With no more World Cup distractions, other issues grab the spotlight in Brazil

From the inauguration of a politically charged favela cable car to the sacking of top newspaper O Globo's Rio editor, July was more than just soccer in Brazil.

Pilar Olivares/Reuters
A woman walks down a street in a housing complex at the Rocinha slum in Rio de Janeiro March 13, 2014.

• A version of this post ran on riorealblog.com. The views expressed are the author's own.

Brazil has long been a relatively closed, inward-looking country, with not much travel nor the consumption of imported consumer goods — nor widespread knowledge of foreign languages. This began to change about a decade ago. Hosting the World Cup this summer added impetus. Even for those who didn’t mix with the 900,000-odd tourists (half of whom were foreign – about the same number that comes for Carnival) in Maracanã, the South Zone, or in favelas, the World Cup connected Brazilians with more information about the rest of the world via electronic and print media. This may be the event’s best legacy.

But while the world was focused on the international soccer tournament, a lot happened behind the scenes, from cultural exchanges to political jockying. Here are a few snapshots:

Who knew?

A man from Bangladesh stood on the Copacabana beachfront sidewalk, looking out to sea. Asked which team he was rooting for, he plucked at his yellow Brazilian national team shirt. “We make these in my country,” he said, smiling.

Meanwhile, young passinho dancers performed all World Cup month in their Na Batalha show. They’ll be in New York this coming week, together with a screening of Emílio Domingo’s fabulous passinho dance documentary. O Globo newspaper fired its Rio editor, Gilberto Scofield, providing the perfect opportunity for some reflection on the paper's local coverage. And a hurried (and possibly illegal) public hearing was held, the day after the final game, on a $715 million federally funded upgrade program, PAC II, for the Rocinha favela.

Business boom or bust?

While prostitutes did a booming business in the South Zone, business elsewhere languished. In contrast to the citywide experience during last year’s Catholic youth event, with Pope Francis’ visit, World Cup tourism focused on the South Zone, a low-budgeter’s paradise — with the enormous FanFest screen in Copacabana, lots of cheap drinks and snacks, and the ocean for a bathroom. Rio’s Mayor Eduardo Paes was taken aback by the arrival of hundreds of Argentines in cars and motor homes, camping out in Leme. They were moved to the Sambódromo.

Aside from the Sambódromo, Maracanã stadium, and the traditional big screen in the Alzirão neighborhood, few tourists ventured into the West or North Zones. A considerable number found lodging in South Zone favelas such as Rocinha and Vidigal.

More shootings than tourists?

Cariocas living in Complexo do Alemão and Rocinha saw more shooting than they did tourists. One version of what went on in Rocinha is that drug traffickers, normally holed up at the top of a hill, moved down to watch World Cup games along with other residents –  something pacification police weren’t counting on. The Extra Newspaper reported yesterday that pacification police will no longer carry out night patrols – a decision that may have electoral aims, in a bid to bring down violence in pacified favelas until October gubernatorial election.

Protests and the reaction of police (who, along with the Brazilian army and navy, locked down the South Zone) followed a script. It was easy to see how things would go, weeks earlier, when journalists were invited to a training session. As a preventative [measure], police arrested those they suspected of organizing violence and/or protests for the day of the World Cup final, and then they cracked down on protesters in Tijuca’s Saens Peña square. Human rights activists are campaigning against what they say was an unconstitutional state of exception during the games.

They express concern over a continued lack of recourse against such police tactics, which at very least are certain to inhibit further street demonstrations. One would hope that not only will peaceful protests be allowed to take place, but that dissident Brazilians would also invest in the preparation of new leadership and in voter education, among other needs for a healthy democracy.


Earlier, the Providência favela cable car system, a political hot potato ready months before, was quietly inaugurated.

Political parties held conventions and chose their definitive gubernatorial candidates, who worked up some truly odd alliances, demonstrating the weakness of a democracy based more on personality and personal relationships, rather than on ideas and platforms. At the moment, former Governor Anthony Garotinho and former Sen. Marcelo Crivella lead the polls, tied at 24 percent. Incumbent Luiz Fernando “Pezão” de Souza stands at 14 percent, followed by Lindbergh Farias, at 12 percent. Notably, blank and annulled ballots total 23 percent of the vote right now.

This blogger’s guess is that Mr. Pezão’s share will grow over the next months, as he draws on his party’s political machine and campaign air time exposure.

As the Cup began, Pezão awarded public servant pay hikes totaling as much as $447 million a year. He stands to gain a great deal from the political machine he inherits from two-term former Governor Sérgio Cabral, who left the governorship to his vice-governor in April.

The campaign is sure to focus on pacification, the centerpiece of Mr. Cabral’s administration. Of the candidates, only Mr. Garotinho has no plans for continuity.

Another announcement overshadowed by soccer was that Rio’s state legislature, housed in a horrific building adjacent to Praça Quinze and the Paço Imperial, will move to new quarters near City Hall and the Operations Center, in Cidade Nova. The old building will be torn down and its neighboring Palácio Tiradentes (originally the national congress building) restored, creating a new waterside space, no longer sliced through by the recently demolished elevated highway.

During the World Cup, O Globo also reported that, of 64 state legislators, fifteen of them more than doubled their personal assets in the last four years.

And now come the Olympics, for which many World Cup tourists plan to return.

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