Trial by Facebook, or Mob Justice for the Digital Age

An engagement in Rio has ended after 26-year-old carioca Nina Mandin caught husband-to-be Rafael Hermida mistreating her two French bulldogs. Mandin became suspicious after the dogs became scared of Hermida; mysterious wounds also started appearing on the animals. To get to the bottom of things, she installed a hidden camera in her living room, which subsequently recorded images of Hermida headbutting one of her dogs before picking the other one up by its paw, swinging it round and throwing it to the floor. Mandin uploaded the video to Facebook where it has been viewed nearly 300,000 times and provoked widespread outrage. The story has been covered by major newspapers such as O Globo and Folha de S. Paulo, it appeared on TV Globo’s popular daytime TV show Mais Você and has drawn condemnation from various (in my view, opportunistic) celebrities.

Unsurprisingly, Mandin has kicked her fiancé out and cancelled their wedding, while he has also been summoned by the police to make a statement and may face animal cruelty charges. However, beyond that, there are several other consequences Hermida is facing which are arguably less deserved. He part owns a bar in Rio, which has received threats, and his partners are taking legal action to remove him from the business. Predictably, he has also received a torrent of abuse and a number of death threats. He published a statement on Instagram in his defence (rather foolishly I thought), but I’d be surprised if he ventures out much in public over the next week or two.

A similar case took place last August in Porto Alegre, when Patrícia Moreira da Silva, a 23-year-old Grêmio fan, was caught on camera at a Copa do Brasil match racially abusing Aranha, the Santos goalkeeper. The images, which were filmed by an ESPN TV camera and then widely circulated on television and online, clearly show her yelling the word macaco (monkey). As in Hermida’s case, there were a series of official consequences. Grêmio were immediately disqualified from the competition, while Moreira da Silva was summoned by the police and may face prosecution under racial hatred laws (though it is unlikely she will go to prison). She was banned from entering any football stadium for 720 days and she also lost her job. All of which, arguably, is fair enough. Less so, were the numerous death and rape threats she received online, her house being pelted with stones and set on fire, and the fact that she had to go into hiding outside Porto Alegre.

Without for one second wishing to defend Hermida or Moreira da Silva, or diminish their crimes, there is something about the way both of them have been treated which makes me deeply uncomfortable. Both cases seem symptomatic of a very recent trend, which nonetheless has its roots in an ancient (perhaps timeless) human behaviour. This is mob justice for the digital age. Offenders are no longer just punished: they are put in the stocks, ritually humiliated, made an example of. This is especially true of Moreira da Silva: several other Grêmio fans participated in the racist chanting and were summoned by the police, but not one of them was subject to the same treatment as her. The only difference is that she got caught on camera.

It is true that the justice system in Brazil is notoriously flawed. There are a lot of people rotting in prison who shouldn’t be there at all, while there are many people who have committed extremely serious crimes and got off scot-free. Some might argue therefore, that in the absence of an effective criminal justice system, it is fair and correct that some people who commit these sorts of crimes are made an example of online and in the media. Not only does this ensure that they face consequences for their actions, it also serves as a warning to others. However, while not only is it unfair to single people out in this manner (as in the Moreira da Silva case), this kind of trial by Facebook seems to lead inevitably to reprisals and vigilantism.

Last May, for example, an angry mob composed of around 100 people in Guarajá, on the São Paulo coast, lynched a young mother-of-two named Fabiane Maria de Jesus. Her crime? Some local residents thought she resembled a photofit circulated online of a woman who was supposedly kidnapping children to use in black magic rituals. But there was no such woman. The whole story was nothing more than a rumour that had snowballed on social networks, encouraged by the website Guarujá Alerta, which published the photofit. It later emerged that the photofit had been produced by the Rio de Janeiro police in an entirely unrelated case two years beforehand.

One might argue that this case is different, given that Maria de Jesus was innocent of any crime (unlike Hermida and Moreira da Silva). But I think that’s irrelevant, given that the problem was one of mistaken identity. Appointing internet social networks our judge, jury (and in this case) executioner, creates an extremely dangerous precedent. Maria de Jesus’ fate could befall any of us. We need only to have the misfortune of resembling some internet bogeyman, or, worse still (this is where it gets really scary), have the misfortune of having some total stranger think we do.

And do we really want to bestow any moral legitimacy on the social networks? Perhaps it has always been this way, but I have the strong impression that internet discourse is becoming increasingly shrill and demented and aggressive. It’s like the chorus in a Greek tragedy, or the yokels in some Hardy novel – only far more vicious and histrionic. In Hermida’s case, as well as the threats and the abuse, one man posted a video in which he weeps (weeps!) with pity for Mandin’s dogs. People seem to lose all perspective online, tending to alight on emotive individual cases, while completely failing to see the bigger picture. Is Moreira da Silva’s treatment by the media and social networks likely to help resolve the problem of racism in Brazilian football stadiums? Perhaps, in the short term, but in the long term, I doubt it. But why limit the discussion to football stadiums? Why not try and approach the much more pressing problem of racism in Brazilian society as a whole? Might it be because such a problem requires thought and analysis and research, rather than just weeping and wailing and the gnashing of teeth?

Some might argue that this kind of thing will gradually lead to a higher standard of behaviour. The treatment of Hermida and Moreira da Silva will serve as a warning to others; after all, you never know when someone might be filming you. But aside from the obvious Orwellian implications of this argument, I just don’t think it works in practice. Most human beings are not that rational. No doubt there are people who commit awful crimes with cold analysis and foresight, but for most of us, I think the worst things we do are precisely when we are not thinking, and therefore, not concerned about what is happening around us and if someone might happen to have a smartphone handy.

Perhaps what I find most disturbing about these sorts of incidents is the way people seem so quick to judge and punish and condemn. We are all human, and therefore imperfect. We are all prone to lapses of behaviour. What was it that bloke with the beard and sandals used to say? Something about sin and casting stones. Apparently he’s a major player in Brazil. Isn’t there a statue of him around here somewhere?

Advertisements

Football, Opium of the Povo Mineiro

The two Belo Horizonte teams in the Série A are currently bossing Brazilian domestic competition. Last Sunday, Cruzeiro won the league with two games to spare, their second title in a row, while last Wednesday night, Atlético Mineiro won the Copa do Brasil, beating Cruzeiro comfortably in the final to deny them the double.

I have lived in several major footballing cities, including Madrid, Buenos Aires and São Paulo, but in terms of passion none of them can touch Belo Horizonte. I went up to the roof on Wednesday night at fulltime and watched the fireworks going off over the city. It was like watching the news of some war-torn city in the Middle East, minus the houses exploding and buildings collapsing. The fireworks people launch – and almost everyone seems to use the same type – all make this quick sequence of explosions, like some sort of heavy machine gun, followed by a single, deeper pop. All across the horizon I could see fireworks going off, blue and green patterns blooming suddenly from a hilltop, so far away that the sound didn’t reach me. There was this big grey cloud of smoke, wafting across the neighbourhood, a vague smell of gunpowder. And of course, the screaming, “Galo! Galo!”[1] coming from all directions, in male, female and children’s voices. The local dogs hate it. Often when a firework goes off nearby you can hear some poor mutt yelping in distress. The noise must have stopped at some point, because I woke up in the night and everything was quiet. But all day on Thursday fireworks were going off around the neighbourhood (in the day! Surely there’s nothing to see?), and going up to the roof in the morning I could hear all the cars bashing away at their horns down on Avenida dos Andradas. There were atleticanos doing rounds of the neighbourhood, honking their horns and shouting out of the window, while one guy with an Atlético flag tied to his roof had saved himself the trouble of yelling by blasting a recording of Atlético crowd noise at full volume out of his car stereo.

It’s hard to know what to make of all this. On the one hand, I think fantastic, this is what I travel for: to live in places where people behave and express themselves in ways that are radically different from the culture in which I grew up. For anyone with even a vague interest in football, Brazil in general and Minas Gerais in particular are clearly interesting places to be. This is somewhere where for most people football is far more than just a game: it’s a political issue, a way of life, almost a religion. Children here have their football teams assigned to them before they have names, before they are born, before they are even a glint in their father’s eye. It can divide families: I have an acquaintance who supports Atlético in secret, because her whole family supports América Mineiro (the “other” Belo Horizonte team, who play in the Série B), and she says it would upset her grandfather too much were he to find out she is atleticana. That’s another thing: here, women seem almost as obsessed as the men. Of course, the stadiums still tend to be male dominated, and women generally aren’t the ones doing the rounds of the neighbourhood flying their club’s colours out of the car window, but still, they almost all follow, watch and talk about football. In contrast, amongst my female friends and acquaintances in the UK, I can’t think of anyone who cares much at all.

On the other hand, the obsession is so visible, so extreme and so universal, that if one does not participate, it can feel quite alienating. It is hard not to be reminded that I am an outsider when I am surrounded by people literally screaming for their local side at least two or three times a week. Moreover, the football culture in Belo Horizonte seems so natural and uncomplicated, at a time when, on the global level, the sport has long been becoming increasingly absurd and offensive. Modern top-flight football appears to operate in this kind of parallel universe, in which normal rules – such as national laws or economic principles – just don’t seem to apply. Football must be one of the only industries to escape virtually unscathed from the financial crisis, while its increasing domination by global capital is leading to ever more bizarre outcomes. There is surely no better example of this than FIFA’s awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, an act so shamelessly and nakedly corrupt it gives new meaning to the term “beyond satire”. Of course, Brazilians have plenty of first-hand experience of this kind of thing, thanks to this year’s World Cup (regarding which there is surely still much dirt to come out), and equally, Brazilian domestic football is hardly replete with examples of honesty and virtue (look no further than former CBF presidents João Havelange and Ricardo Teixeira).

But this all seems really distant when you look at the way people love their football here. Perhaps that makes the corruption of the sport all the more cynical, but in a sense all the less surprising. The masters of the modern game know that it virtually doesn’t matter what they do: people’s love for their football team is something irrational, unconditional, and they will continue to follow football and pay money to do so, regardless of how rotten the sport becomes. Again, the comparison between football and religion seems apt: just like religious faith, the Brazilian obsession with football cannot be explained away rationally. Support for club and country is akin to faith in God: no matter how bad things get, you stick with it. In this sense, it’s hard not to think of Marx’s old dictum about religion being the opium of the people: in Brazil, to religion (because there’s plenty of that around here as well, but that’s another blog piece) you can add football and television. Following Marx’s thought, I can’t help but wonder sometimes what this country might be like if people invested all the passion and energy they invest in football in something else, something better.

Perhaps we all need our opium though. And of all the ways humans choose to get their kicks, football is hardly the worst.

[1] Note for English readers: Atlético Mineiro’s nickname is “Galo” (“Cock”); Cruzeiro are “Raposa” (“Fox”).

A Chamada “Esquerda Caviar” e as Eleições

Dois membros da intelligentsia brasileira manifestaram apoio à reeleição de Dilma Rousseff a semana passada, da antiga geração e a nova. Chico Buarque gravou um vídeo de apenas seis segundos, em que disse “Vamos votar na Dilma, dia 26 estamos lá, até o dia 26, Dilma.” E o comediante Gregorio Duvivier publicou um artigo na Folha de S. Paulo, criticando a polarização extrema dessas eleições, e dizendo que ele se sentia em terra estrangeira no Leblon por causa do apoio uniforme e as vezes agressivo dos outros moradores do bairro ao candidato Aécio Neves. No fim do artigo, ele expressa um apoio bem restrito e relutante à Dilma.

Essa relutância não impediu, porém, que Duvivier fosse criticado por Rodrigo Constantino da Veja, que publicou dois artigos em dias seguidos atacando primeiro o Duvivier, e depois, o Chico Buarque. Uma análise séria desses artigos não vale a pena; qualquer pessoa que leu o Constantino mais de uma vez com certeza pode adivinhar o conteúdo. Basta dizer que para Constantino, Chico e Duvivier são hipócritas, representantes do que ele chama da “esquerda caviar”; ou seja, celebridades, intelectuais, pessoas da classe média/alta que apoiam causas progressistas.

Essa expressão “esquerda caviar” é uma das prediletas do Constantino, tanto que ele a escolheu como o título de um dos seus livros: Esquerda caviar: a hipocrisia dos artistas e intelectuais progressistas no Brasil e no mundo. Mas não foi ele que cunhou o termo. Provavelmente sua origem vem da França, onde o termo “gauche caviar” se usa desde pelo menos os anos 80. Igualmente, na Inglaterra, temos a expressão “champagne socialist”, que se usa faz tempo já. É um termo utilizado exatamente da mesma maneira, e pelo mesmo tipo de jornalista que Constantino. É uma expressão muito cara ao jornal The Daily Mail (de certa forma, a nossa Veja) que a tem usado para denegrir diversas pessoas, como o sindicalista Bob Crow, o cantor e ativista Billy Bragg, e até o atual presidente francês François Hollande.

A coisa mais engraçada sobre Constantino é que ele se acha um liberal: no blog dele diz ‘Análises de um liberal sem medo da polêmica’. Coitado! Além da visão distorcida que ele tem do mundo, ele também não é capaz de se enxergar de uma forma muito clara. Porque essa noção de “esquerda caviar”, na realidade, não tem nada de liberal. A implicação é que nossa visão política tem que ser determinada, necessariamente, pela nossa classe social e/ou nossa situação financeira. Portanto, é hipocrisia que uma pessoa rica e bem sucedida seja da esquerda.

Mesmo a nível prático, o conceito é problemático: se existe uma “esquerda caviar”, será que ele acha que também existe uma esquerda legitima? Quais são os requisitos se eu quero fazer parte desse grupo? Eu tenho o direito de ter ideias progressistas até ganhar quantos salários mínimos por mês? Uma pessoa esquerdista que era pobre mas se torna rica também se torna “esquerda caviar” se não mudar de posição política? E o contrário: um rico que perde todo o seu dinheiro se torna esquerdista no processo? O Eike Batista deve aos acionistas $1 bilhão, será então que ele é o maior socialista do Brasil?

É verdade, no Brasil agora a corrida eleitoral mostra uma forte relação entre posição política e classe social. Mas isso não é uma regra inviolável: como vimos, têm pessoas da classe média/alta que votam na Dilma, como também tem gente mais humilde que vota no Aécio. Na Inglaterra é igual: têm pessoas da classe trabalhadora que votam no partido conservador e admiram profundamente a Margaret Thatcher. Igualmente, têm pessoas da classe alta e até da aristocracia (Tony Benn, falecido esse ano, seria um exemplo ótimo) que são socialistas ativos e comprometidos. Sim, muitas vezes votamos segundo um conceito estreito do nosso próprio interesse, mas não é sempre assim.

Mas além dos óbvios problemas práticos que essa ideia de “esquerda caviar” traz consigo, eu tenho uma crítica mais grave. Para Constantino, é hipocrisia ter dinheiro e uma boa qualidade de vida e desejar o mesmo para os outros. Seguindo a mesma linha de raciocínio, fica claro que na visão dele, a política é simplesmente a maneira de defender o próprio interesse. E isso é a essência do conservadorismo, não do liberalismo como Constantino gosta de pensar. Bom, se você aceita essa visão tristíssima da política, então sim entendo que pessoas como Chico ou Duvivier poderiam parecer hipócritas, ou pelo menos inconsistentes de alguma forma. Mas o que Constantino não entende, o que ele nunca entendeu, é que essas pessoas veem a política como uma maneira de fazer um ambiente melhor para todo mundo. Não tem hipocrisia nenhuma nisso porque elas identificam o próprio interesse, até certo ponto, com o interesse coletivo.

Isso é o conceito chave aqui: interesse coletivo. Por exemplo, se tivesse o direito de votar no Brasil, eu também votaria na Dilma, porque continuo acreditando que os dois problemas maiores do Brasil são a pobreza e a desigualdade, e acho que ela se preocupa em combater eles mais do que o Aécio faria. Isso não faz com que eu seja hipócrita, porque acho que a redução desses indicadores é tanto do meu interesse quanto do interesse de todo mundo (ou pelo menos uma maioria). Cabe ressaltar também que não acho que todo mundo que vota no Aécio necessariamente compartilhe a visão política pobre do Constantino. Acredito que a maioria das pessoas que pretende votar no Aécio vai fazer isso não porque estejam apenas olhando para o próprio umbigo, mas porque elas sinceramente acham que ele vai fazer um Brasil melhor. A diferença, como sempre, é a política.

Além disso, todos nós fazemos pequenas coisas no dia a dia (que normalmente nunca associamos com a política) que são determinadas por uma noção de interesse coletivo. Por exemplo, se você pega transporte público as vezes, em vez de sair sempre de carro. Ou se você leva seu lixo até uma lixeira, em vez de jogar na rua. Ou outro exemplo bem recorrente: se você consume o mínimo de água possível, já que se trata de um recurso bem escasso na região sudeste agora. Muitas pessoas fazem essas coisas, as vezes sem pensar – independentemente da posição política de cada uma. Mas são ações pequenas que mostram a consciência que ação individual as vezes tem que se conformar com o interesse coletivo.

Voltando ao tema original, além de ser cínico e desagradável, o termo “Esquerda caviar” implica justamente uma negação da ideia de interesse coletivo e portanto, é um conceito que nega a possibilidade de algumas das melhores características humanas: altruísmo, solidariedade e empatia. Em vez disso, insiste na primazia do interesse individual e enfatiza atributos como a cobiça, o egoísmo, e o desprezo para o semelhante. E no Brasil e o mundo, acho que já vimos o suficiente disso.

Uma última reflexão na Copa

Apesar da Copa do Mundo ter sido – por consenso nacional e internacional – um grande sucesso, não todo mundo está satisfeito. Não, não estou falando do pobre torcedor brasileiro (poderia ser pior, vocês poderiam ser ingleses), mas da grande mídia e particularmente, de alguns pequenos comerciantes. Não faturaram tanto quanto queriam, os turistas não gastaram o desejado, e em dias de jogo (especialmente os da seleção brasileira), os negócios ficaram às moscas. Por que será? Instintivamente, muitos têm culpado os movimentos sociais e, especialmente, o movimento ‘Não vai ter Copa’.

Agora vale a pena reiterar que não existe um consenso sobre os benefícios de grandes eventos desse tipo para economias nacionais. Se diz que as Olimpíadas de 1992 foram um bom negócio para Barcelona, mas os jogos de 2004 tiveram consequências graves para Grécia, África do Sul não lucrou com a Copa de 2010, e até Alemanha – país que já tinha uma boa rede de estádios e uma infraestrutura sofisticada – também não lucrou com a Copa de 2006. Portanto, não era muito realista esperar que o Brasil fizesse grande lucro com essa Copa, ainda mais quando se considera o dinheiro que foi gasto para que a Copa pudesse acontecer aqui.

Aliás, nem todos os comerciantes reclamaram. Alguns, como os donos de bares, fizeram uma boa grana (segundo eles, o faturamento subiu 80% nos dias que a seleção brasileira jogou).

Agora chegamos aos ‘Não vai ter Copa’. Segundo a Folha de S. Paulo, o movimento ‘contaminou’ o país, criando um clima negativo que levou muita gente a desistir de fazer as preparações e investimentos necessários. Eu acho que é simplesmente o caso que alguns comércios (os bares, os taxis, os albergues, os vendedores ambulantes) naturalmente foram beneficiados pela Copa, enquanto infelizmente muitos outros tiveram um mês mais devagar. Mas talvez a Folha tenha razão sobre um ponto: muitas pessoas me falaram que o clima antes dessa Copa não se comparava ao das Copas anteriores. Será então que a culpa realmente é dos movimentos sociais? Dos ‘Não vai ter Copa’, ou talvez dos black blocs dos quais nós lemos tanto nos jornais e revistas?

Ou será que o clima negativo tinha a ver com o fato que o Brasil corria perigo de não entregar vários estádios antes da abertura? Ou que apenas 41% das obras totais planejadas para a Copa ficaram prontas a tempo? Ou que oito operários morreram durante a construção e reforma dos estádios (sem falar de mais duas pessoas após a queda de um viaduto em Belo Horizonte no dia 3)? Ou a superfaturamento de obras, ou as brigas mais ou menos públicas entre FIFA e o governo federal? Essas não seriam razões muito mais fortes do que umas manifestações de relativamente baixa adesão?

Parece que algumas pessoas levaram muito literalmente o movimento ‘Não vai ter Copa’. Ninguém – nem os ativistas mais militantes – acreditava que não ia ter Copa. Com tanto investimento, o Estado brasileiro não podia nem contemplar a possibilidade de não ter Copa. O lema ‘Não vai ter Copa’ sempre foi um exagero calculado, uma declaração simbólica, um jeito de chamar atenção ao movimento e às críticas dessa Copa do Mundo e a maneira que ela foi organizada. Ou seja, os protestos e greves que vimos nas semanas antes da Copa não são causas do mal-estar, mas sintomas dele. As causas são justamente essas identificadas e criticadas pelos manifestantes, com toda razão.

Estou falando das remoções forçadas de moradores das favelas e periferias das grandes cidades. Da ‘Lei Geral da Copa’ e as zonas de exclusão da FIFA perto dos estádios. Do Budweiser Bill, e o fato de que a FIFA não vai pagar nem um centavo de impostos no dinheiro que fez durante o evento. Me refiro à crescente criminalização de protesto, e ao uso de detenções arbitrárias, cercas humanas e até armas de fogo para conter manifestantes. E claro, sobretudo, aos bilhões gastos em um evento esportivo, em um país em que tantas pessoas carecem de saúde, educação, moradia, mobilidade urbana.

Nesse novo ataque aos movimentos sociais, eu vejo mais uma vez os instintos autoritários da grande mídia brasileira, e uma tentativa de legitimar a violência utilizada pelo Estado no tratamento das manifestações (vejam, por exemplo, a sugestão brilhante do Ronaldo de ‘baixar o cacete’ nos ‘vândalos’). Era lógico supor que a Copa seria geralmente um sucesso, considerando não apenas o dinheiro investido, mas também a grande paixão dos brasileiros pelo futebol. Por isso não me surpreende que as pessoas que protestavam contra o evento nas semanas antes da abertura agora são atacadas. Porém, podemos gostar do espetáculo, ao mesmo tempo que engajamos com ele de uma maneira crítica. Nosso amor pelo futebol não deveria nos cegar à corrupção, injustiça e violência que acompanharam essa Copa do Mundo desde o começo.

Spirit of the Dictatorship Alive and Well in Brazil

Recent demonstrations show that Brazilian far right is growing in strength and confidence

They accuse the governing Workers’ Party (PT) of installing a communist regime in Brazil, with a view to establishing a continental socialist bloc stretching from Cuba to Chile and Argentina. They advocate the imprisonment of President Dilma Rousseff and her predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. They demand the abolition of ‘corrupt’ political parties, and urge the army to intervene, in order to ‘clean up’ Brazil’s political system. They oppose any demilitarization of the police, and defend the use of torture. Likewise, they oppose the opening of military archives relating to Brazil’s long dictatorship (1964–1985), and are against the prosecution of any agents of the state for crimes committed during this period. They are the Brazilian far right, and after an extended period of relative silence, they are growing in confidence and making their voices heard with increasing force.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the coup which ousted the legitimate president João Goulart in 1964, and an attempt to defend the military intervention is already underway. On the 22nd of March, people marched in cities across Brazil in a restaging of the ‘March of the Family with God’, a series of demonstrations in 1964 in response to Goulart’s proposed social reforms, and the supposed communist threat to the nation. The original marches drew over a million people in total and lent a veneer of popular support to the coup. This time around the demonstrations were far smaller: the largest, in São Paulo, drew less than a thousand people, fewer than expected. Around 150 people turned out in Rio, while just a handful of demonstrators attended events held in Belo Horizonte, Brasília, Recife, Fortaleza and Belém. However, despite the low turnouts, the reappearance of the March of the Family movement has wider significance.

ImageThe March of the Family with God, 22nd of March, São Paulo

In recent years, several Latin American nations have been prosecuting members of state security forces responsible for human rights abuses committed during the Cold War dictatorships. Brazil has also been moving in this direction, albeit belatedly. While there is an amnesty law still firmly in place preventing the prosecution of state agents, a National Truth Commission has been established, though it is non-punitive and cannot oblige anyone to testify. In addition, the military, which has never admitted any responsibility for tortures and disappearances during the dictatorship, and which had up until now refused to cooperate with any investigation, on the 1st of April agreed to investigate the torture and execution of prisoners at seven military installations. The announcement was met with scepticism by some, but the official acknowledgement that there is even a case to answer shows a marked shift in attitude.

Brazil’s recent political history would also suggest a widespread repudiation of the dictatorship period. Since re-democratization, three of the four presidents elected by direct vote opposed the dictatorship in one way or another: Fernando Henrique Cardoso, a prominent academic forced into exile; Lula, an ex-union leader jailed for organizing strikes, and Dilma, an ex-militant with an armed Marxist-Leninist group, who was jailed and tortured by the military. Furthermore, however severe discontent with politics may be, Brazil’s young democracy has arguably never been stronger or more stable. Both FHC and Lula were elected for a second term, and despite falling poll ratings, Dilma is the firm favourite to win the presidential elections later this year. In such a climate, the emergence of a pro-dictatorship movement seems improbable.

However, thanks to a very carefully managed transition to democracy, the Brazilian military has never been completely brought to heel, and recent events suggest that there are still those within the armed forces who not only defend the coup of 1964, but who advocate doing the same today. On the 1st of April, a pro-dictatorship group held an event in Congress to commemorate the military coup, led by the ex-soldier, now Congressman, Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro unfurled a banner that read ‘Congratulations to the military 31st / March / 1964: Thanks to you Brazil is not Cuba.’ As well as members of the military that attended the event on Bolsonaro’s invitation, there were also militants and members of Congress present who fought against the dictatorship, all of whom turned their backs to Bolsonaro in protest when he tried to speak to the chamber. Unsurprisingly, the event was characterised by shouting and scuffles between the two sides.

Image

Jair Bolsonaro’s banner in Congress

Of more concern may be the proposal, by a General Paulo Chagas, of ‘an eventual military intervention,’ published on a blog entitled Sociedade Militar. In the same post Chagas complains that civil society does not offer the military sufficient support, but he concludes by praising the March of the Family movement: ‘The marches are a good start for this gathering of forces, and to re-affirm something, which, fifty years ago, made Brazil admired as “the nation which saved itself!”’ Chagas also spoke at a commemorative mass held in Brasília on the 31st of March, at which he characterized the military period as being defined by ‘progress, growth, social welfare, security, full employment and the Brazilian Miracle.’

And it’s not just the military who have been engaged in this process of historical revisionism. Eduardo Gualazzi, a law professor at the University of São Paulo (USP) – Brazil’s largest and most prestigious public university – attempted to give a speech commemorating the dictatorship during a lecture on the 31st of March, arguing that the coup occurred at a time when ‘leftist totalitarian socialism was seeking to take total control of Brazil.’ In February, meanwhile, Itaú, Brazil’s largest private bank, was forced to apologise after it issued a year planner to its clients with the 31st of March marked as ‘the anniversary of the 1964 revolution’ – ‘revolution’ being the preferred term of members of the military and those sympathetic to the dictatorship. Even the library in the presidential palace in Brasília still refers to the coup as ‘the victory of the revolutionary movement.’

While those who advocate the return of the military to power are a minority, popular attitudes towards democracy are often ambivalent. According to Latinobarómetro, an annual public opinion survey conducted in 18 Latin American countries, the proportion of Brazilians who agreed with the statement ‘Democracy is preferable to any other form of government’ averaged just 44% between 1995 and 2013. In neighbouring Uruguay the figure was 78%, and the only country with a lower rating for the period surveyed was Guatemala (38%). Arguably, this is a reflection of frustration with how democracy works in Brazil, rather than a rejection of democracy as such. Indeed, last June, during what were Brazil’s largest popular protests in a generation, most of those on the streets were there to demand improvements to Brazilian democracy, rather than its cessation or replacement.

However, frustration with the democratic system can sometimes blur into a kind of authoritarianism. For Francisco Carlos Teixeira, a history professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, ‘Part of the population […] is convinced that all politicians are corrupt and that voting is useless.’ Indeed, a recent Datafolha survey suggested that 68% of Brazilians believe that corruption is actually worse now than under the military. This point is debateable: the military was also involved in a string of corruption scandals, but the statistic is telling, reflecting a latent belief that Brazil is not sufficiently prepared for democracy. As Teixeira puts it, ‘Many people complain, and seek, outside the electoral process […] ambitious solutions to purify Brazilian democracy. Deep down, there is a belief that affirms the necessity of guiding the popular vote, since the people can’t be trusted by themselves.’

While the notion that the military could seize power again today is farfetched, the resurgence of debate around the coup has highlighted how much Brazilian democracy is still compromised by the dictatorship. Figures with links to the regime have remained close to power, such as Jorge Bornhausen, Paulo Maluf and the Sarney family, while much of Brazil’s legal and institutional framework is inherited from the dictatorship period. But beyond that, the 50th anniversary of the coup has shown how many of the same beliefs and attitudes behind it persist today. As General Chagas said at the commemorative mass, ‘the ideas that led the families with God to the streets, and the armed forces to put an end to the rioting and disorder, live on in the hearts and minds of the men and women of this land.’ He may have a point.

A Far Cry from ‘A Copa de Todo Mundo’

Deciphering the official discourse ahead of this year’s football World Cup

In January, Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff stood alongside FIFA boss Sepp Blatter in Zurich, where he declared that he wants this year’s World Cup to be ‘a special movement for peace.’ At the opening ceremony, a dove will be released into the air, and the Nobel Foundation has been invited to support the initiative. This is not a particularly new idea: major international sporting events have long been promoted as a means of creating dialogue between countries, overcoming differences and soothing tensions. The Olympics is the best example of this, with the five Olympic rings symbolizing the unity of the five continents. However, for every feel-good story these events may provide, there are as many examples of countries using sports events to score political points over their rivals, and there are even cases of violence occurring at the events or erupting as a partial consequence of them, such as the 1969 ‘Football War’ between El Salvador and Honduras. But why this ‘special’ emphasis on peace now, in Brazil?

Last September, Dilma had an emergency meeting in Brasília with representatives from the bank Itaú (the largest private bank in the southern hemisphere), and the drinks giant Ambev (the largest company in Latin America), both of which are sponsors of the World Cup and the Brazilian Football Confederation. Both were targeted by protestors during the Confederations Cup last June, and in the meeting, they expressed their concern about the possibility of further protests at the World Cup, asking the government for guarantees that it would contain any unrest during the tournament. As a result, a plan of action is being developed in monthly meetings with the other sponsors, and significantly, Itaú and Ambev also managed to exact a promise that the government would begin a publicity campaign for ‘a World Cup of peace.’

Still, the protests continue, in spite of police tactics which are becoming increasingly repressive. Kettling, a favourite method of London’s Metropolitan Police, has been enthusiastically adopted by the Military Police of São Paulo, and is being used to control protests alongside a strategy of blanket arrests, in which hundreds of protestors are arrested at once and then later released without charge. The use of rubber bullets has also been reauthorized, having been banned for a period last year following outcry over police excesses. Moreover, the police have shown they have no scruples over using live ammunition, having shot and seriously injured a demonstrator at an anti-World Cup protest back in January. Government discourse, meanwhile, has been increasingly authoritarian, with Dilma recently declaring that security for the World Cup will be ‘heavy’, and promising to mobilize the army in order to keep the peace.

At the same meeting in January, Blatter also insisted that he wants the World Cup to help end racism and discrimination. ‘Such a multi-cultured country, where all of the world’s races may be found, provides the possibility for interventions against racism and discrimination,’ he said. Just two weeks beforehand, shock troops occupied the Favela do Metrô, in the north of Rio, to clear the ground for demolitions. It is estimated that at least 170,000 people across Brazil will lose their homes due to infrastructure projects relating to the World Cup and the Olympics of 2016. These evictions are clearly discriminatory, principally affecting people in informal housing in poor neighbourhoods and favelas, many of whom have no means of proving that they are the legitimate owners of their property. While there may be no explicitly racist agenda, given the demographics of Brazil’s poor communities, it’s fairly safe to assume that most of those being kicked off their property are black.

Sadly, it is perhaps no surprise: these projects are worth a lot of money. The construction firm Odebrecht, for example, is responsible for four of the twelve World Cup stadiums, at a total cost of R$2.8 billion (£744 million). Two of these stadiums, in Salvador and Recife, are the result of Public-Private Partnerships, giving Odebrecht the right to participate in the management of the stadiums once they are complete. In Rio, the state government paid a consortium to renovate the Maracanã, in which Odebrecht participated. The only stadium of the four that was supposed to be paid for entirely by private investment was the Itaquerão, in São Paulo, the result of a deal between Odebrecht and the football club Corinthians. However, with the tournament fast approaching and the stadium still not ready, both city and state governments have been forced to contribute. Moreover, Odebrecht’s investment has been covered by the Brazilian Development Bank – a public institution – in the form of low-interest loans. In short, these projects would never have happened without state intervention.

The government has also approved new laws for the World Cup, including the Lei Geral da Copa, which, among other things, gives FIFA the right to operate exclusion zones around the stadiums of up to 2km. The aim is to guarantee FIFA’s corporate partners exclusive rights to trade and publicity within these areas. Any unofficial street vendor caught operating near the stadiums may face severe penalties, ranging from fines to custodial sentences of up to a year. For the sociologist Orlando Santos Jr., ‘To give FIFA the right to manage urban space is very serious […] It creates a precedent for subordinating the management of public space to private interests.’ Meanwhile, Coca-Cola (a tournament sponsor, naturally) are running an ad campaign ahead of the tournament which cheerfully welcomes us to ‘A Copa de Todo Mundo’ (‘The World Cup of Everyone’).

Despite the government’s repeated assurances that the World Cup will generate employment and create wealth for Brazil, there is little evidence to suggest that these sporting mega events bring any lasting benefits to the host countries. In Brazil’s case, the benefits are especially hard to envisage. The cost of the event has ballooned to an estimated R$30 billion (£7.6 billion), more than double the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Given that over 90% of this has been taken from the public purse, there are real concerns that Brazil may be creating some serious problems for the not-too-distant future. However, while Brazil’s taxpayers may indeed end up losing out, there will of course be a number of winners.

In an interview with the online publication Carta Maior last October, Dilma’s mentor, ex-president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, said that ‘politics is the only thing that can rival the power of the market.’ This has been a recurring theme in Workers’ Party (PT) discourse: only good government can protect the citizenry when the interests of capital may be harmful to it. Unfortunately, the preparations for the World Cup provide countless examples of how government in Brazil has spent vast amounts of public money in order to create conditions favourable to private interests. As the economists Simon Cooper and Stefan Symanski write, ‘The Brazilian World Cup is best understood as a series of financial transfers.’ Money is being transferred from the Brazilian taxpayer to FIFA, the tournament’s corporate sponsors, construction companies and Brazilian football clubs. This makes the appropriation of a discourse of peace, justice and universalism to promote the tournament all the more offensive. This World Cup is about just the opposite.