On Tuesday I published a post with my reaction to Brazil’s stunning victory against Spain in the Confederations Cup final. In this post, I reflect on the more important point that was raised during the Confederations Cup: the massive street protests. What does this win do for the protest movement, if anything? People always pull off the clichés about winning will unite the country. Bollocks.
Brazilians take a lot of pride in just how good their football team is and, of course, enjoy it when their team wins. However, nearly all the Brazilians I know have a strong identity which says: “Yes, we are Brazilian and we are proud to be Brazilian. But, we are sick of lousy politicians, lousy services, first world taxes and third world services”. Many middle class folk also say that sport deflects attention away from the country’s real problems. And they cite the coincidence of election year with World Cup year. And I have to say, they have a point. The average man on the street – even the average middle class person who identified this problem to me – talks far more about football than politics during election year. They spend three years complaining about politicians and one year talking about football when it’s time to vote!
I am slightly out of touch with Brazil these days but from what I know about the country and its problems, I think these protests are a force for good. Sure, some trouble makers are jumping on the band-wagon but that always happens. The point is people are sick and tired of not getting what they deserve in Brazil from their self-servicing politicians and their band of cronies who sponge off them and public funds.
The protests started with rising bus fares. And this would have been from lower-middle class people. A growing group, who have incredibly hard lives and are incredibly hard working. Domestic workers and shop-keepers and the like, that wake up around 4 or 5 in the morning, travel 2 or 3 hours to work, work the whole day and then spent 2 or 3 hours to get home, a simple home (although admittedly one that may well have satellite television and a 42 in TV financed in 18 monthly instalments!).
Normally, these people don’t complain and just get on with things. You have to admire their spirit. But they deserve better and should say so. Sadly, when its time for them to vote they have the option between one corrupt bunch of thieves and another corrupt bunch of bandits. Not a great choice really.
Brazil was the last country in the world to abolish slavery and it didn’t have to fight for its independence like many of its neighbours who are more fiery and confrontational (like Argentina, for example, although they sadly have an even worse bunch of politicians for other reasons). No blood was spilt for Brazilian independence, unlike their neighbours. The King of Portugal – one of the worlds’ laziest colonisers or perhaps just a kinder bunch of people – moved to Brazil to flee somebody (English or Spanish invaders or Napoleon or someone like that, I’m not too sure) and liked it so much he stayed. All of this fed its way into a non-confrontational Brazilian psyche, according to my theory.
So, the point of this is, that Brazilians voicing their opinions is a good thing. In most western democracies the political opposition would normally do that. But, in Brazil, the opposition joins forces with whoever is in power. Live in the UK? Think the coalition government is bad? Compared to Brazil’s 13-odd party coalition, it’s great, I tell you. The interesting thing is that the president Dilma has record high approval ratings. People aren’t sick of her, they are sick of the corrupt, self-serving establishment that surround her or whoever is in power.
As an economist I don’t think that Dilma or her government are managing the economy well. The opposition may well do a better job on this front, if in power. But, rest assured no sooner would they be in power, would a new (or exactly the same) bunch of blood-sucking cronies and leaches be on their side. So, the good news is that it is good that the man on the street has found a voice instead of trying in vain to be heard through the ineffective ballot box.
Brazilian’s don’t have a problem with foreign visitors, what they have a problem with is billions of dollars of public funds being spent on expensive stadiums when people pay first world taxes and get third world services in return. They are making their point to the politicians and making a point to the world. Embarrass the politicians into action instead of pretending everything is great. Do it while the world is watching! Brazil is an emerging economy and should be growing quickly to catch up with places like the US. Its growing slower than the US (which has just suffered from its worst economic crisis in 80 years) and has much higher inflation. A lousy combination. People are sick of that too.
The protesters are also making a point to FIFA. Now, this is something I need to go away and do my homework on and will come back to. But, it seems like FIFA take all the profits from the World Cup (a few billion dollars probably) while Brazilian taxpayers are left to pick up the tab. What will the legacy of the World Cup be? Some big, expensive stadiums in the North East of the country, where people sleep outside hungry in the street? It seems that this happened in my home country South Africa. I’m not sure what sort of legacy it left there.
The people at FIFA are exactly like the political establishment in Brazil. Self-serving, autocratic, white-haired old men. Just like the people at the CBF too. Which is why all the hugging and handshakes and kisses on Neymar’s head by those balding white-haired phonies at the presentation ceremony made me sick. I didn’t enjoy Thiago Silva’s warm embrace with the president of the CBF. Play your heart out for your country and the protesters but then warmly embrace a shady character like that… I did enjoy Mark Lawrenson’s BBC commentary slagging off FIFA, at least.
The important point in all of this though, is, will people talk about the underlying problems in Brazilian politics and society or will they talk about this trophy win? I really don’t buy any silly quip that this victory will unite the country. If anything it is going to distract attention away from a far more important issue. Football is so ingrained in the country’s culture that it’s a case of win together, lose together. I feel that losing a football match unites Brazilians just as much as winning does. Certainly, the parties are better after winning but I know a lot of Brazilian’s that will actually hope for a defeat if it means better politicians. Let’s hope that this point is not forgotten. As a blogger and observer, hopefully I have done my job by raising awareness of these points.
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