One year to go to the Rio Olympics: Launch of New Research Project

By Einar Braathen and Celina Myrann Sørbøe.

One year ahead of the Rio Summer Olympics, we launch a new research project: “Insurgent Citizenship in Brazil: the role of mega sports events”.

Within the short time frame of two years, Rio de Janeiro hosts two of the largest spectacles on earth: last year’s FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games- which kicks off exactly one year from today. When Rio de Janeiro bid for these events, the city proposed to use this once in a lifetime-opportunity to improve living conditions of the poor and improve security in the notoriously unequal and violent city. Amidst controversy over excessively expensive stadiums, corruption scandals and human and civil rights abuses, Brazil was able to pull off last year’s soccer games. One year ahead of the Olympic Games, these issues are no less present in the public debate on the state of affairs in Rio de Janeiro.

This week, Amnesty International launched a report on the state of public security in the city of Rio de Janeiro. The report investigates extrajudicial executions and other human rights violations committed by the military police. Brazil is the country with the highest number of homicides in the world: 56,000 people were killed in 2012. The number of people killed by the police represents a significant share of the total of homicides. In spite of a new, much-publicized public security program aimed at improving the relationship between the police and the population and reducing police violence, the percentage of homicides committed by police in Rio de Janeiro in 2014 was still 15.6% of the total. In a period of ten years (2005-2014), 8,466 cases of homicide due to police intervention were registered in the state of Rio de Janeiro; 5132 cases in the capital city alone. The negative stereotypes associated with youth, notably the young black people living in the favelas and other marginalized areas, contribute to the trivialization and naturalization of violence. Of the 1,275 victims of homicide due to police intervention between 2010 and 2013 in the city of Rio de Janeiro, 99.5% were men, 79% were black and 75% were between 15 and 29 years old. Impunity is almost guaranteed – Amnesty found that only one of the 202 cases of police homicides investigated since 2011 had resulted to conviction. A recent Congressional inquiry has called it a genocide against young black Brazilians.

Another recent publication by the Federal Fluminense University (UFF) investigates the social costs of hosting the FIFA World Cup and The Summer Olympics. Based on data provided by the municipality, the researchers arrive at the staggering number of 67,000 people having been removed due to the preparations for these events from 2009 to 2013. Countless denouncements of arbitrary removals that involve excessive use of both physical and mental violence have been documented, the drawn out eviction of the Vila Autódromo community next to the future Olympic park perhaps being the most well-known. Poor urban dwellers from the city’s favelas are especially vulnerable for forced removals.

Police violence and forced removals are but some of the controversies that have marked Rio de Janeiro’s road to becoming a host city of mega events. These issues have led to massive contestations on behalf of the city’s residents, such as the massive uprisings in June 2013 during the Confederation’s Cup. In the gap year between the World Cup and the Olympics, the Norwegian Institute for Urban and Regional Research (NIBR) launches the research project “Insurgent Citizenship in Brazil: the role of mega sports events”. The project leader is Einar Braathen, and Celina Myrann Sørbøe is the PhD research fellow. The Brazilian partner is a research group, ETTERN, led by Professor Carlos Vainer at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. The project seeks to reach a deeper understanding of the encounters between citizens (communities) and mega sports events in Brazil. The main research question is: To what extent, and how, do international mega sports events spur citizens’ social and political mobilizations? The additional question is: How do these mobilizations consequently set the quality of citizenship on the public agenda in the host city/country? Empirically this will be done by studying the preparations for mega sports events and their impacts on people in three selected favela communities in Rio de Janeiro, in addition to addressing city-wide issues and political spaces.

Film: “YELLOW CARD TO FIFA: Brazilians vs the World Cup”

This documentary film (30 minutes) asks: Why do the Brazilians love football, but hate FIFA? (The international football federation).

Political scientist Einar Braathen and the award winning film director Anne Kjersti Bjørn went to Brazil to meet people in the favelas, activists, politicians and the professors Carlos Vainer and Gilmar Mascarenhas.

Choose either the English version or Norsk versjon, and visit our Facebook page.

A coup d’état 50 years on: the legacy of a military dictatorship

By Einar Braathen *

This this year (2014) marks the 50th anniversary of the military coup d’état in Brazil. Different segments of the population experience this anniversary in different ways.

On March 16th, Cláudia Ferreira left her house to buy bread for her eight children, four adopted and four of her own. She never returned. She became the victim of stray bullets from the Polícia Militar, who was in a shootout with some local drug traffickers in the favela where Cláudia lived. These kinds kind of occurrences are not uncommon in Rio de Janeiro and normally do not make newspaper headlines. However, Cláudias tragedy still was not over. The police officers threw her in the trunk of their car to drive her to the hospital. Her body proceeded to fall out of the trunk and was dragged behind the vehicle. In spite of being notified by pedestrians, the police did not stop the vehicle before they had driven several hundred meters down the highway. Their defense: “She was already dead”. The horror scene was filmed and posted online, causing public outrage. While three of the officers were arrested immediately, they were released by a military court two days later. While three of the officers were arrested immediately, they were released by a military court two days later.

March 16th was also the date when Vera Paiva, the daughter of a famous politician who disappeared 43 years ago, finally was informed of what had happened to her father. An officer who had worked in the army´s coordinating center for political persecution and torture told the newspaper O Globo that Rubens Paiva had been tortured to death. His body had been disposed in the ocean to cover up the tracks.

Both of these incidences demonstrate how Brazil is still not done with the military dictatorship that started on April 1, 1964.

According to the 1988 Constitution, military institutions still have the responsibility to maintain social and political order. In “normal” democracies it is the police, separated from the military and subsumed to civil laws and an elected government, which has this responsibility. In Brazil, the armed forces can be deployed to restore domestic order once a state governor requests it and the federal president approves it. In addition, the Polícia Militar has been responsible for the day-to-day public order all over the country since 1969.

Up until recently the military has put a lid on the military period. Military leaders have never offered their apologies to the nation for violations of the constitution and of civil rights committed during the dichtatorship. Archives from the period have never been released, and the torturers and murderers are protected by the Amnesty Law dating back to 1979. Since 1985, Brazil has been led by elected politicians who have not dared to alter this amnesty law or to start a juridical process against the military. The contrast to Argentina – who created a commission to investigate the tens of thousands of disappearances of the dictatorship shortly after the return to democracy – is stark.

The Brazilian state has tried to mend the wounds by offering, since 2001, reparations and compensations to torture victims and relatives of people who were killed or disappeared under the dictatorship. There have been 40 300 applications, and 3.5 billion BRL has been paid out (O Globo, 31/03/2014). In addition, a “social movement for truth” has started. Children and grandchildren of the victims of the military dictatorship are active in demonstrations with great support from civil society. In Rio de Janeiro, a local branch of the “occupy” movement has started a campaign to make the old center for political surveillance and torture (‘DOPS’) currently unoccupied, a memorial center. Many states and cities have started local truth commissions, and a National Truth Commission was finally established in 2012.

With the help of newly released documents in the United States, the Brazilians have been able to reconstruct how the coup in 1964 was planned. (E.g. see the documentary movie: O dia que durou 21 anos, 2012, directed by Camilo Galli Tavares). The American presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson were desperate to stop the spread of “Cuban” revolutions on the continent. They did not trust president João Goulart and the Brazilian democracy, especially after the left-leaning Goulart expressed support for agrarian reform and other “communist” actions. The generals in Brazil were given the thumbs up to start their alternative “revolution”.

It had two pillars: forced reduction of salaries and foreign loans and investments. The result was high economic growth for a few years. The growth was however not sustainable, and the consequences were dramatic. The Amazon region experienced a massive “colonization”, deforestation, and extermination of indigenous populations. Brazil was on top of the world ranking of inequality. In 1980, the generals had driven the country into bankruptcy – Brazil was unable to handle its foreign debt. The hyperinflation plagued the country until the mid-1990s, and the debt to IMF was not paid off before 2008. While the minimum wages have increased drastically since 2003, with the decrees of the presidents Lula and Dilma, it has still not reached the 1964-level.

The favelas are a pressing image of the urban inequality in Rio de Janeiro
One particularly ugly legacy of the military dictatorship is the institutionalization of torture in Brazilian interrogation centers and prisons. It is illegal and the state offers special ombudsmen to help denounce cases of torture. From 2011 to 2013 there were denounces against 1162 state agents, and in 2013 alone 361 denounces were registered (O Globo, 01/04/2014). However, evidence is hard to find, and the Polícia Militar is under jurisdiction of military attorneys and judges. Only if civilians are killed and the military attorneys agree on prosecution, military police are brought to civil justice.

Hence, there are several points of departure for human rights organizations to demand a thorough demilitarization of the police and of the society.

There is no public support to reintroduce military rule in Brazil. The problem is that the political-economic elites do not want to do away with important reminiscences of the dictatorship. Instead, they are maintaining the idea of the “enemy within”- no longer represented by “communists”, but by “drug traffickers”. In addition, the politicians are concerned about popular uprisings, which have increased explosively in the favelas over the last year. As a consequence, the politicians are allying themselves with the generals. During the week of the 50th anniversary of the coup d´état, military troops together with the military police once again occupied a large favela area in Rio de Janeiro. The troops will not be withdrawn from the Maré complex before 31st of July, after the FIFA World Cup is finished. In practice, a military state of emergency has been introduced in parts of one of Latin America’s most important cities.

* Based on Einar Braathen’s article in the Norwegian daily newspaper Klassekampen, on 28 March 2014. Translated from Norwegian by Celina Sørbøe.

Will there be a World Cup in Brazil?

By Einar Braathen*

Rio de Janeiro three days before the carnival: yet another street demonstration this record hot Brazilian summer. Twice as many police as demonstrators in the street. The slogans are: Não Vai Ter Copa – ‘”There won´t be World Cup”– and ‘No to criminalization of protests».

Não Vai Ter Copa – ‘”There won´t be World Cup” – sounds like a surreal parole in a football crazy country that has already invested around 10 billion USD on arenas for the tournament which will start on June 12th. Still, the parole has received growing support, and not only on social media and among the activists who have already taken to the streets on numerous occasions during this record hot Brazilian summer. In fact, an increasing percentage of the population as a whole are against the country arranging the World Cup: 10 percent in 2008, 26 percent in June last year, up to a record-high 38 percent this February. The Brazilian government and the International Football Federation (FIFA) therefore fear a repetition of the mass protests that took place during the Confederations’ Cup in June 2013, when over 10 million protesters were in the streets in 400 cities throughout Brazil. They are particularly worried that the host cities will be plagued by violent confrontations. Much indicates that this will be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The demands from June last year are equally prevalent today, including: a significant improvement of public services within the areas of public transportation, health and education; and no to corrupt politicians, who together with entrepreneurs are getting rich from overpriced and socially destructive construction projects.

The presidency, the congress, and several governors are up for elections this October. They have all proven to be incapable of following up on the promises they gave last year to “listen to the voice of the streets” in order to quell the protests. Instead, the corporate-driven media of the country, led by the Globo- imperium, is focusing on the violence and vandalism of certain protesters. The politicians are hoping that repressive measures – such as more police, new laws, and harsher penalties – will quell the tensions and isolate demonstrators. There is much at stake in front of these games.

The public opinion continues to be on the side of the protesters. Not as overwhelmingly as in June last year, but 52 percent of the population still express “support the demonstrations”, according to the poll agency Datafolha. On the other hand, the grand coalition that makes up the federal government was approved by only 39 percent of the people this February, compared to around 60 percent before the mass protests of last year.

The government has presented the following bills for the congress: increased penalties – up to three years imprisonment – for whoever destroys public or private property; prohibiting the use of masks during demonstrations; and obligation to announce demonstrations 24 hours in advance to a series of specified governmental organs. In addition, a proposal has surged that would legalize measures the police has already used on multiple occasions, which is preventive actions – including the arrestment of surveillanced persons before the demonstrations begin.

Romero Juca (PMDB), a parliamentary leader of one of the two largest political parties in the government coalition, does however not feel that the government is going far enough. With enthusiastic support from right wing forces, he has proposed a new “law against terrorism”, which explicitly will strike street protesters accused of using violence. Terrorism is, according to this proposal, the act of “provoking or spreading generalized fear or panic through violating human life or the physical integrity, health or freedom of persons”. The prescribed penalties that are being suggested is from 8 to 20 years if the attack is directed towards public or private property, 15 to 24 years if directed towards a human being, and 24 to 30 years if the act of violence results in death. The proposal is being pushed in order to take effect before the World Cup.

At the same time, a massive police corps is being put together. 150 000 officers from the military police and 20 000 private security guards are preparing in special World Cup battalions, with a budget of around 1 billion USD. Ralf Mutschkle, FIFA´s director of security, is part of the chain of command and in charge of the private security guards. In Rio de Janeiro, the World Cup battalion has its own elite troop. The newspaper O Globo recently portrayed their new armor on the front page with the headline Rio gets “Robocop” against Black Blocks. Black Blocks are the “enemy”- supposedly violent protesters.

Surely, there are anarchist groups that idealize the “right to revolt”, or at least the “right to self-defense”. However, researchers, journalists, and human rights´ activists that have observed the clashes between police and protesters point to the fact that the tumults are almost always triggered by an aggressive police. The law enforcers rarely enter in dialogue with the protesters. The police resorts far too quickly to teargas grenades, rubber bullets and “tasers” (laser guns). On the other hand, the grand majority of protesters is opposed to breaking garbage cans and bank branch windows, which are the most common forms of “revenge violence”.

The violence status from June last year until today is that one person has been killed as a direct result of protesters´ actions – a television photographer who was struck in the head by a fireworks rocket. On the other hand, an unknown number of demonstrators or bystanders have passed away in traffic accidents or similar accidents as they have tried to escape the rubber bullets and tear gas of the police.

Of the many thousands of protesters that have been taken in – during the last demonstration in São Paulo on February 21st, 262 were arrested – the police have only been capable of bringing 27 people to court, in spite of their surveillance cameras and other intelligence. Several hundred police officers have been reported for the use of severe violence in service, but no one has been brought to justice. An especially dangerous development is that the police seems to be actively hindering the work of the media in the field. In São Paulo alone, 57 journalists have become victims of police aggression during protests since June last year, and 107 in the country as a whole, according to the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (Abraji).

Sure, there will be a World Cup in Brazil. The question is: what kind of World Cup, and at what price? Economically, socially, and not at least politically, the Brazilians are paying a price that might be too high. Presumably, Sepp Blatter and FIFA will once again get off too easily, with too high profits. One can however ask: is the international audience willing to accept that the right to demonstrate and other democratic rights are being sacrificed because yet another corrupt mega sports show must go on?

* Based on Einar Braathen’s article in the Norwegian daily newspaper Klassekampen, Wednesday 5 March 2014. Translated by Celina Sørbøe.

The Unsecure City: Police and Protesters in Rio de Janeiro

By Celina Myrann Sørbøe and Einar Braathen

The massive June protests in Brazil were sparked by an indignation over the excessive force used by the police. This has spurred a debate over reform and demilitarization of the main police force, Policia Militar (the Military Police). The debate is, however, polarized. An increasing focus on the acts of vandalism committed by some protesters is being used to justify the authoritarian police in order to uphold law and order.

June protests

Violent confrontations between protesters and the riot police have been an everyday affair the last months, damaging the already blemished reputation of the police institution. International media have published photos of unarmed and unprotected protesters being sprayed in the face with pepper spray and shot at with rubber bullets. Journalists, lawyers and human rights observers claim to have been targeted by the police.

These protests have been an awakening for the average Brazilian citizen. For the first time, middle class residents were confronted with the brutality of the police that favela residents have lived with for decades. The difference is that in the favelas, the bullets of the police are not made of rubber. Could this lead to a police reform?

One of the slogans that have been heard during the demonstrations in Rio has gone something like “What a coincidence! Where there’s no police, there’s no violence! ”

Ten thousand dead in ten years

According to a recent study conducted by sociologist Michel Misse, more than ten thousand people were killed by the Rio de Janeiro police between the years 2001 and 2011. Almost all of the deaths were registered as acts of resistance; meaning as a consequence of the victim putting officers’ or others’ lives at risk. Research done in 2003 however shows that 65% of those killings had unmistakable signs of execution (Soares 2009). Between 2005 and 2007, there were 707 registered deaths by the police with a known perpetrator. Of these cases 355 were investigated, and merely one resulted in a conviction. Reflecting on this data, Misse states “I don’t use the word impunity; that would be an exaggeration”.

The majority of these deaths have occurred in the city’s favelas, where police operations have been characterized by a military logic. The police have entered the favelas with the mentality of an occupying army, engaged in a “war” with the drug gangs controlling these territories. The police would seek confrontation with the drug traffickers rather than avoiding it, often leading to shoot-outs. Many innocent lives have been lost as a result of so-called “lost bullets” striking random victims caught in the crossfire during such operations.

The logo of the Bope special force. The skull symbolizes death, the sward signifies combat and its position through the skull indicates war. The black background represents mourning and the pistols the emblem of the military police.

New logic in the favelas?

The hard-hand policies of the police have not only proved incapable of reducing the levels of violence and crime in the favelas. In addition, they have been losing political legitimacy because of the many human right abuses reported. In order to improve the sense of security and the reputation of Rio as a violent city, a new police program called UPP, Unidade de Policia Pacificadora (“Pacifying Police Units”) has been developed. UPP is a new branch within the Military Police. The UPP project of “pacifying” strategically located favelas in front of the Olympic Games has been a prestige project of the governor Sérgio Cabral (elected in 2006 and re-elected in 2010). Recent accusations of rape, extortions, and disappearances have however tarnished the image of the UPP. Two recent incidents in favelas show how there is still a long way to go before the residents of favelas are recognized the same protection of the legal framework as other inhabitants of Rio de Janeiro.


On June 24th, a few hundred people attended peaceful demonstration against rising prices for public transport on Avenida Brasil, which escalated into armed conflict between the police and a group of men who apparently took advantage of the confusion surrounding the demonstration to rob stores in the area. A policeman was killed, and the police entered the favela Nova Holanda in Maré in what residents have characterized as a bloody vendetta by the police. June 25th was a “night of terror” with intense shooting exchanges between the police and “criminals,” which left nine dead and as many wounded. Tear gas bombs were fired at the office of the civil society organization Observatorio das Favelas, and the electricity in the area was cut off for almost two days.Observatorio das Favelas was quick to condemn the police operation for various violations, such as illegal invasions of the homes of several residents followed by vandalism, looting, intimidation and confiscation of money and documents. The second in command of the Police Special Forces, João Jacques Busnello, claimed that the operation was within the legal framework and that it was a timely and compliant response to the attack the police had suffered in a comment to the news channel O Globo. In the same statement, Busnello stated that six of those killed were “bandits” or “suspects”, as if this justifies the deaths. Brazil is, after all, supposedly a rule-of-law state where one is innocent until proven guilty. The Civil Police has stated that the three remaining dead were innocent residents.

Where is Amarildo?

On July 14th, 42 year old Amarildo de Souza was taken in for questioning by the UPP police in the largest favela of Rio de Janeiro, Rocinha. The bricklayer and a father of six had apparently been mistaken for a drug dealer. The family of Amarildo was told that he would be released the same evening. Since then, no one has seen him.

The Maré and Amarildo cases are not the first of their kind. However, in light of the recent protests, they have become symbolic cases that have challenged the police institution and demanded responses. Rather than joining the ranks of unresolved and forgotten cases of arbitrary police operations in the favelas, these two cases have heated up the debate on police reform. Tens of thousands have demonstrated demanding justice for Maré and the truth about what happened to Amarildo.


Some responses have come after the massive denouncements against the police in Rio. In August, the Chief Commander of the Military Police in Rio, Costa Filho, was forced to leave his position after it became known that he had given amnesty to police officers who had committed undefined “administrative” infractions. This was a small step towards combating police impunity. On August 14th the civil police opened up an inquiry to investigate possible police abuse of power during the protests. The same week, governor Cabral also suspended the so-called Resolution 013. This resolution has been centralizing power in the hands of the UPP commanders, who have had full authority to veto the happening of any social, cultural or sports event at his or her will. This gave ground for corruption and abuse of authority. Finally, Rocinha got a new UPP commander in the beginning of September because of the Amarildo scandal.

However, these shifts of commanders do not reflect a shift of security policy. To the contrary, the elected politicians whose legitimacy and representativeness were deeply questioned by the mass protesters in June, have taken on a counter offensive.

Legitimate protesters or vandals?

Brazil’s Independence Day on the 7th of September is traditionally characterized by military parades. This year very few civilians showed up to watch and applaud the military troops. In most cities there were activists demonstrating against the military monopoly of the Independence Day. The Military Police was well prepared and beat up hundreds of people and arrested dozens, supposedly because they were masked.

The State Assembly of Rio de Janeiro has recently sanctioned a new law forbidding people to use masks in mass demonstrations, thus giving the police even more powers to oppress and pre-empt street demonstrators. The use of masks was at first one of the measures that protesters used to protect themselves against the tear gas, later on to remain anonymous to protect themselves from being targeted by the police. Only a very few young people with masks are actually part of the so-called Black Block with anarchist militant affiliation.

While initially supporting the protesters as legitimate, the mainstream media has for the last month or so overwhelmingly focused the on acts of vandalism committed by some people during the protests. The political nature of the demands of the protesters is ignored. The governor and the police are helped by conservative mass media such as O Globo in portraying the people who continue street demonstrations as Black Blocks and mere ‘vandals’. This is contributing to delegitimizing the protests in the eyes of the general public whose main source of information is the largest media corporations, and justifying the measures outside of the legal order taken by the police to combat vandalism.

Hope of reform?

The overwhelming popular support of the street demonstrators in June changed Brazilian politics. All of a sudden, president Dilma and all the leaders of the political parties promised to listen to ‘the voice of the streets’. Several speedy reform initiatives were taken. However, there is one demand from the street demonstrators that seems to be filtered away by the political elites: the call for a profound reform and demilitarization of the police. To the contrary, the politicians in power want to strengthen the iron fist of the police and use of force against civilians. They try to demobilize and demoralize those younger people who want to continue the struggle. Criminalization of radical, but at the outset peaceful, demonstrators is part of a strategy to isolate them from the people. This strategy has been employed by state authorities with great success many times before in the history of Brazil (and other countries). It remains to be seen if the final outcome of the June protests is more authoritarianism or a deeper democracy.


Soares, Luiz Eduardo. 2009. “Refundar as Polícias”. Le Monde Diplomatique Brazil.

Leite, Márcia Pereira. 2000. “Entre o individualismo ea solidariedade: dilemas da política e da cidadania no Rio de Janeiro”. Revista Brasileira de Ciências Sociais 14 (44): 73-90.

The Olympic City after the June Protests

By Celina Myrann Sørbøe

Two months have passed since the massive June protests raged over all of Brazil. With time, the size of the demonstrations has inevitably diminished, and Brazil has disappeared from the world’s spotlight. What has been going on since June, as the protests no longer make international headlines? In this blog post, we take a closer look at some of the consequences the protests have had in Rio de Janeiro.

Background for the protests and principal demands

In Rio de Janeiro, Governor Sérgio Cabral won the 2010 elections with 66 percent of the votes. On July 1st 2013, however, after the peak of the June protests, only 25 percent of the population characterized his government as “good” or “very good”. His popularity has continued to drop: recent polls show that his level of support is at a mere 8 percent. After it was made public in early July that Cabral and his family members had been using public helicopters to take them to and from their vacation house on the weekends, the demonstrations against him exploded. Protesters have been camping outside his home in the upper-class neighborhood of Leblon ever since, demanding his impeachment.

Cabral’s sharp decline on the polls synthesizes the ever increasing discontentment with the state and municipal administrations that has been growing among the population of Rio de Janeiro the last years, culminating in the June protests. There seems to be an increasing disjunction between the politicians and their vision for the city and the interests of the population they are supposed to represent. People just do not see how somebody who can use public helicopters to fly the nanny to and from his private mansion on the weekends understands or represents the needs and demands of the population.

The Olympic City

Since being rewarded with the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games, transforming Rio into an “Olympic city” has been the obsession of the carioca administration. More than a mere tourist attraction, these mega-events will provide Rio with a valuable opportunity to place itself on the world map as a major political and economic actor. Through interventions in housing, mobility and security, the “Olympic project” has touched every segment of Rio’s society in some way or other. Initially the project had wide support; hence the population’s patience with the many delays, setbacks and cracked budgets that have plagued the construction works. The patience and positive will is however running out. Growing numbers of people are questioning the true intentions of the authorities and the ultimate consequences for ordinary residents.

Rio, as other cities in Brazil, has a strong institutional framework demanding popular participation and transparent governance. There has however been little or no dialogue with the population when it comes to the selection of investments and projects in front of the Olympic games. The much-publicized investments in urban mobility will help to facilitate movement between the Olympic venues and the international airport. Yet it is not given that they will have widespread benefit for the population as a whole. Meanwhile the general bus system is at a breaking point. In addition, the prices on rent and food have increased significantly over the last years as a result of an “Olympic bubble”.

The cash transfer program Bolsa Familia, increased minimum wages and other federal programs have gained international recognition and improved the living conditions of the poorest of the poor over the last decade. This increased income, which enables the growth of consumption, does however not solve the precarious nature of public education, health care, or public transport. Neither does it address the fragmentation that characterizes the urban landscape in Rio. In sum, gentrification, lack of transparency, skewed investments and precarious public services are just some of the issues that have characterized the urban development in Rio to the growing discontent of the inhabitants.

Impacts of the demonstrations

The demonstrations in Rio neither started nor ended with the massive mobilizations that gained international attention in June. These manifestations did not come from nowhere: they represent the culmination of years of formation of a new generation of urban movements. Organizations such as the MPL (movement for free transport), student movements, urban resistance movements, favela residents’ associations and movements “sem-teto” (for those without housing) have through occupations and demonstrations articulated in broader networks such as the People’s Committee of the World Cup and Olympics. Through the use of social media networks, the June protests gained size and strength, recruiting students and middle-class residents that had little prior experience with activism but were fed up with the ongoing processes. While earlier demonstrations met little compliance from the government, the massive mobilizations of the June uprisings forced the politicians to listen.

After long weeks where the hard core of protesters has held up the pressure; arranging numerous protest marches, camping in front of Sérgio Cabral’s house, occupying the City Council and re-occupying the Aldeia Maracanã indigenous museum adjoining the Maracanã stadium, August is finally bearing fruit for the demonstrators. Both the Governor Sérgio Cabral and the Mayor Eduardo Paes have met with the People’s Committee, residents’ associations from various communities and other civil society organizations, and have had to give in to some of their long-standing demands. On August 8th, Eduardo Paes promised more transparency in the processes surrounding public works related to the mega-events, and did a 180 degrees turn-around on two important cases for the civil society in Rio: the plans for the Maracanã stadium and the removal of Vila Autódromo.

The People’s Committee protesting the Maracanã removals

The massive upgrading and privatization of the beloved Maracanã soccer stadium has been a disputed case in Rio. In spite of having been renovated in 2007, the stadium had to go through a new expensive renovation process in order to meet FIFA standards. The day before the bidding process on Maracanã was disclosed on October 22nd 2012, the Mayor undeclared the nearby Aquatic Park and Athletic Stadium as historic heritage sites, making their removal possible in order to construct parking spots and shops. Ever since, there have been strong mobilizations in order to keep the public buildings around the Maracanã. The forced eviction of indigenous people from the “Museu do Índio”, the indigenous cultural center, was a drawn out process that resulted in many violent clashes between activists and the police during the first months of 2013. After having left the building in March, the indigenous community gained courage from the June uprisings and reoccupied the building in the beginning of August. On August 8th, the Mayor Eduardo Paes met with the People’s committee at the Mayor’s request. The meeting led to some important victories that will change the future of the Maracanã stadium. The Athletic Stadium and the Aquatic Park were once again declared sites of national heritage, along with the Indigenous center and the Friedenreich Municipal School. These buildings will thus not be demolished.

The community of Vila Autôdromo in the Western zone (Jacarepaguá) of the city has been threatened by removal on numerous occasions, lately because of its location next to the future Olympic Park. While the City government stated that the removal of Vila Autódromo was inevitable, residents mobilized against it. August 9th finally represented a turning point for the residents of Vila Autódromo. After twenty years of resisting the threat of removal, the Mayor Eduardo Paes finally committed to a solution that could guarantee the permanence of the community. The mayor acknowledged that there had been errors in the treatment of the community and said he is willing to initiate a round of negotiations based on the permanence and upgrading of Vila Autódromo. While this is a big step forward, it remains to be seen whether the government actually sticks to this commitment, as the community has been through many rounds of threats of removal before. The Mayor did not commit to stopping evictions in Rio, where an estimated 40 000 people are threatened by removal because of the mega-events. He however committed to revise on-going projects and publish a decree that will establish clear rules concerning families’ resettlement processes. At least a channel of dialogue has been opened.

Where does it go from here?

In a public statement on August 8th, the People’s Committee stated that

“The recent retreats of the state government (…) are nothing more than reactions to the popular mobilizations. People taking to the streets have sent a clear message to politicians: we will not accept living in a city for sale! We will not accept a city managed for private benefit!”

They are most likely right. The retreats of the state and municipal governments came after persistent public demonstrations and protests. Both Cabral and Paes are facing demands of their impeachment, and they and others are feeling the pressure coming from the streets. The population has had enough of the enormous distance between the people and the politicians and demand more democratic representativeness. However, the recent promises have by some been interpreted as mere reactionary fire extinguishing politics; as desperate attempts to gain popularity through a populist compliance with some of the demands of a population with a short memory.

One can already see tendencies where the initial promises are being distorted. An example is the CPI (Parliamentary Inquiry Commission) on public transport in order to investigate the contracts signed between the municipality of Rio and the bus companies. It has been requested without approval since 2008 because of denouncements of cartel formation and corruption, but gained visibility with the June mass protests and was finally approved on June 25th. While supposed to be a tool of the opposition in the city council, the CPI seems to have been co-opted by the majority who were against it in the first place. The commission elected August 14th consists of only one councilman from the opposition- Eliomar Coelho (PSOL), who has threatened to leave because it is turning into a circus. The protesters that have demonstrated to demand a new commission have been written off as “militants” from the PSOL and other leftist parties by the conservative media and politicians in order to delegitimize their demands. Recently, this has been the case also with the teachers who are currently on strike – and whom the Mayor on several occasions has accused of being motivated by party politics – and the proposed CPI on the Globo news corporation to investigate tax evasion and other irregular activities.

To summarize, the civil society has gained some small victories with the protests, but there have been no revolutionary changes in the urban regime. The “Olympic project” continues to dominate the city governance. The civil society that has been made aware of their power through these last months will have to keep up the pressure to guarantee that the politicians stick to their promises. The history of Vila Autôdromo, which has gone through numerous threats of removal and guarantees of permancence, shows that a promise today might very well be challenged in the future.

Brazil’s June ‘Vinegar Uprising’ and its effects

The Vinegar Uprising
By Einar Braathen, Ana Lúcia da Silva and Celina Myrann Sørbøe*.

On June 30 the Brazilians celebrated that their football stars won the Confederations Cup. Who will win the much more important game that evolved outside the football stadiums, staging the biggest spontaneous street demonstrations in Brazil’s history?

In this blogpost, we try to depict what the extra-parliamentary game has been about. In particular we are interested to know whether president Dilma Rousseff’s proposals for political reform and new public transport policies are adequate responses to the social protests, and whether they may have but a symbolic and defusing effect.

The ‘vinegar uprising’

The mass demonstrations that spread across Brazil in June against precarious and over-priced urban collective transport, corruption, and grossly expensive World Cup projects were ironically nick-named the “Vinegar Uprising” by social movements and protesters. The first demonstrations in São Paulo were organized by the movement for free public transport, Movimento Passe Livre (MPL) on the 6th and 13th of June. What started out as peaceful demonstrations turned into violent clashes between protesters and the police, who used weapons such as tear gas, rubber bullets and batons to control the demonstrations. Vinegar can be used to alleviate the effects of teargas, and is therefore something that many protesters carried. On June 13th, some 60 protesters were arrested for possessing this “weapon”, which has been widely ironized by protesters. Vinegar therefore soon became a symbol for the movement. A Facebook campaign to “legalize vinegar” was created, and the ‘March for Legalizing Vinegar’ gathered tens of thousands of attendees. While there is a humoristic spin on these initiatives, it underlines the absurdity of the situation where the police, who are supposed to protect and serve the population, engage in a full-on confrontation that does not distinguish between peaceful protesters and the handful of people who have taken advantage of the general confusions to commit acts of vandalism.

World Cup vs. people’s needs

Among the banners carried by protesters in the mass mobilizations across Brazil, a frequent slogan has been demanding “FIFA standard” on education, health and security. The Confederations Cup, the test-run for the FIFA World Cup to be held in June next year, spurred debate over the massive public spending on stadiums and infrastructure related to the mega-events while the quality on public services is of alarmingly poor quality.

The World Cup 2014 is estimated to cost more than the past three World Cups combined. Approximately 13 billion USD of public money will be spent on the World Cup and 2016 Olympics, two events meant to showcase a modern, developed Brazil. Over the last decade Brazil has had a steady economic growth and social uplift. 10 per cent of the population, nearly 20 million people, has moved out of extreme poverty. However, Brazil suffers from insufficient and inefficient public services, thanks to corruption and the lack of political will to prioritize their proper delivery. Brazil spends only 3 per cent of GDP on education, and two-thirds of Brazilian 15-year-olds are incapable of more than basic mathematics and half cannot draw inferences from what they read. Brazil spends only 3.77 per cent of GDP on health, much of it in the private health services for the well-off classes. The country ranks lower than comparable economies in Latin America on infant mortality, life expectancy and a range of other indicators.

Instead of investing in health and education, billions of public funds are going towards white elephant projects related to the World Cup, such as the 43,000-capacity super-stadium in the Amazon city of Manaus whose 4th division soccer team attracts an average of 588 fans per game. In Rio de Janeiro, the beloved Maracanã stadium has undergone its second renovation in seven years in order to meet FIFA standards. The most recent upgrade exceeded the budget by 48.8 per cent and was just within the 50 per cent cost increase allowed by law, raising accusations that the construction consortium has milked the public coffins to the maximum. This underscores the impression that the nation blessed with the world’s most successful soccer team is also cursed by some of the worst levels of corruption and bureaucracy.

The street demonstrations were however not clearly or primarily against the mega sports events. The Confederations Cup served merely as an arena for international and national media attention, and its costs and corrupt management became an evident symbol of what has been perceived as larger political evils at the national level.

President Dilma’s turn-around

Since her election in 2010, Dilma Rousseff has continued Luis Inácio Lula da Silva’s combination of business friendly policies, broad political coalitions and improvement of the well-being for the poorest. However, their Workers’ Party (PT) was involved in severe corruption scandals under Lula’s rule (2003-2010), and President Dilma has been criticized for being a technocrat and unable to secure popular support for the government. They have both championed the spending on the FIFA World Cup and Olympics. This way, the PT which led struggles for democracy and social reforms since the 1980s, has also been hit by the street demonstrators’ critique of the corrupt political parties.

While President Dilma was notoriously quiet the first week of the demonstrations, she changed her approach profoundly on Monday June 24th. After having met a delegation of activists from Movimento Passe Livre, she held a TV speech to the nation. She praised the demonstrators who used their democratic rights and raised their voices. She claimed they contributed to a much needed “oxygenation of the political system” by resisting the “money power in politics”. She denounced the police excessive use of force by the police, promised to deepen citizen participation in policy-making, and announced several initiatives. The key ones are firstly a popular referendum on political reform; secondly a national transport plan elaborated in a participatory way with full civil society involvement from the city to federal levels, followed by massive investments to improve ‘urban mobility’; and, thirdly, earmarking oil revenues for education.

By responding to the demonstrations and acknowledging the frustrations of the protesters, President Dilma won the initiative in the public debate. She changed the mood of the country from confrontation to dialogue. With her speech the President was able to steer the focus away from her impeachment, which was a demand that had been raised by the right-wing who had gained focus the first week of protests, towards a focus on political reform. Opinion polls show that 73 per cent of the people support her new initiative. Still, only 30 per cent approve the performance of her government, and her speech has not demobilized the people. While the demonstrations do not gather the same crowds as in mid June there are still protests, and people who participated have gained a political awareness that continues to put pressure on politicians to follow up on their promises. As such, one can say that Dilma’s proposals contributed to making Brazil what at the moment can be characterized as the world’s largest political workshop.

Political reform

Political reform has been discussed in Brazil for some years now. One of the main points of contestation is whether to end private funding of election campaigns which PT and the left wants to abolish. This proposal has however always been stopped by a majority in the parliament, where most of its members have been elected with private funding, and where politics are characterized by horse-trading and exchange of favors. However, the demonstrations have revealed a popular rage against the current political system and the lack of representativeness and legitimacy of the politicians and their parties. On June 24th President Dilma therefore proposed a referendum over a political reform.

Two possibilities arise from the convocation of a referendum: (i) it may approve a process of electing a special constitutional assembly with power to draft and vote the text for the political reform; or (ii) it may rely on the direct participation of the population who will vote on specific points for the political reform. A combination of the two is also possible. These options and how and whether they can bring a renewal of the political system are being discussed by the government, experts and the people, making “political reform” the most discussed topics in social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube in the end of June.

Dilma Rousseff also proposed a new law that considers corruption a heinous crime, with harsher penalties without bail. This decision was approved by the Senate on June 26 and heads for voting to the House of Representatives (“Câmara”) before being sanctioned by the President. The president also called for the implementation of the Law on Access to Information, which will increase transparency.

Public Transport

A second main focus of Dilma’s speech on June 24th was improvements in the area of public transport. She promised to allocate an additional BRL 50 billion (USD 25 billion) to investments in urban transport systems. São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and other cities were quick to reverse the price increases on public transport which initially triggered the demonstrations. The announced decrease in the price of user fares will be compensated by the government in the form of increased subsidies to the companies operating the public transportation. However, these companies and their shady connections to politicians who have given them concessions were one of the targets of the protesters.

Therefore the Movimento Passe Livre (MPL) has criticized these measures, and the movement calls for public inquiries into the linkages between transport concessionaries and politicians. In Rio de Janeiro, popular pressure led to the installation of a CPI (Parliamentary Inquiry Commission) to investigate the concession contracts between the municipality and the bus companies, which will be started in August.

MPL initially demanded that urban transport becomes a free-for-all public service, as part of the right-to-the-city which is already embodied in the federal City Statute from 2001. Depending on the city, some have reduced the demand to making transportation free only for students and unemployed, while reducing the general fare.

The national transport plan that Dilma proposes is to be elaborated with the full involvement of the civil society, as prescribed by the 1988 Constitution. In the 1990s, many cities run by the Workers’ Party (PT) excelled in participatory democracy. After Lula took power in 2003, almost every national policy sector has formulated its priorities and guidelines by conferences starting at the municipality level, continued at state levels and finalized at the federal level. Now it is time for the urban transport sector to practice this type of participatory policy-making.

The youth vs the power

What was fascinating about the June demonstrations is how quickly they spread from being a handful of leftist youth activists marching for cheaper public transportation to becoming an all-encompassing movement with the support of 81 percent of the population. The overwhelming majority of the people taking to the streets in June were young people from the middle-class who did not have much political formation or prior experiences with demonstrations. They were by the large mobilized through social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Social media has not only been used to mobilize people but also as political tools. Videos portraying police violence uploaded online have giving credibility to the demonstrations. While the conservative media in the beginning characterized the protesters as a gang of vandals and troublemakers, justifying the police repression in order to protect public property, they were forced to change their discourse as the demonstrations spread. From one day to the next, the major Brazilian news corporation – O Globo – switched coat and supported the demonstrations. In other words, the protests have been a huge wake-up call for the traditional power centers.

… with unknown destination?

As the mass mobilizations calm down, the challenge is to bring the energy from the streets into concrete political change. The questions are to what extent activists from the MPL and other youth networks will participate in giving shape to the proposals suggested by Dilma, whether the conferences will be able to agree on clear policy recommendations, and last but not least whether policy recommendations coming out from these conferences will be implemented by the executive authorities even when vested private interests are challenged.

Although Brazil has been ruled by a centre-left coalition since 2003, it has not wanted to change the power relations in Brazil. The private financial and business elite has been supported rather than challenged by the government. Radical proposals from the civil and the mentioned public policy conferences have not been adopted by the government when it faces resistance from the right wing political and economic elites.

Due to conservative influences, the federal government has been weak and slow in its efforts to change the huge police forces that, to a large extent, keep on with their ‘shoot first’ legacy of the authoritarian past. Police reform is not yet high on Brazil’s agenda. Hence, the street demonstrators may continue to need vinegar. Where their march will end is still too early to announce.

* Braathen is leader and da Silva and Sørbøe are research assistants of the project ‘Cities against Poverty – Brazilian experiences’ at the Norwegian Institute for Urban and Regional Research (NIBR). The project is funded by the Research Council of Norway (2010-2013). Email: