For the past month, I have been working in Brazil providing production services for international broadcasters covering the World Cup. Twelve Brazilian different cities hosted the tournament, which began on June 12 in São Paulo, and 32 nations from all over the globe participated—bringing hordes of players, fans and reporters to remote parts of Brazil that had never heard their languages or seen their flags before.
I traveled to six of these host cities by air and road, and witnessed just how vast and versatile this country of 200 million people really is—and I didn't even see the half of it.
My four-week journey began in the northeastern city of Natal, capital of Rio Grande do Norte, where I flew into the new São Gonçalo do Amarante–Governador Aluízio Alves International Airport. The privately-owned terminal had been inaugurated a week before our arrival. Its tall ceilings and glass façade were beautiful and modern, with curvy windows that reflected the light from the afternoon sunset. Our 12 pieces of luggage arrived promptly and the employees were helpful and courteous.
However, the airport is far from Natal’s city center, and street signs and pavement were absent at several points along the 20 mile (32 km) route. My taxi driver complained that the airport only had one entry, and cursed the new structure and the World Cup for making the local airport twice as distant as the old one.
On July 15, the leaders of the five BRICS countries—Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa—will convene in Fortaleza, Brazil. This will mark the sixth official meeting between the member nations since the creation of the group in 2009.
Only two days after the final of the World Cup, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has the opportunity to extend the global spotlight on her country by hosting the BRICS leaders.
For Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, this will mark his first visit to Brazil and only his second international tour since entering office in May—so Indians will be listening closely to hear his public stance on various issues. Chinese President Xi Jinping will also be making his first trip to Brazil, though he is in no way a stranger to Latin America, an important source of raw materials for China and target for foreign direct investment. Russian President Vladimir Putin will likely be thankful for the change in landscape after receiving such negative attention from the West for Russia’s policies toward the Ukraine. And President Jacob Zuma of South Africa is hopeful that the sixth Summit will produce results that were envisioned in the fifth meeting he hosted last year in Durban.
Brazil was routed 7-1 by Germany during yesterday’s World Cup semifinal match in Belo Horizonte, marking the South American nation’s biggest defeat in the history of the tournament. Neymar Jr., Brazil’s star player, was out of the lineup with a fractured vertebrae from Friday’s physical clash with Colombia. But more than their striker, the seleção sorely missed team captain and defensive leader Thiago Silva, who received a second yellow card on Friday and was prohibited from playing against Germany.
In Silva’s absence, Brazil’s back line looked scattered, allowing four German players to score five goals in the first 30 minutes alone—sending a shock to the country that has won more World Cup trophies (5) than any other team. Following the game, President Dilma Rousseff said on Twitter, “I am immensely sorry for all of us,” and Brazilian coach Luiz Scolari said in a post-game interview that “It was the worst day of my life.”
Dilma will be feeling the pressure as Brazil’s attention turns from the World Cup to the presidential elections in October. Rousseff’s opposition, centrist candidate Aécio Neves, is currently polling at 20 percent, well below the president’s 38 percent voter support. But that margin could become slimmer if Brazilians’ frustration with the $11 billion price tag for hosting the tournament boils over into more protests like those that gripped several Brazilian cities during last summer’s Confederations Cup and immediately preceding this summer’s World Cup.
With the second round of the World Cup soccer tournament concluded the main storylines have been the success of teams from the Americas, the early exit of previous stalwarts England, Italy and Spain, the relatively high number of goals, and—at least in the United States—the sudden realization that soccer actually has a strong and passionate following. The dog that hasn’t barked? The pre-tournament meme about Brazil’s unpreparedness to host such a large event and the crime and street protests which were to have shut down various venues. Clearly, that’s not proven out. With two weeks to go, some commentators are already wondering aloud whether this will be the most successful World Cup of all time.
That may be a bit dramatic, but the signs are encouraging. Problems exist, of course, as they do in every major global event, and big questions about cost and legacy of the tournament will be asked by Brazilians themselves after the tournament concludes. Most observers, however, now seem to be content to enjoy Brazil’s famous hospitality and the joy of the beautiful game at the highest international level.
And what a competition it’s been. Goalies have stolen the show. The U.S.’ Tim Howard, Mexico’s Memo Ochoa, Brazil’s Júlio César, Costa Rica’s Keylor Navas, and others have become international celebrities as a result of their acrobatic, gravity-defying saves. Nonetheless, more goals have already been scored to this point in the tournament this year than were scored in the full 2010 tournament, and that has made the games suspenseful and fun to watch.
As Team U.S.A. took the pitch today in Recife for what might be its final World Cup match, some other Brazilian cities were already turning off the lights on their newly built stadiums now that the tournament is halfway over.
Here in Manaus last night, the final crowds exited the still-shiny $300 million Arena da Amazônia after the Honduras-Switzerland match, bringing a close to the biggest event that ever has—and likely ever will—come to the Amazon rainforest. With no more matches scheduled here or in Cuiabá, Natal, and Curitiba, public scrutiny is now turning to what will become of these mega-investments.
“It’s not economical, it’s not good for the country,” said Kelson Eugenio, sitting inside the stadium yesterday with his eight-year-old son and suggesting the money could have been better spent on education. “At the same time, soccer is soccer. We’re taking advantage of the World Cup being here.”
Brazil’s government is still trying hard to sell the event to a skeptical public—and time is running out, with the final match scheduled for July 13. Some long-term benefits to the event’s $11.3 billion price tag are already visible, such as new infrastructure, a jump in tourism, and a boost to businesses. Others are less apparent, like the government’s claim that $6 billion in new investment has been promised by visiting businesspeople, or the specialized training for Brazilian security and police.
Strikes loom over two of Brazil's largest cities on the eve of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, which begins this afternoon. Airline workers in Rio de Janeiro started a partial strike on Wednesday night that continues today, and transit workers in São Paulo—the site of the opening match—had threatened to strike today but called decided not to late last night.
Airline union workers in Rio de Janeiro are demanding a pay raise as well as a bonus for working during the month of the World Cup. Only 20 percent of airline workers are expected be on strike in an effort to avoid a fine they would be required to pay if more than 80 percent of union workers failed to show up for work. Meanwhile, the flights for the 554,000 visitors headed to Rio are not expected to be affected.
In São Paulo, subway workers suspended a 48-hour strike for higher wages on Monday after being pressured by the government, but threatened to strike again on Thursday if the 42 workers who were fired for vandalism and misconduct on Monday were not hired back. And though a vote by 1,500 of the workers late last night called off today’s strike, a smaller march is still planned for those who were laid off. "We get the feeling that maybe we aren't as prepared for a full confrontation with police on the day the World Cup starts," said union president Altino Prazeres.
Meanwhile, in a statement during prime-time television Tuesday night, President Dilma Rousseff assured Brazilians that the country is ready to host the World Cup and defended the investment in the games—which totaled $11 billion—stating that between 2010 and 2013 the government invested 212 times more than that amount—$762 billion—in education and health care.
Brazil is scheduled to face off against Croatia in the Corinthians stadium in São Paulo today, and the first game in Rio de Janeiro will take place between Argentina and Bosnia and Herzegovina on Sunday.
Today, the eyes of the world will descend upon Brazil as the country hosts the opening match of the 2014 World Cup.
The Brazil v. Croatia match will be held in São Paulo's new Arena de Corinthians, known by its nickname "Itaquerão." The opening ceremony will include performances by Jennifer Lopez, Pitbull and local artist Claudia Leite.
As the country's star players warmed up in the Teresópolis compound in Rio this week, the atmosphere near the São Paulo stadium was heating up. Striking subway workers shut down many parts of this already congested city, leaving thousands stranded. Landless workers belonging to the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Teto (Homeless Workers Movement—MTST) camped out nearby, and groups opposed to government overspending vowed that "there won't be a Cup."
From the beginning, a dark cloud loomed over Itaquerão, the future home of São Paulo's popular Corinthians soccer club. In late 2013, a crane collapsed on part of the stadium, killing three workers and delaying construction. The multi-million dollar stadium was officially inaugurated last May, during a match between Corinthians and Figueirense of Florianópolis. The home team was defeated 0-1, and some hardcore fans claimed the grounds were cursed.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said on Wednesday that the host nation’s trouble with World Cup preparations are normal. “Everywhere in the world these big engineering projects always go down to the wire,” she told reporters at the presidential palace. Responding to criticism about unfinished stadiums and delayed infrastructure projects, including transport systems in Cuiabá, Salvador and Recife, Dilma said the delays reflected “the cost of our democracy.”
With eight days before the World Cup kicks off in São Paulo, the threat of a new round of anti-government protests loom over the tournament. More than a million Brazilians took to the streets during last summer’s Confederations Cup—a prelude to the World Cup—to protest corruption, fare hikes for public transport, and excessive public spending.
Anticipating renewed unrest that may once again turn violent, Dilma said that the government “fully guarantees people’s security,” and said that thousands of extra police and military forces would be deployed to ensure that protests do not affect World Cup matches.
Other members of Dilma’s administration do not share her optimism. Brazilian Public Minister Rodrigo Janot announced earlier this week that the government would create a “Crisis Cabinet” to monitor any future protests during the World Cup and address “excesses” on the part of either protesters or security forces during public protests.
For a debate on whether mega sports events like the World Cup contribute to the economic development of the countries that host them, click here.
With 21 days left before the World Cup begins, Brazilian bus drivers have gone on strike—shutting down terminals across São Paulo—while thousands of police are striking in 14 of Brazil’s 26 states and smaller protests are cropping up across the country.
In São Paulo, Brazil’s most populous city with over 20 million inhabitants, over half of the city’s 28 bus terminals are closed due to the strikes. The bus strike began on Tuesday with 300 drivers marching to the the mayor’s office to demand a meeting with São Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad. Bus drivers are demanding a salary increase that surpasses the 10 percent increase agreement reached by their union, which they have rejected as insufficient. The Rio de Janeiro police force joined them yesterday, launching a 24 hour strike to call for a salary increase of their own.
Police strikes and protests are a particular concern to officials, since six of the 14 states where strikes are occurring (Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Minas Gerais, Bahia, Pernambuco, and Amazonas) are scheduled to hold World Cup games next month.
As the chaos continues, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s government continues its efforts to calm the protests. “We hope common sense prevails, that as the World Cup approaches these protests will diminish,”said Secretary General Gilberto Carvalho.
Brazil is betting on an eventual opening in Cuba. The bet is more than economic; it’s linked directly to a larger geopolitical project intended to draw Cuba toward its own model of economic and political organization as Cuba wakes up from its 55-year slumber under the Castro regime.
The process has already started with a series of market-oriented reforms initiated by Raúl Castro—brother to Fidel—and will only accelerate with the passing of the octogenarian Castro brothers and their guerrilla field comrades. Unfortunately, as Brazil engages in a wise game of hemispheric chess, the U.S. is playing solitaire: the result of the self-imposed embargo that has prevented economic, diplomatic and even routine contact with an island 90 miles away from the United States.
In the last five years, Brazil financed the majority of the $957 million deep water Mariel port project in the northwest of the island built by infrastructure giant Odebrecht. The port, and the 180-square-mile free-trade and development zone that surrounds it, is intended to service wide draft ships that will be able to pass through the expanded Panama Canal—a requirement that many U.S. ports won’t be able to meet when the updated canal completes its expansion by 2015. And it’s only the beginning. Recently, when he was in the country to tour the facility, former President of Brazil Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva announced the acquisition of the iconic beer company Bucanero by the Brazilian beer giant, InBev, and there is talk that Brazil’s recent investments in Cuba’s Mariel port facility and free trade zone are only the tip of the iceberg.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.