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.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff signed an Internet Bill of Rights into law yesterday—the first of its kind in the world. The new bill ensures the privacy of its users by restricting the amount of metadata that can be collected and also prohibits companies from restricting certain services by requiring the user to pay more, such as paying additional amounts for access to videos or email
Since its proposal in 2009, hundreds of individuals and organizations, including Google and Facebook, have supported and contributed to the content of the law. After over three years in the Chamber of Deputies, the bill moved to the Senate where it was approved on Monday. Following the signing of the new bill, President Rousseff delivered a speech at the NetMundial conference in São Paulo where she said, “The rights that people have off-line should also be protected on-line.” Participants at the forum represented 85 different countries and discussed the future of the internet. The conference was co-hosted with the U.S. and ten other countries.
One of the participants, Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, encouraged other countries to follow Brazil’s lead, stating that they should “develop positive laws that protect and expand the rights of users in an open, free and universal Web.”
Tensions rose last September after the Wikileaks revealed that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) was spying on foreign governments, including Brazil. As a result, Rousseff canceled a trip to the U.S. and requested action to require companies hosting data to Brazilians to do so from with-in Brazil.
The Brazilian government sent 2,500 troops to the city of Salvador on Wednesday after a police strike led to looting and attacks on public transportation. Salvador, the capital of the northeastern state of Bahia, is set to host six matches during the World Cup this June.
The police strike, over higher pay and better working conditions, began on Tuesday. Marco Prisco, president of the Police and Firefighters Association of Bahia state, said the police will end the strike when Bahia’s government responds to their demands. 27,000 police officers, represented by six unions, joined the strike after nine months of unsuccessful talks with the state government.
Bahia Governor Jaques Wagner’s request for assistance from the military was authorized by President Dilma Rousseff, said the defense ministry.
This is not the first time that the Brazilian government has sent troops to Salvador. In 2012, a 12-day police strike led to an increase in murders and violence, with at least 80 homicides registered during the strike. The defense ministry has said it will send more troops to the city if they are needed.
In anticipation of the 2014 World Cup, the Brazilian government enacted a policy to have special units of police occupy favelas in Rio de Janeiro. As of last week, one of Rio’s most dangerous shanty towns, Complexo da Maré, was taken over by close to 3,000 Brazilian troops. The shift—from using the elite Unidade de Policia Pacificadora (Police Pacifying Unit—UPP) forces to bringing in the military—marks a new stage of Brazil’s “pacification” policy. Up until now, the UPP had been responsible for sweeping and occupying the favelas.
Many of Rio’s 1,000 favelas are controlled by criminal groups like the Comando Vermelho (Red Command) and the Terceiro Comando Puro (Third Command), which are embroiled in a battle to control more of the city. Turf wars between rival gangs have consistently led to high levels of violence and crime. Brazil is fraught with crack cocaine use, and ranks second in consumer use of the drug and its derivatives. The country also has one of the highest homicide rates in the world.
To add to this, criminal gangs in Brazilian cities do not have a problem attacking law enforcement. For example, in 2009, a police helicopter was riddled with bullets by gangs from the Morro de Macaco favela. In order to control such aggressions, the government has increased the firepower of armed forces.
Before, when police were attacked, the UPP would be sent in. Now, when the UPP is attacked, the military is sent in. Consequently, Brazil’s policy toward its favelas has become increasingly militarized.
Brazil’s Minister of Ports, Antônio Henrique Pinheiro Silveira stopped in Washington, D.C. last week on his hemispheric road-show to present the details of Brazil’s latest port modernization efforts. In June of 2013, the Brazilian government passed new regulatory reform laws for ports, in hopes of modernizing current infrastructure, increasing efficiencies and driving competition.
Since 2005, Brazil has experienced a boom in commodity exports such as soy, sugar, meat, coffee, tobacco, orange juice, and minerals. Much of this demand stems from China, who became Brazil’s largest trading partner in 2012. But the outdated ports and other trade infrastructure in Brazil has become a hindrance to economic growth.
The private sector is concerned about the bottlenecks in Brazil’s trade infrastructure as well as the costs in getting products to the global markets. One of the biggest problems facing exporters in Brazil is the country’s reliance on trucks and poor highway systems to connect goods to ports. In 2013, a truck gridlock stretched for 31 miles outside of Santos, a major port in São Paulo that accounts for 25 percent of all agricultural exports. A lack of railway and waterway infrastructure forces companies to rely on a limited number of roads to transport goods from farms and mines to the ships at port.
Another obstacle for the private sector is port capacity. There is rising demand for additional ports and terminal capacity in states like Pará, home of the Amazon River basin. As the Panama Canal upgrades are completed, Pará is will be a key port for increased trade in the north.
Thirty executives from a dozen international companies were charged on Tuesday with price-fixing during the construction and maintenance of subway and train systems in São Paulo, Brasilia, Belo Horizonte, Porto Alegre and Rio de Janeiro. The companies named by the São Paulo State Prosecutor's Office include Siemens of Germany, CAF of Spain, and Alstom of France, among others.
Investigations into the allegations began last week, when Brazil's Conselho Administrativo de Defesa Econômica (Administrative Council for Economic Defense—CADE) accused the companies of forming a cartel to fix the prices of the construction projects. According to CADE, the 18 companies were involved in 15 projects valued at $4 billion from 1998 to 2013, with contracts in the Brazilian Federal District and the states of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Minas Gerais and Rio Grande do Sul. According to CADE’s investigations, the companies allegedly prearranged prices through bidding and bribing officials to secure the contracts.
Bombardier and Siemens have said they will cooperate with the investigations. Brazilian judges still have to decide if they will accept the charges and bring the executives to trial. The companies named in the investigation will present their defense at an undisclosed date.
Two-thirds of the 345,000 remaining World Cup tickets were sold within three hours of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA)’s final sales phase on Wednesday.
Tickets were made available for 60 of the 64 World Cup matches set to take place in June and July. The fastest selling tickets were to Brazil matches, followed by games for England, Germany, and the United States. Countries with the most purchases were Brazil (143,085), the United States (16,059), Australia (5,357), Colombia (4,574), and Argentina (3,800). Due to the influx of online customers, fans had to wait almost an hour in some cases to place their virtual purchases. Ticket sales will close on April 1 and a final round of last-minute ticket sales will open on April 15.
Prior to the final sales phase, 2.3 million of the total 3.3 million tickets had already been sold and distributed, including all tickets to the opening and closing matches in São Paulo and at Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana, as well as the semifinals.
Brazil passed the 100 days to the World Cup mark last Monday and currently is still awaiting final construction on three of its stadiums. The ninth World Cup stadium, Arena da Amazônia, was inaugurated on Sunday, leaving Itaquerão, the Arena Pantanal, and the Arena da Baixada stadiums in São Paulo, Cuiabá and Curitiba, respectively, to be finished.
When world leaders recently gathered in Switzerland to discuss the future of Syria last week, Brazil's foreign minister, Luiz Alberto Figueiredo, was in the northeastern city of Natal to participate in the inauguration ceremony of a soccer stadium. He had rejected an invitation to join the peace conference.
A day later, one of Brazil's major newspapers asked Figueiredo for an extensive interview focusing exclusively on the crisis in Syria, which would have allowed the new foreign minister to lay out Brazil's vision to the public. Once again, the minister declined the offer.
At the Munich Security Conference a week later, Brazil was the only large economy without a single participant. Figueiredo, who replaced the brilliant but hapless Antonio Patriota after a diplomatic crisis last year, has been strikingly invisible in the public debate.
President Dilma Rousseff is the main culprit. Obsessive in her drive to centralize decision-making, the president regards foreign policy as a minefield of little use in her bid for re-election. She has surrounded herself by uninspiring yes-men, at least one of whom—Education Minister Aloízio Mercadante—may actively undermine Itamaraty's standing in Brasília.
The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (International Federation of Association Football—FIFA) warned officials in the Brazilian city of Curitiba on Tuesday that it could be excluded as a host site of the 2014 World Cup if preparations remain behind schedule.
FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke said that renovation of the 43,000-capacity Arena da Baixada stadium is so far behind schedule that it represents an “emergency situation.” FIFA will decide on February 18 whether to keep Curitiba, the capital of Paraná state, as a host city. The Paraná state government and FIFA have pledged to invest an extra $17 million in the renovations to speed up progress.
Curitiba’s stadium is one of six venues in Brazil that missed FIFA’s December 31 deadline for completion and are still not tournament-ready. Arena da Baixada is scheduled to host its first World Cup match between Iran and Nigeria on June 16, as well as Spain vs. Australia, Honduras vs. Ecuador, and Algeria vs. Russia.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff defended the country’s preparedness for the World Cup earlier this month, saying via Twitter, “We love soccer, and that’s why we’ll host this Cup with pride and make it the Cup of Cups.” President Rousseff was responding to an interview with FIFA President Sepp Blatter published by the Swiss newspaper 24 Heures, in which Blatter claimed that the South American nation failed to begin preparations for the mega-tournament early enough.