Hundreds of thousands of citizens filled the streets of Brazil this week. Itís the kind of crowd youíd expect to see for the World Cup or Summer Olympic games, but those are still a year and three years away, respectively. Instead, this assembly was comprised of local protestors, calling for the government to make smarter financial decisions.
In particular, Brazilians are outraged at the amount of federal funds being allocated toward these upcoming international sporting events at the expense of the people. It would be one thing if the economy was thriving, but the government has otherwise instituted harsh austerity policies across the nation. Taxes and transportation fares have been raised significantly, while social services and education funding has been greatly slashed. These measures are not only further crippling the already impoverished, but also driving more Brazilians into poverty.
In anticipation of the World Cup, Brazil is constructing and/or remodeling several enormous stadiums. Initially, these projects were expected to cost about $3 billion (US), but more recent figures put the total estimate for World Cup infrastructure at nearly $14 billion (US). Moreover, citizens had been assured that private money would be utilized to fund these stadiums, yet those private benefactors never materialized: over 90% of the costs thus far have been covered with public money.
The Olympic projects are another giant expenditure in their own right. Though the common narrative is that the Olympics are a boon to the local economy, research routinely shows otherwise. The best some cities seem to be able to claim is that they broke even, while other cities are still paying their debts off decades after the Olympics.
Sure, some working class people will be hired for these events, but these jobs will only be temporary. Meanwhile, the money that comes in from tourism will largely fall into the hands of the already rich. Hosting international sporting events may provide a temporary source of pride for Brazilians, but maintaining hospitals, schools and an affordable cost of living are ultimately far more important to the nationís well-being. Besides, residents who canít afford a bus fare increase are also unlikely to be able to attend the World Cup or Olympics anyway.
Brazilian Carla Dauden eloquently explains her opposition to the sporting events. Her video has already attracted over half a million views in just one day.
To be fair, Brazil is not alone with its warped sports-over-people priorities. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel just closed over 50 public schools due to a budget deficit, yet then found the money to allocate $100 million to a new basketball arena.
Since Brazil has little precedent for protests of this size, it indicates the growing frustration and lack of faith the people have in its government. Smaller protests have occurred in Brazil for about a month now, but participation swelled to 100,000 in Sao Paulo alone on Monday. Several other cities around the country attracted large numbers, as well, including Brasilia, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, Belem and Curitiba.
The increased turnout has, in part, been credited to some highly publicized incidents of police brutality against unarmed protesters. In a country where citizens have long complained about the policeís ineffectiveness against preventing violence in the streets, it is especially maddening to see the police proceed to enact violence on peaceful dissenters. This brutality mirrors actions in other countries around the world where the police state attempts to violently enforce the status quo against a growing number of citizens who are looking for change.
Meanwhile, Brazilian officials probably canít wait for the World Cup to arrive. Thereís nothing like sports to distract people from politics and the world around them. Something tells me, however, that the Brazilian populace is much too aware to remain merely spectators in these decisions made about their lives.
Photo Credit: El Mundo Economia & Negocios