World Cup spending shows Brazilians can’t tell policies from corruption
Brazilians are difficult. They want better services provided by the government. They also want the government to spend less. They might protest for both at the same time. Common sense dictates it would all be paid for if governance were better or if there weren’t so much corruption. But when real cases are found, they don’t know how to react and keep the very structure that allows the misdeeds in the first place. That partly explains why some groups are critical of World Cup spending: the event galvanizes more attention than schemes difficult to understand and gives people leeway to moan and do very little about it.
For most Brazilians spending on the World Cup is the equivalent to corruption. It is as if the tournament were all about new useless high-tech stadia, and not any infrastructural improvements. Of course Brazil should have done more and could discuss its national projects with the population — people of Munich have just voted on a bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympics. But it isn’t reasonable that some people are angrier at FIFA than at notoriously corrupted Brazilian politicians — some of those are on their side.
That is not a new thing, we call it “selective indignation”. When it is appealing enough, we can go on and on and on. If there is a twist that is difficult to understand after a first look, we blame the usual suspects and carry on. Governments did a bad job in explaining, so many Brazilians think it is wise to see the World Cup here as a scandal in itself. They don’t know there are much bigger scandals ready to pop out. But those can be too complicated for our Homer Simpsons to understand. That low level of debate makes crooked politicians succeed. To do that, they use the very political disengagement of their voters to give their spin and hide what is essential.
The trials of a votes for bribes scandal were on TV all day long and exacerbated the perception of corruption in Brazil.
When São Paulo City Hall decided to give Corinthians a US$ 250 million tax exemption to build their arena to open the World Cup, loads of people cried foul as if there were no difference among government spending, financing mechanisms and corruption. The tax exemption was given because it was according to a law passed in 2004 so constructors got interested in the impoverished East Zone — where the new stadium is. The region of Itaquera was dead for business until now. But many Brazilians find no difference between that policy and a US$ 250 million scandal in which senior taxmen at City Hall took bribes to forgive debt for constructors. In the end, it’s all money.
This is one of the examples to show most Brazilians are unable to tell a policy from a crime. There are many others. The same goes for most protesters and critics, I’m afraid. Although the World Cup is a great opportunity that deserves proper scrutiny and transparency, most talking points have been around the endless yada-yada-yada-healthcare-is-more-important. Nothing could be less effective. Every government will repeat rising figures for investments in hospitals and doctors and call the next patient in. As a journalist who covers Brazil since 2004, I have seen authorities play with that incomprehension over and over and get away with much worse.
Average Brazilians believe corruption is soaring because more cases have come out since the end of the dictatorship (1964-1985). In the recent case put out by São Paulo City Hall, those that revealed the scheme are frequently considered as responsible as the parasites they go after — even by the press. Very few clearly understand what is at stake. It is the same when it comes to World Cup spending. Contracts that are remade or reconsidered because of suspicions are seen as “more corruption” instead of “we dodged that bullet.” That is also why governments don’t insist in controversial plans and just give up.
Some are so naive that they think Brazil should be boycotted because it is spending. More than six million people from all over the planet tried to get tickets to the World Cup. Sorry, Carla Dauden.
Disinformation has been a big hindrance for Brazil to tackle its political problems. That is the root of corruption and bad governance. The level of the public debate is very low, almost primitive, except when big unions or a few bright lights are involved. It was high time we began being more vocal, despite all the newbie mistakes. But it is also that politically virgin hysteria that explains why it is so easy to find people who are comfortable to go to the cameras and say they don’t want the World Cup at the same time they try to buy tickets. Brazilians have a very ambivalent mindset, like Roger Cohen explains.
There is surely a fair and important debate about the need for new stadia. There is no reason to believe cities without big clubs like Cuiaba, Manaus or Brasilia will use them anytime soon. FIFA has said they can put a show with eight arenas and it was Brazil who insisted to have 12 host-cities — basically because of awkward political arrangements. But it is also true only the World Cup could put these places on the tourism map. And that can make services improve there. If that is not the case, as this post by Al Jazeera’s Gabriel Elizondo suggests, it can make their politicians more accountable.
The expensive stadia can actually make that happen.
Adding some perspective is almost the same of being in favor of corruption — mainly after the June protests. So far not much has changed for the better and Brazilians still think of themselves as the most corrupt country in the world (they haven’t heard Russia will spend US$ 50 billion in their Winter Olympics). Citizenship and self-awareness could well be other legacies of the World Cup, but it seems Brazil is going to miss that deadline too.
Let’s hope for better in the Rio Olympics in 2016.