Renewed protests in Brazil against the upcoming FIFA World Cup have begun anew amidst growing anger with government spending. Two major roads into Sao Paulo were blocked by protesters who erected barricades and burnt tires, while others waved banners and hurled stones. Scuffles with police also broke out there and in Rio de Janeiro as the demonstrations began to disperse early in the evening.
This round of demonstrations, though smaller, echoes the previous call by protestors and social activists for the government to focus spending on social problems and infrastructure, particularly transit, instead of spending on arenas and other World Cup-related building projects. In February, over 1 million people joined demonstrations against government corruption and the high level of spending for the tournament. They cited health care and education as being amongst the needs of Brazilians instead of public money being used for stadiums.
The current round of protests, which included striking teachers and other civil servants, were likely inflamed by news that the stadium in Brasilia had reached costs of $900 million of government money, despite the fact that the city does not even play host to a major professional soccer team. The current level of spending for the FIFA World Cup has angered many in Brazil, leading to spreading protests against a government that initially claimed that all spending would be through private investment. The new report detailing cost over-runs in Brasilia suggested that almost one-third of that money was lost to corruption, while recent polls in Brazil have found that approximately 75 percent of people believe that there has been widespread corruption throughout the construction of the stadiums. In total, over $11 billion has been spent thus far.
While these protests have been smaller than last year, the organizers have said that they will grow larger and more frequent as the tournament, scheduled to begin on June 12, gets closer. These may serve as a test for the Brazilian government, as they will be under great pressure from FIFA to prevent any protests during the World Cup from affecting any of the celebrations or games scheduled to take place. Last year, during the popular Confederations Cup, over a million people again demonstrated against cost over-runs and corruption, with hundreds arrested and six killed.
The government, however, has suggested that the FIFA World Cup alone will net Brazil an additional $3 billion. Some of these stadiums will also be used to host events scheduled to take place in the country in the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, which they promise will further add to the coffers. In all, they claim, the potential return from World Cup construction may be as high as $180 billion.
The recent demonstrations in Brazil are not the only problems that have beset the preparations for the World Cup. Construction for 3 of the 12 stadiums is still ongoing despite the tournament opening in less than a month, and 8 people have died while working on these projects. Yet, while most Brazilians, and even many protestors, will be cheering on their national team to FIFA World Cup glory, concerns remain about the spreading protests and local police and armed forces will be on standby to try to contain any unrest during the event itself.
By Bryan A. Jones