The World Cup may be over, but its legacy of repression lives on, reflecting Brazil’s own legacy of military dictatorship.
There was one recurring chant that could be heard at all protests in Brazil during the 2014 World Cup, and no, it was not denouncing FIFA or repeating the popular hashtag #NaiVaiTerCopa – “There won’t be a cup”- instead, it called for the end of the military dictatorship.
The year 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the dictatorship that took leftist João Goulart out of power and installed a military regime. Twenty-one years later, the country transitioned to “democracy,” but many of its residents say that they have yet to reap any benefits. Ironically Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, who represents the PT – Worker’s Party, is a former leftist guerilla and torture survivor from the dictatorship. But her critics say “she sold her soul to FIFA,” and the extravagant World Cup increased a repressive security operandi that curtailed basic civil rights, displaced Brazil’s poorest citizens from their communities and doled out lucrative contracts to corporations born in the dictatorship.
“Pacifying” the Favelas
As the world’s eyes were glued to the screen for the Chile-Spain game on June 18, 2014, the police killed yet another young black man in Rio de Janeiro’s low-income hillside communities known as favelas. Residents of the Manguinhos favela, located a mere 4 miles from the Maracanã Stadium, said that the Urban Pacification Police shot and killed 25-year-old Afonso Mauricio Linhares, while he was acting as a referee for a street soccer game. His death caused barely a blip in the press, and what was much more noteworthy was that a group of Chilean fans tried to break into the nearby stadium, knocking down the media center’s walls. A few days later, a gunfight erupted in the Complexo do Alemao favela, between the residents and police, leaving a death toll of one officer and two teenagers.
During the first decade of the 21st century, it was estimated that Rio’s police forces killed over 1,000 people per year, the majority poor young black men. In 2009, Rio’s public secretary, José Mariano Beltrame, decided to adopt a new strategy to install the Urban Pacification Police (UPP) in communities throughout the city. To date they have a presence in 38 favelas and are expanding.
“In the past, the police would go, they would fight the traffickers and they would leave,” Beltrame commented in an interview with NPR. The strategy of the UPP is to “wipe-out” criminal groups with the invasion of military soldiers and military police and then the establishment of a permanent presence with so-called community policing units. The strikingly high statistics of police murders have actually decreased since the implementation of the UPP, but residents still complain about members’ presence, which they view as an occupying force.
Two months before the start of the World Cup, military troops entered the Maré, a large complex of favelas in the northern part of Rio de Janeiro. “As we get closer to the mega-events, the favelas start to be militarized; the UPP, Army, National Forces all enter so that they can sell the idea that we are a tranquil people who live in peace,” remarked journalist Gizele Martins Además to Truthout. She is an editor for the community newspaper, ‘O Cidadão, in the Maré, and asked why the government wages wars on their citizens by viewing the city as a “battle for territory.”
“Parties in the stadiums aren’t worth tears in the favelas” proclaimed activists days after the murders of these young boys in the favelas. Gathering in the favela Chapéu-Mangueira, situated just above Rio’s fanciest beachfront neighborhood, Copacabana, residents denounced police violence and called for an increase of social services. Portraits of murdered young black men emblazoned shirts, and posters demanded investigations into their deaths and an end to the militarization of the favelas.
“I am here to demand justice in the name of my son, in the name of all the youth who’ve been killed,” stated Ana Paula Gomes de Oliveira, mother of 19-year-old Jonathan de Oliveira Lima, who was killed by the Manguinhos UPP in May. Speaking before the crowd she added, “I am here to shout that the favelas cannot be silenced. I am convinced that united, the favelas will not be conquered.”
On the wall, children painted jerseys emblazoned with the names of murdered favela residents, including 10 people who were murdered during a police operation in Maré a year earlier and Cláudia Silva Ferreira, a 38-year-old, Afro-Brazilian mother caught in a police shootout in March, 2014, whose dead body was dragged behind the police’s patrol car, brutally documented in a video that went viral.
The graffiti piece also featured the name of Amarildo Souza Lima, who was a bricklayer in the Rocinha favela and was taken into police custody in July, 2013, and never seen again. The police say he was released, yet surveillance footage of the police station shows that he never emerged, and his wife says he has never returned home. His disappearance was a harrowing throwback to the 400-plus political disappearances of the dictatorship that the government has still not addressed to this day.
According to a study by Fábio Araújo, a sociologist at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, 91,807 people have gone missing in the state of Rio de Janeiro in the post-dictatorship years of 1991 until May 2013. With all the media attention that Brazil received for its sporting mega events, the case of Amarildo received a little more media attention and mobilized Brazilians from all walks of life to participate in an Amnesty International campaign asking “Where’s Amarildo?”
“The way the [police] work is violent and against their own rules, the Brazilian Constitution, civil and criminal code. The violence isn’t correct. It’s a clear heritage of the dictatorship,” commented Favela activist Filipe dos Anjos in an interview with Truthout during the favela protest. He went on to comment that the post dictatorship transition to democracy is “false” and has failed to guarantee basic rights to its citizens.
To increase visibility of these issues, protestors took to the main Atlantica Avenue of Copacabana in front of the FIFA-sponsored Fan Fest. Some participants laid crosses in the sand honoring those who have been killed, and others passed out fliers demanding the freedom of Rafael Braga Vieira. Braga Viera is a black, 25-year-old homeless man, who is serving 5 years in prison for the alleged crime of “carrying explosives without authorization,” In an interview with Amnesty International, Braga Viera said he didn’t even attend the large protests that took place in the center of Rio de Janeiro on June 20th, 2013, during the Confederation Cups games and was instead apprehended by police when he was leaving an abandoned building where he spent the night. The supposed explosives were two plastic bottles of cleaning materials he carried in his backpack.
Amnesty International and various local human rights group have denounced this kind of arbitrary detention. A report called, “They Use a Strategy of Fear: Protecting the Right to Protest in Brazil,” documented various human rights violations including excessive use of force and “less-lethal” weapons. Amnesty International also criticized the use of Brazil’s National Security Law, which is left over from the military dictatorship and is meant to target organized crime, but has been used against protesters.
Simultaneously, while activists demanded freedom for Briga Viara en Rio de Janeiro, two protestors, Fábio Hideki Harano and Rafael Marques Lusvarghi, were detained by police in Sao Paolo for allegedly “possessing illegal weapons, resisting arrest, conspiring to commit crimes, “inciting crime,” and “disobeying police authority.” Their lawyers have stated that the incriminating evidence was planted on them. They are still in police custody two weeks later and Human Rights Watch has demanded that the police conduct a proper investigation into their detention and called for their immediate release if the police cannot provide credible evidence.
Members of the press have also suffered from police repression, with one photographer, Sergio Silva, losing one eye during 2013’s Confederation Cups protest, and during the protest of the World Cup kickoff game, a CNN producer was shot in the arm with a stun grenade. “We are issuing military police in Sao Paulo with a yellow card for attacking peaceful protesters instead of guaranteeing the right to protest and the safety of the participants,” said Atila Roque, director of Amnesty International Brazil, playing off of soccer penalty lingo while denouncing the repression during opening day of the cup.”
Police pre-emptively arrested 19 activists and media makers under vandalism charges one day before the protests planned in Rio de Janeiro for the final game of the cup. The protest on July 13, right before the Argentina-Germany game, led to the beating and breaking of the camera lens of several local and international journalists.
Brazilian Minister for Human Rights Maria do Rosario Nunes has publicly stated that Brazil inherited its police model from the dictatorship. “The manuals with which the police are trained, and the way they deal with people in the demonstrations and on the streets are remnants of that regime,” added Rosario Nunes. Additionally, Brazil has approved various laws, which further limit people’s right to protest, including the World Cup law.
“Indeed, it seems that despite being led by President Dilma Rousseff, who was herself tortured during the dictatorship, the state machinery still retains a military mindset, viewing even the most peaceful protest as a threat,” remarked Thomas Hughes, executive director of Press Freedom Group Article 19. In their report, Brazil’s Own Goal, Article 19, documented police intentionally preventing people from filming their actions and engaged in online and cellular surveillance of protestors. According to the think tank New America Foundation and other independent reports, Brazil has spent between $850 and $900 million on security for the World Cup, and its arsenal includes tens of thousands of officers outfitted in Robotype gear, US military bomb-disposal robots, Israeli drones, facial recognition goggles, high-tech surveillance helicopters, digital command centers, and plenty of tear gas, stun grenades, pepper spray and rubber bullets. Brazil has no formal protocol for the use of many of these weapons, thus leading to a never-ending list of human rights violations that shed light on the protesters’ popular chant against the dictatorship.
Reaping World Cup Profits
The dictatorship’s legacy does not just manifest itself in repression but also in the profits reaped from the World Cup. This year’s World Cup was the most costly in history, clocking in at over $11 billion. Brazilian’s government promised that taxpayers would not be bankrolling the extravagant stadiums, but a report by independent outlet Publica shows that at least $4.8 billion came from the public coffers. Odebrecht is Latin America’s largest builder and beefed up their company during the military dictatorship. They have donated millions of dollars to Roussef’s presidential campaign and won the contract to build or renovate four of the World Cup stadiums. Two workers died due to the poor labor conditions created by the rushed construction. Obedrecht will once again rake it in in the future Summer Olympics, which will take place in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.
Carioca’s, the local term for residents of Rio de Janeiro, who were saved from repression and displacement during the World Cup, may not be so lucky second time around. The residents of one community, Vila Autodromo, which is situated next to the future Olympic Park, have been resisting their forced removal for the construction of athletes’ housing. They have developed alternative development plans emphasizing the kind of social services their community needs and vindicating their right to remain in their homes. One resident who preferred to remain anonymous following a slew of negative press about the community, explained how many of the residents had arrived at Vila Autodromo in the times of the dictatorship, escaping political repression in their towns across the republic and sought exile in this small fishermen’s town. Half of the houses in the community have already been torn down, and the cranes soar nearby building new stadiums.
“Everything we have here, we constructed ourselves, including the water, roads and sanitation system,” explained the Vila Autodromo resident. She added that they are citizens just like all other Cariocas. “We have the right to the city; we have the right to the benefits of the Olympic games. The Olympic games have to be for everybody, because it will be paid by us. We want the legacy of the Olympics to be a better life for all the workers and residents of the city.”
Brazilians have a long road ahead of them to not only escape the military dictatorship’s shadows but also pave a path where the country’s lower and darker classes aren’t relegated to second-class citizenship. As the Olympic cranes litter the sky of Rio de Janeiro, Caricoas will continue to fight repression and displacement and demand that the services of “world-class cities” also be provided to those that live within them.
The stakes have never been higher (and our need for your support has never been greater).
For over two decades, Truthout’s journalists have worked tirelessly to give our readers the news they need to understand and take action in an increasingly complex world. At a time when we should be reaching even more people, big tech has suppressed independent news in their algorithms and drastically reduced our traffic. Less traffic this year has meant a sharp decline in donations.
The fact that you’re reading this message gives us hope for Truthout’s future and the future of democracy. As we cover the news of today and look to the near and distant future we need your help to keep our journalists writing.
Please do what you can today to help us keep working for the coming months and beyond.