I was born in Brazil and lived there until I was 13 years old. If you have never been to Brazil during World Cup time, it will be hard for you to envision what it’s like. The collective mind of a nation stops dead on its track, and 200 million fans (we say the national squad has 200 million coaches) put on their yellow jerseys and pray our squad will bring us glory. Every neighborhood is painted gold, green, and blue, every grandpa sits their grandchild down to tell stories of past glories and disappointments. And every radio and TV channel is full of nothing but World Cup.
Brazil is unique among the nations vying for the Cup. It’s the only country to have won 5 cups, the only country to have qualified for all them, and the only country to have reached the round of 16 every single time. It was also the first country to field a black footballer. To say that soccer is our religion is an understatement. The word for the devotion and passion Brazilians have for football doesn’t exist in any language I know of.
There are World Cup songs, some from decades back that make a come back every 4 years. We measure time in World Cups. “When was Alexandre born, well let’s see, Italy had just beat France in the final, so it must have been…”
Brazilian Portuguese is peppered with soccer-related expression. “Pisou na bola”- literally “stepped on the ball” — means to have made a mistake or missed an opportunity. “Tirar o time de campo” — literally to remove your team from the pitch — means to give up an endeavor or to back down from an argument. There are dozens of other expressions like that. And it’s not “sports talk” in America, which future businesswomen are told they have to learn in order to compete with their male counterparts in the boardroom. These expressions are so entrenched in the culture that you will hear them in any occasion.
Throw in the fact that the seleção, as we call our national squad, lost the final against Uruguay in 1950 when the Cup was last played in Brazil, and on the surface it would seem like soccer is finally coming home again. There is also the scary proposition that Brazil’s neighbor and old time rival, Argentina, is now home to the greatest footballer playing today: Lionel Messi. This has all the drama and makings of a possibly amazing tournament if it wasn’t for one extenuating factor: FIFA chose Brazil to host the Cup.
If you were wondering why there were more angry Brazilians on the street booing the president then at the stadiums cheering the seleção during the Confederations Cup, then we have to take a voyage in time. In 1988, Brazil had left decades of dictatorship behind to embrace democracy. A corrupt president was then quickly and democratically impeached and Brazil was then led by a pragmatic technocrat called Fernando Henrique Cardoso who stabilized the economy, opened Brazilian markets to the world, and presided over the beginning of what would be Brazil’s latest economic boom.
And then it was over.
After Cardoso’s departure, Brazilians voted in ex-guerrillas/union leaders into power. The retrograde mindset and poor market for ideas that informed the current party in power would make any serious student of public policy or economist laugh out loud. These are politicians who are guided by the principle that North Korea and Cuba got it right, and that the greatest tragedy in their lives was the fall of the USSR.
At first, it didn’t seem like anything would go wrong. China was hungry for Brazilian resources, which helped the economy flourish. Or at least, part of the economy. Brazil went from being a manufacturing powerhouse , to being a raw commodities exporter. China was buying soy, steel, sugar at an increasing pace, and the Brazilian government was hiking up taxes and creating the most convoluted bureaucracy possible to keep industrialists and entrepreneurs in the tightest straightjacket possible while agriculture and mining flourished, which is a simple recipe for economic disaster, and shows incredibly poor vision and judgement. On top of that, dozens of the ruling party’s members and their political allies were caught stealing billions of reais. The mensalão, the greatest corruption scandal in the history of Brazil has recently landed several politicians from the ruling party in jail, but this hasn’t stopped their cronies from stealing.
In Germany there is an NGO called Transparency International. It publishes a yearly corruption index respected and read worldwide by governments, think tanks, economists and other NGOs. Brazil is now ranked below Botswana in the non-enviable 69th place, this sub-Saharan level of corruption is the worst ranking Brazil has ever achieved. Actually, every year the Workers’ Party is in power, Brazil slides further in the corruption index.
Never has the government collected so many taxes and done so little with it. Brazilians work five months out of the year to pay their taxes. Brazilian companies waste 3 months in preparing their tax documents. And what do Brazilians get out of this? Nothing. Sub-standard schools (Brazil recently ranked second-last in the PISA test, behind only Indonesia), terrible health clinics where people suffer abhorrent mistakes like having the wrong limb amputated, and absolutely no safety or security. The biggest tragedy in Brazil is the murder rate. There are 300 million people in the US, and there are 15,000 gun-related murders per year here. There are 200 million people in Brazil, and there are 50,000 gun-related murders/year there. There are cities in Brazil (like Maceió) where the murder rate are much higher than Basra, Baghdad, and Faluja. And this is where FIFA wants to host the World Cup? A country with a wartime death toll? At the height of the Lebanese Civil War, several thousand Lebanese refugees fled their homeland for a safer Brazil. Today, Brazil’s death toll from crime exceeds the death toll in Lebanon back then, some days, it exceeds the death toll in Syria’s current civil war.
The current ruling party wants to perpetuate itself in power at all costs, and possibly eternally. The taxes Brazilians sweat almost half a year to pay feed this perpetuity. They have fired the technocrats from their jobs and filled the ranks with party cronies. Nowhere is this clearer than in Petrobras, the national oil company. From its glorious past where it created the sugarcane ethanol industry from scratch to its sad state of affair where it’s bleeding revenue, Petrobras today is the white elephant that Pemex once was in Mexico. Today Petrobras is a place where incompetent union and party members go hang their feet and watch the company fail. The government also disburses millions in taxpayer money to pay hackers to attack opposition parties’ websites, to fund social activists who sabotage the opposition’s facebook pages, and to pay for the president’s make up and lavish travels. When Dilma Rousseff went to the Vatican for Pope Francis’ enthroning, she took 72 “dignitaries” with her. Instead of staying at the palatial Brazilian embassy in Rome which would have saved taxpayer money, she stayed at the most expensive hotel with her entire entourage. This trip alone cost Brazilian taxpayers $500,000 dollars. On one trip, she spent 50 times the average Brazilian’s salary. A trip to a country the size of a small town that exports nothing and imports nothing from Brazil. Do you see why people are angry now? How can a government that cares so little for its people hold the honor of hosting the greatest, most watched, event on Earth?
Because let’s face it. Governments bid for hosting the World Cup, not countries. Brazilians are going to be saddled with more debt, and with white elephant stadiums like the ones in Manaus and Brasilia which will collect cobwebs for years to come after the tournament is over. And here is the cherry on top. This World Cup has already cost more than the past three World Cups put together, and the money continues to be spent. That’s South Africa+Germany+South Korea/Japan<Brazil in terms of cost. And where is all that money? It’s certainly not invested in Brazil’s shoddy airports or non-existing (but promised) railways. It’s not being invested in the stadiums either, those are all late, including the one that recently collapsed killing a worker. All this money is going to line the pockets of the ruling party, who will use to keep itself in power for generations and generations to come.
This is not FIFA’s fault. FIFA made a mistake, a mistake that will tarnish its reputation for a few years, and then we will all be back to cheering in Russia and Qatar. The fault is ours. For voting in incompetent, corrupt, and inept politicians that believe the country is theirs to rule any way they see fit with complete impunity, and a complete lack of care for the populace. The protests were not and will not suffice to change anything in Brazil. Ms. Rousseff like Mr. Lula da Silva worship at the feet of brutal dictators like Castro, and Gaddaffi whom Mr. Lula da Silva called a “my friend, my brother and my leader.”
Meanwhile, censorship has finally returned to the press rooms of Brazilian newspapers and TV stations for the first time since the re-establishment of democracy. And there are laws in the works to further censor the press. Decades from now they were will be books written on how FIFA was complicit with perpetuating tyranny and misery in Brazil. But I disagree, the Brazilian people once had the power to avoid this fate. But now it may be too late, FIFA chose poorly, but we Brazilians created this horror all by ourselves.
If you liked this article, please recommend it. And if you were planning to go the World Cup in Brazil, please skip it. Thanks!