Image from Twitter user Bruno Ernica taken in Rio de Janeiro, June 17, 2013
By Han Shan
Over the last few days, Brazil has been rocked with massive street protests, reportedly the largest the country has seen for twenty years. On the eve of the opening of the FIFA Confederations Cup this past weekend, police violently cracked down on a demonstration called to protest bus fare hikes.
As Global Voices reports, the protests that have shaken Brazil this week, and led many to draw parallels with protests in Turkey, are bigger than the bus fare hikes that were the initial spark:
Since last year, many protests were launched against bus fare inflation and inadequate public transportation in the country, but these latest protests have more coordination and strength. With the beginning of the Confederations Cup this week, an event which comes before the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, protesters are taking to the streets to demonstrate their dissatisfaction with the country’s infrastructure and the massive amount of public money spent on mega sport events.
And The Nation writer Dave Zirin notes: “This isn’t a movement against sports. It’s against the use of sports as a neoliberal Trojan horse. It’s a movement against sports as a cudgel of austerity.”
In this spirit, Rio de Janeiro residents affected by forced evictions staged a “People’s Cup” on Saturday June 15, with teams representing different communities that have been displaced or are threatened with displacement. (See results of who won the People’s Cup in this article.)
The Guardian’s Jonathan Watts attended Saturday’s People’s Cup and filed a must-read report yesterday:
Instead of the World Cup success story of new stadiums, corporate sponsors and wealthy football stars, [the People’s Cup] is a protest event staged in a run-down community centre, backed by civil rights groups and played out by those who feel the 2014 finals and 2016 Olympics are being used to push them further down the social lower divisions.
The event was a foretaste of the widespread protests that have hit Brazil. On Monday (June 17), more than 100,000 people took to the streets across the country to protest against the high costs of the World Cup and poor public services.
The People’s Cup brings together teams from communities that are threatened with relocation by the sporting, transport and housing developments that are now under way in preparation for the upcoming sporting events….
“This is football as a form of protest. We want to remind people that the authorities are using the World Cup and the Olympics to make illegal changes to the city,” says Mario Capagnani, who is among the organisers from the Comite Popular Copa e Olimpíados.
The article cites a press release WITNESS issued last week to highlight forced evictions taking place in Brazil, as well as around the world, with mega-events like the World Cup and Olympics as one driver of these abuses. The statistics are staggering: 170,000 Brazilians are at risk of losing – or have already lost – their homes in forced evictions tied to preparations for the World Cup and Olympics. And an estimated 15 million people globally are forcibly uprooted from their homes each year.
Also on Saturday, Brazilian native and United Nations Special Rapporteur on adequate housing Raquel Rolnik released a statement with the headline “Brazil: championing football… but what about housing?” In it she says:
I acknowledge that mega sporting events can be an opportunity to enhance access to adequate housing. However, past experience has shown that these events often result in forced evictions, displacement, sweeping operations against the homeless and a general augmentation of the cost of adequate housing.
WITNESS’ Human Rights Channel today published this playlist of videos from the last week+ of protests. It’s a worthwhile glimpse of the scale of the actions and the reasons behind them:
A trending Twitter hash tag—despite its length—reads: #TodaRevoluçaoComeçaComUmaFaísca, or “Every Revolution Starts With a Spark.”
Here’s hoping that the spark—and the wave of popular protest now sweeping Brazil—will help put a spotlight on the courageous communities across Brazil resisting forced evictions, and standing up for their rights.
Based in New York City, Han Shan is a long-time economic justice, human rights, and environmental campaigner.