A fellow Mission Intern contacted me on Facebook about the protests that have occurred here over the last few months. She wanted to get my take on them. I had wanted to do a blog post about them so I used our conversation to gather my thoughts. What I thought would only be one small post has quickly expanded into a multipart series entitled, “Brasil is Speaking”. This is part II. Be sure to check out part I . Part III will be coming next Monday.
As most people know Brazil is going to host the World Cup next year and the Olympics in 2016. The World Cup is a BIG fat deal here. Everytime Brazil plays a World Cup game there will be a Federal holiday. Nobody will go to work those days, everyone will stay home and watch the games. It will be a federal felony to ask your workers to come into work those days. The Olympics are being over shadowed by the World Cup except in Rio where they are taking place. There you see a tad more excitement about the Olympics but nowhere near the energy you see with the World Cup. Maybe that will change after the World Cup is over.
I have heard more than one person here question why the government is spending millions of realis and dollars on the World Cup and Olympics when basic public goods are in shambles. Buses are only the tip of the iceberg. Part of the reason the organization I work for exists is because Brazilian public schools only have school for 4 hours a day that are horribly overcrowded. (Middle class children are sent to private schools.) The local government in my county voted to raise city council salaries by 300% and cut public school teacher’s salaries by 100%. Public universities, however, are completely free and the best in the nation but also are insanely selective, to the point that very few publicly educated children can get into them. The health system here is a mess. There is public health care but there aren’t enough doctors. As a result, you can get emergency care but routine care or exams have a waiting list of months. For example, it took my coworker 6 months to get a mammogram when her doctor found a lump in her breast.
Sporting events such as the World Cup and Olympics are incredibly costly and often put their host countries into major debt. In my opinion, it was a very shrewd economic and political move on the part the Brazilian government to host both the World Cup and the Olympics. Mostly because they are able to spread out the cost of hosting the Olympics by hosting the World Cup. In addition, Brazilians are psyched for the World Cup. The government will hopefully be able to use the good will and energy of Brazilians from the World Cup during the Olympics.
But that still does not answer for the people of Brazil why the government is using tax money (30% of people’s incomes) to build stadiums and host sporting events when children aren’t being educated well and decent timely healthcare is expensive. The protests are an expression of the anger Brazilians have felt for a while over this. The question that I have heard voiced in a variety of contexts from a range of people is: why are we building first world stadiums when we have third world education and health care?
There have been calls for people to boycott the World Cup and the Olympics. I find the requests for a boycott of the World Cup hilarious. Brazilians could no more boycott the World Cup than they could boycott breathing. There is a counter counting down the days till the World Cup in on of the main squares of Belo Horizonte. It has been there since before I got here. I think the call is for foreigners to boycott the World Cup and Olympics. But I am not sure how that will help “punish” the government for mismanagement of the finances. Most of the money from the World Cup will go to FIFA or the private companies that now own the stadiums. With the Olympics, it is a foregone conclusion that they will most likely be a loss for Brazil. Historically, a host of the Olympics is doing well to break even.