violence Brazil.
7 Americas Program article on corruption and where the money went: https://www.cipamericas.org/archives/6434
8 Bloomberg article on finances of Brazil 2014: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-05-29/brazil-world-cup-kick-starts-billionaire-boon-as-farmers-lose.html
The Guardian article on police violence in Brazil: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/may/18/brazil-favelas-big-trouble-world-cup-marketing-police-abuse-killings-security
The Guardian article on social cleansing in Brazil
New York times article on police violence in Brazil
Favela evictions article: https://www.socialwatch.org/node/13589
Telegraph video on Rocinha favela violence and UPP: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/southamerica/brazil/10806501/Brazil-World-Cup-2014-violence-flares-in-the-battle-for-Rocinha-favela.html
NOS studio sport – Reportage over een Nederlander met een voetbal-project om straatkinderen uit de drugsbendes te houden in favela Morro da Providencia in Rio de Janeiro: (vanaf minuut 4:30 – 11.00)