Brazilian protesters reexplained: it is about us, not the World Cup
Brazil is a very self-centered country. No doubt about that. Add that to a lot of laziness in developed countries to understand the new economic power of this century — despite the growing presence of foreigners in Latin America’s powerhouse. The result is a terrible mismatch between what actually happens in the world’s 7th biggest economy, on the way to becoming the 5th just ahead of France and the UK, and the international fantasies of an exotic and violent place where allegedly people noticed they were doomed, looked at expensive stadia being built and took to the streets. On the day after the Confederations’ Cup final, that was the tone for a lot of foreigners in social media, especially those who only care about football.
That was never the case, I say. Since I had lots of feedback from my first attempt to explain what is going on (I thank you all for that), I decided to go a little further talking about the link between football and the protests. After that I will go to the profile of the protesters, which has changed dramatically in the last few weeks.
Only correspondents in Brazil noted that, but many internationals who couldn’t care any less about the reasons for it all created a wave of football smog around the situation in our major cities, as if people started hating the World Cup because they are protesting for better healthcare, education and governance. We are not that shallow.
A few months ago I wrote Brazil wouldn’t deliver all they promised for the World Cup. Nothing was improved so far in the infrastructure foreign visitors will definitely need for the World Cup — airports weren’t really tested in the Confederations Cup and there won’t be much more next year. The same goes for roads and public transportation. Despite knowing all that, 77% of Brazilians supported the World Cup until a few weeks ago, according to an important pollster. So why did many protesters show up near the stadia and carry signs against high spending to comply with Fifa standards?
This was the most violent protest against World Cup spending. It was when the movement peaked. After these violent scenes, it only shrunk.
The protests against the increase on transport fares were supposed to be in rainy and hot January. But the hikes were postponed to June, so Brazil kept inflation under check. The higher prices in the beginning of the year could be a massive blow for the inflation target for 2013, since many prices can’t be simply frozen in the first quarter. Add the raise to old grievances, a football competition and violent repression by the police. That opens the Pandora box. But that doesn’t mean the 77% who supported the World Cup are now against it. That means they used it to show some agenda.
That doesn’t mean the same issues will be there when the World Cup starts. Firstly because the surprise element won’t be there anymore. Secondly because the conjuncture could be completely different. Thirdly because the improvements, although few and insufficient, will be there. The security will be much more intensive, with the Army on the streets. And finally, because the World Cup is a much much bigger event. I covered London 2012 and I know how volunteers feared riots or terrorist attacks. Those never happened and that is also because the Olympics have a gigantic impact.
Just like the World Cup. Not like the Confederations Cup.
The impact and the scale of the protests don’t mean Brazil would do worse than other countries. If a million babies took the streets of Stockholm there would be infrastructure problems to solve as well. That doesn’t mean political issues can’t be solved politically. Which is clearly better than having riots and no clear ways to deal with them. Although the comprehension of many internationals doesn’t reach Latin America, demonstrations in Brazil are not to be repressed just for the sake of international travelers and sports events. We are not Turkey. It is high time people abroad know it.
Do these look like fans all against the World Cup? Criticizing the high expenses is just a part of a much bigger agenda
To say democratic demonstrations are a public relations disaster is to be more in touch with Fifa officials than with the Brazilian population. That is okay, but it has to be stressed. I can’t see why democratic protests in Brazil cast more doubts than the UK riots one year before the Olympics. That is a notorious double standard that has been broadcast and repeated over and over by many. And these are people who still have an exotic impression of a country which is debating how to improve more, not whether it will improve or not. Not the case for many developed countries, I assume.
As I expressed before, police violence made the protests grow. Political parties were the main losers, and that made politicians in power lose a lot of support (at least for now). The protests became smaller because some demonstrators became violent after the raise in transport fares was cancelled. Now there is a different bunch on the streets, and they have little to do with those who started it all. Their agenda is anti corruption more than the World Cup, according to Datafolha as well. Excessive spending in stadia counts, but we have much more to complain about than that.
So let me go to the profiles of the demonstrators that remain active.
An American video that shows a different event that resembles lots of the protests in Brazil
Unlike a big part of the international media and analysts, who have been very generous to the protesters in showing them as more powerful and broad-based as they really are, I divide them into four less generous categories. Maybe that is because Brazil was never exotic to me. The tiers are these: whiners, radicals, party-goers and a minority of ideologically driven people, to the left or to the right. Most of these groups cross each other. Whiners might become more political, party-goers could become whiners, radicals could give up to become party-goers and so on.
Brazilians who like politics only wish our demonstrators were as smart as a big part of the foreign media portrays them. As a former student union member who worked as a reporter on Brazilian politics from 2004 to 2012, I think their platitudes and lack of positive agenda actually give power to some of the very politicians they criticize. Demonstrators are surely using football to show what they want, but it is the politicians they criticize who use their lack of union to put forward whatever they want, as if it were a desire from the streets.
The peaceful whiners are the majority. Watching them march is like watching a Twitter timeline; sometimes opposite views are in the same sign. That is why I say the international community should know most of this has to do with fair reasons to whine about government in all levels than with real anger. The complainers are moderates who could go to protests and do it nicely. To think these people would disrupt a World Cup is basically saying China was right in deporting protesters for Tibet. Or that Sydney shouldn’t have the Olympics because of the protests after beggars were sent away. Of course there is a difference in scale, but the values are basically the same. Fair protests must go on and violent ones should be stopped.
Some of the protesters are basically party-goers. Their friends invite them through social media and the go. They go there to drink, chat, flirt. I know people who did exactly that — and I think it is perfectly fine as well. Many of those had never been to a demonstration before and reject all political parties. They are a bunch that drinks Red Bulls as they chant funny songs. Are these people a threat to the World Cup? Really?
Those who are keen on politics are struggling to move the crowds to the left or to the right. Now the crowd is smaller, but it is still important to validate what the political elites do in Brasilia. The left-wingers want people on the street, among other things, so they assure 10% of Brazilian GDP goes straight to education. The right-wingers want the immediate arrest of former government officials involved in a corruption scandal. The underlying issue for those is the elections next year, three months after the World Cup. That is not about football at all.
The last group is the one that really deserves attention. Radicals have to be identified and jailed when they commit crimes. I can almost bet that in numbers, if you count peaceful protesters out, rioters in Brazil and in the UK are about the same. Neonazis, advocates of the military dictatorship (1964-1985), homophobes, violent anarchists are in the recent demonstrations. They are surely the smallest part of the protesters and they have to be properly investigated and punished. But I suppose those will be a little shy next year when they are before the Army.
To sum up: take the Brazilian protesters less seriously, know how the politicians are passing laws supposedly to deal with them and wait for one year. I doubt the result will be a chaotic World Cup. Brazil might not be Germany, but the World Cup wasn’t given to Latin America’s most powerful country as a handout. It wasn’t because it is exotic to Europeans. It is a country that is getting to a better level and where protests are democratically respected. That is no more and no less than what happens in many other places.