The World Cup has just ended in Brazil. Contrary to what we might expect the political situation remains, with the exception of the struggles of normally active groups, very calm and steady.
This is, however, definitely not due to a lack of good reasons to protest.
In the social media the changes were quick to be noted: the most common hashtags went from #NÃOVAITERCOPA (There will not be a World Cup) and
#COPAPRAQUEM? (World Cup for whom?) to #VAITERCOPASIM (There will be a World Cup).
Bit-by-bit, both the leftists and the conservative elite who insisted there would not be a World Cup, got caught up in the football fever and the voices on the streets were silenced by patriotism.
“If we supported the national team during the dictatorship, why the hell wouldn’t we support it now?” said a famous socialist journalist on Facebook. While a left protester said “If there is nobody here (protesting) I might as well go home and watch the match. Nobody is made of steel”.
During the World Cup the heckles to the president by the white unrepresentative elite, the heckles to the Brazilian player that chose to be on the Spanish national team and the minuscule demonstration of 20 to 40 people that were repressed by the police in a cowardly fashion with bombs of tear gas and arbitrary arrests seemed to be the closest we could get to protests.
Nothing was said about the people evicted from their own houses for the stadiums to be build, the unsafe working conditions that lead to tragic deaths of construction workers of the stadiums, or the homeless people that had water jets directed on them, and their belongings thrown away in the “sanitation” process to prepare the country for the World Cup.
Before the World Cup started, however, a few demonstrations gave us some hope.
The most prominent example was the protest that united thousands of people on the streets of São Paulo to support the MTST (Movement of Homeless workers).
The movement was victorious, winning their demands from the government. This included: a new housing project in the current occupation “Copa do Povo” (Cup of the people) near the Itaqueirão Stadium and more control to the workers and organised popular movements in the government housing project “Minha Casa Minha Vida”.
These victories stimulated more protests by the MTST, this time going further. Recent protests demanded better public transport, access and telephone service in periphery areas from both the government and private companies.
Unfortunately victories were not enough to spark a new wave of protests in Brazil. Whilst some people were only disturbed by the protests, complaining about how unsafe they felt, some, I believe, got scared of going to the streets to protest and have their voices co-opted by the media to back up their own criticism to the government, in an election year.
The Workers’ Party (PT) government does get criticism, but the media is not pointing out poor efforts at the agrarian reform, for instance. Instead, it is criticising social programmes that were actually successful. Thus, if protests break out and have the same limited broad demands, it’s almost certain that the PT candidate would lose the elections, leaving us an unpalatable alternative — a right wing candidate.
One campaign caught my eye back in June, mostly for its participation in social media.
The campaign calls for a plebiscite to commence a political reform. Excitingly, some of the topics covered by the proposed political reform are directly connected with the problems recent social movements have had in Brazil.
One of them, the regulation of media, would stop monopolies in the communications industry, prohibit the ownership of media means by empowered politicians, and regulate the balance between public, community and private control of the radios, television and press media.
This measure would only reinforce what is already in the Brazilian constitution and create more liberty for any social movements to organise without having their demands highjacked and transformed by the press.
The other important demand of the campaign is the public financing of electoral campaigns. This would stop private companies from “sponsoring” politicians and getting their way once they are elected, and aid the end of the eternal dichotomy between PT and PSDB (the self-denominated Brazilian Social Democratic Party, but in fact is liberal right wing). It might also help the growth of smaller less powerful, and potentially more radical parties in the elections.
Although the political situation in Brazil is unpredictable, and the calmness of the World Cup might lead us to be quite pessimistic, strong changes have happened since June.
However, any mass movements would still be likely be taken over; it is left for me to hope that we will have the political maturity to sustain demands independent of media control or electoral interests.