On the Ground During the 2014 Brazilian Presidential Election

By Robert Snyder

Campaign car.

One of many campaign cars for a Workers’ Party city council candidate in Niterói, near Rio de Janeiro.

Last fall’s Brazilian presidential election exposed deep rifts in the country’s political and social landscape. The animosity demonstrated by the candidates — who included the incumbent, Dilma Rousseff of the Worker’s Party (PT), and Aecio Neves of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party — in nationally televised debates was mirrored by ordinary citizens on the street. The country is clearly suffering from dramatic socioeconomic inequalities and widespread public discontent. Almost 10 percent of its 200 million residents live in urban slums wracked by violence and infectious disease. In 2013, the country was brought to a standstill by protesters incensed by crumbling infrastructure, corrupt politicians, and disreputable public security forces. Further, Dilma’s first term was marked by economic stagnation. The recent bankruptcy of construction magnate Eike Batista, who at one point was the eighth wealthiest person in the world, is emblematic of the country’s economic struggles. The ruling party has also been implicated in vote buying and corruption scandals that have seen indictments but no jail time. The combination of social unrest, inequality, and economic woes led to an extremely interesting and competitive election cycle.

I arrived in Rio de Janeiro in early September, just as the campaigns were reaching their peak. In Brazil, voting is compulsory, and it seemed as though everyone was willing to voice his or her opinion. Every day, the city’s iconic beaches were lined with supporters waving oversized, brightly colored flags (blue for Aecio, red for Dilma) and handing out campaign paraphernalia. A steady stream of inane campaign promises and obnoxious jingles blared from loudspeaker-mounted cars, overwhelming the normal urban symphony. These sounds were mixed with those of angry motorists as they honked and demonstrated their displeasure with the traffic.

Many of my professional colleagues — members of the “old left,” who contributed to the fall of the military dictatorship in 1985 — dreaded the possibility of Neves’ election.  They claimed that Neves would repeal the conditional cash transfer programs that have been vital to the emergent middle class. On the other side, Neves’ supporters argued that these programs were a form of vote buying, which created a needy welfare state. As the runoff election approached, even The Economist weighed in, arguing for Neves’ election, claiming that it would improve Brazil’s tanking economy. Walking down the street without being handed pamphlets for both candidates became nearly impossible.

Reading the candidate’s policies as an outsider, I could barely perceive an ideological difference. Neither described any plans to repeal or augment cash-transfer programs, and neither had laid out any policies to address the drivers of last year’s protests. Worse, they both planned to continue denuding the world’s largest carbon sink, the Amazon rainforest, whose disappearance has been linked to the crippling drought in São Paulo, the continent’s largest city and home to 20 million people.

Robert Snyder

Robert Snyder in Niterói, Rio de Janeiro state.

Ultimately, Dilma won by a margin of less than 4 percent. Some of her opponents reacted to her reelection with derision or derogatory and racially motivated comments about her Northeastern power-base. Despite a new presidential term and promises to renew the economy, recent news has focused on the discovery of a “super-bacteria” in Rio’s fetid Bay of Guanabara or on widespread corruption and participation by the country’s police in the booming drug trade. If Dilma is to secure her legacy and cement Brazil’s role as a strategically important trading partner for other members of the G-20, her regime and the Brazilian ruling class must address the issues underlying the country’s economic, social, and political divides.

Robert Snyder is a Ph.D. candidate in Epidemiology at UC Berkeley.

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Regime Change From Roosevelt to Rousseff

By Carola Binder


Eleanor and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. (Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library & Museum.)

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected in October 1932, in the midst of the Great Depression. High unemployment, severely depressed spending, and double-digit deflation plagued the economy. Shortly after his inauguration in March 1933, a dramatic turnaround occurred. Positive inflation was restored, and 1933 to 1937 was the fastest four-year period of output growth in peacetime in United States history.

How did such a transformation occur? Economists Peter Temin and Barrie Wigmore attribute the recovery to a “regime change.” In the economics literature, regime change refers to the idea that a set of new policies can have major effects by rapidly and sharply changing expectations. A regime change can occur when a policymaker credibly commits to a new set of policies and goals. Gauti Eggertsson, who also analyzes the regime change under Roosevelt, explains:

“On the monetary policy side, FDR abolished the gold standard and — even more importantly — announced an explicit policy objective of inflating the price level to pre-depression levels. On the fiscal policy side, FDR expanded government real and deficit spending (i.e. government credit expansion) which made his policy objective credible. The key to the recovery was the successful management of expectations about future policy

Coordinated monetary and fiscal policy ended the Great Depression by engineering a shift in expectations from “contractionary,” i.e. the private sector expected future economic contraction and deflation, to “expansionary,” i.e. the public expected future economic expansion and inflation. The expectation of higher future inflation lowered the real rate of interest, thus stimulating demand, while the expectation of higher future income stimulated demand by raising permanent income.”

In short, Roosevelt stated and proved that he was willing to do whatever it would take to end deflation and restore economic growth. As Roosevelt proclaimed on October 22, 1933: “If we cannot do this one way, we will do it another. Do it, we will.”

Dilma Rousseff

Dilma Rousseff celebrates Brazilian Independence Day, 2014. (Photo by Roberto Stuckert/PR.)

Almost all politicians promise change but few manage such drastic transformation. In Brazil’s closely contested presidential election this October, incumbent President Dilma Rousseff won reelection with a three-point margin over centrist candidate Aecio Neves. Rouseff told supporters, “I know that I am being sent back to the presidency to make the big changes that Brazilian society demands. I want to be a much better president than I have been until now.”

Rousseff’s rhetoric of “big changes” refers in large part to the Brazilian economy, which is plagued with stagnant growth, high inflation, and a strained federal budget. Brazil’s currency, the real, hit a nine-year low following Rousseff’s victory, and the stock market also tumbled. This market tumult reflects investors’ doubts about the Rousseff administration’s intention and ability to enact effective reforms. Investors viewed Neves as the pro-business, anti-interventionist candidate and are unconvinced that Rousseff will act decisively to restore fiscal discipline and rein in inflation. In other words, Rousseff’s talk of change is not fully credible in the way that Roosevelt’s was.

Dilma Rousseff and then-Finance Minister Guido Mantega.

Dilma Rousseff and then-Finance Minister Guido Mantega. (Roberto Stuckert/PR.)

Since winning reelection, Rousseff has begun to implement some of the same policy reforms that Neves proposed. For instance, fuel prices were allowed to rise, as a step toward ending fuel price controls. Rousseff has also begun to reduce state bank subsidized lending. The central bank, which lacks complete autonomy from the government, finally raised its benchmark interest rate by 25 basis points in response to above-target inflation and has signaled that further rate hikes could ensue.

Though Rousseff is taking some actions to improve business conditions, restore fiscal discipline, and reduce inflation, the problem is that they are being enacted quietly and reluctantly rather than being trumpeted as part of a broader vision of reform. The key to regime change is that the effects of policy changes depend crucially on how the changes are presented and perceived. Economic policies work not only through direct channels but also through signaling and expectations. For example, a small rise in fuel prices and a reduction in state bank subsidized lending may have small direct effects, but if they are viewed as signals that the president is wholeheartedly embracing market-friendly reforms, the effects will be much greater. So far, despite Rousseff’s campaign slogan — “new government, new ideas” — she hasn’t credibly committed to a new regime.

Joaquim Levy at the World Economic Forum on Latin America.

Joaquim Levy at the World Economic Forum on Latin America. (Photo courtesy of the World Economic Forum/Photo by Alexandre Campbell.)

One way she might attempt to signal real commitment to regime change is through the appointment of new members to her administration. Upon resignation, Marta Suplicy, Rousseff’s culture minister since 2012, urged President Rousseff to set up “an independent economic team, with proven experience, to rescue the credibility of [her] government.” Most notably, Rousseff will be replacing Finance Minister Guido Mantega. She is expected to choose banker and University of Chicago-trained economist Joaquim Levy as Mantega’s replacement. As Brazil’s treasury chief from 2003 to 2006, Levy proved himself a fiscal hawk and helped Brazil restore its investment grade rating.

Levy’s fiscal conservatism and economic orthodoxy appeals to investors; markets rose at the news of his probable appointment. However, members of President Rousseff’s Workers’ Party, and Rousseff herself, are likely to oppose aspects of his approach. Rousseff received her strongest electoral support from the poorest parts of the country. In the short run at least, her pledges to fight poverty and inequality will be in tension with tighter fiscal and monetary policy. Unless Levy’s economic reforms can preserve popular anti-poverty programs, Rousseff is unlikely to follow through. So far, Rousseff’s “new government, new ideas” has not translated into a new regime.

Carola Binder.

Carola Binder.

Carola Binder is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Economics at UC Berkeley.

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Mercosur: The Need for Reforms

By Luis Ferreira Alvarez

The Mercusur Building, Montevideo, Uruguay.

The Mercusur Building, Montevideo, Uruguay. (Photo by Jimmy Baikovicius)

As Brazil and Argentina continue in recession, the Southern Common Market (Mercosur/Mercosul) provides them with a regional mechanism to restore economic growth. However, Mercosur has abandoned its free trade vision, instead becoming a protectionist organization. Reforming Mercosur would provide momentum for economic recovery. However, two fundamental changes must occur: Mercosur’s common policy of trade negotiations needs to be eliminated, and the organization’s Secretariat needs more independence. Changing these two components would allow Mercosur to return to its original mission of promoting free trade and create a stronger body, capable of finding consensus within the member states.

Mercosur — a free trade and custom union formed in 1991 between Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay (and later joined by Venezuela) — promotes the free movement of goods and people across the zone. Mercosur’s members have benefited from having integrated markets that expand their commerce. Argentina’s 2013 exports to Mercosur represented 26 percent of the country’s total exports, compared to 2.2 percent in 1991, while Argentine exports to the rest of Latin America (through the Latin American Integration Association, or Aladi) came a close second, representing 15 percent in 2013 (Fig 1). These figures show that Argentina’s trade is highly integrated with that of its neighbors, and closer cooperation between Mercosur and the rest of Latin America (especially the Pacific Alliance), is critical for Buenos Aires’ commerce.

Brazilian exports to Mercosur represented 11 percent of total exports, from 10 percent in 1991. When added with the rest of Latin America, Brazilian exports to the region reach 21 percent. However, Brazilian exports are more diverse than Argentina’s, with the European Union and China representing the largest shares of its exports, 20 percent and 19 percent respectively (Fig 2). Thus, while Brazil exports a tremendous amount to its Latin American neighbors, its largest markets are outside the region.

Figure 1: Argentine Exports 2009 to 2013 (Percentage of Participation)

Figure 1: Argentine Exports 2009 to 2013 (Percentage of Participation)

Source: National Institute of Statistics and Census (INDEC)

 Figure 2: Brazilian Exports 2009 to 2013 (Percentage of Participation)

Figure 2: Brazilian Exports 2009 to 2013 (Percentage of Participation)

Source: Ministry of Development, Industry, and Trade (MDIC)

However, further integration would expand growth by creating integrated value-added chains, making Mercosur goods more valuable. Examples of these chains can be seen in goods manufactured within the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) zone, where American workers produce 40 percent of U.S. imports from Mexico and 25 percent of imports from Canada. Creating such value-added chains in Mercosur would push Brazilian and Argentine manufacturers to become more efficient as well as create jobs on both sides. Furthermore, these valued-added chains could expand to other sectors, such as energy. However, accomplishing this task would mean reforming Mercosur by ending the common trade policy and de-politicizing the organization through a more independent Secretariat.

Ending the common trade policy would allow members to negotiate their own bilateral trade agreements while maintaining Mercosur. While having a single trade policy works for likeminded countries, Mercosur member states are ideologically divided between free traders and protectionists. This in turn delays trade negotiations when member states are unable to find consensus. The Mercosur-European Union trade agreement, which has been in negotiations since 1999, illustrates this divide. Finally, ending the common trade policy could help end the statist tendencies in some member states. Nafta provides another example of this: although domestic players pushed Mexico’s economic liberalization, the country’s integration with Canada and the U.S. made a return to protectionism very costly.

Finally, Mercosur’s Secretariat needs complete independence to ensure that all members benefit from the organization. Domestic politics has paralyzed Mercosur, creating obstacles for the organization’s effectiveness. To ensure that the aforementioned reform creates results, the organization’s Secretariat needs to make decisions without interference from members. Mercosur’s High Representative (the equivalent of the president of the European Council) needs independence to enforce organizational decisions. By creating a more independent Secretariat, Mercosur can promote intra-organizational standards and expand trade.

Reforming Mercosur should be one of the priorities of its members. By modifying its trade policy and giving more independence to its Secretariat, Mercosur could better serve the interests of all members. A reformed Mercosur could become an effective institution for internal and external investment. Lastly, reforms would provide members with more flexibility, allowing them to advance their own interests while maintaining Mercosur. Argentina and Brazil, the organization’s founding members and its largest economies, should lead the charge for reform or risk seeing it become just another South American political club.

Luis FerreiraLuis Ferreira Alvarez is a research analyst for an energy consulting firm and a UC Berkeley alum.

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The Brazilian Election and Central Bank Independence

By Carola Binder

The headquarters of the Banco Central do Brasil in Brasília.

The headquarters of the Banco Central do Brasil in Brasília. (Image courtesy of the Banco Central do Brasil.)

Brazilians will head to the polls on October 5 to vote in a tight presidential race. President Dilma Rousseff’s leading challenger is Socialist Party candidate Marina Silva. A key component of Silva’s economic platform is her support for a more independent central bank. Central bank independence, long a topic of interest to economists, is now capturing wide public attention — and for good reason.

Central banks across the world face different sets of laws regarding their governance structures, their autonomy, and the scope of their powers and responsibilities. In the last two decades, many countries have passed laws granting their central banks legal independence from government. Without central bank independence, inflation can be undesirably high for two main reasons. First, a government-controlled central bank might use monetary expansion to inflate away nominal liabilities such as government debt. Second, monetary expansion may be used to boost short-run growth for the sake of political popularity prior to elections. Central bank independence laws are intended to allow central bankers to focus on objectives like price stability without interference or pressure from the government.

Currently, Brazil’s central bank is not legally independent. The central bank president has no fixed term length and can be fired by the Brazilian president. President Rousseff and Silva debated the issue of central bank independence on September 1. Silva proposes increasing the central bank’s independence, for example by giving the central bank president a fixed term as a form of insulation from political pressure.

What could a more independent central bank mean for the Brazilian economy? Brazil’s central bank practices inflation targeting, a monetary policy framework that was adopted by many countries in the 1990s in an effort to bring down high inflation. An inflation targeting central bank announces a specific quantitative goal for inflation and uses monetary policy to keep inflation near the target. In Brazil, the inflation target is 4.5 percent, with a 2 percent window on either side. Thus the bank’s goal is to keep inflation between 2.5 and 6.5 percent.

Inflation in Brazil has hovered around 6.5 percent since 2008. A legally independent central bank would likely have pursued tighter monetary policy — namely, higher interest rates — to keep inflation nearer to the 4.5 percent target. Economic growth in Brazil has been fairly slow for the past decade, especially since 2011. Growth in the gross domestic product (GDP) was negative in the first and second quarters of 2014. Tighter monetary policy would further slow GDP growth, the last thing an incumbent wants near an election. Without legal independence, the bank has faced pressure not to raise interest rates as high as they otherwise might have.

Carola Binder.

Carola Binder.

Tighter monetary policy would, temporarily, be bad for the Brazilian economy. But a central bank with the independence to pursue the inflation target without interference could help in the long run. Monetary policy can help smooth fluctuations in the business cycle, but it is not the solution to low growth that arises for structural reasons. Allowing inflation to reach the upper limit of the bank’s tolerance interval for a short period to avoid a recession is perfectly suitable, but Brazilian economic growth has been weak, and inflation has been near the top of the tolerance interval for many years now. Such long-term stagnation needs to be addressed with deeper economic reforms, not with monetary policy. But reform is hard, and when policymakers hold sway over the central bank, they will naturally want to use it as a short-run solution to long-run problems.

President Rousseff argues that granting more independence to the central bank would pose a threat to financial stability. I don’t think that is the case. The biggest threats to Brazil’s financial stability arise from the same structural problems that result in its stagnant growth. As Professor João Saboia discussed at a CLAS seminar on September 10, economic reforms to improve labor productivity, such as improvements to the education system, are crucial for Brazil’s longer run macroeconomic prospects.

According to economists N. Nergiz Dincer and Barry Eichengreen, who have constructed indices of central bank independence for 89 countries, Chile has the most independent central bank in Latin America. Legislation granting independence to the Chilean Central Bank was passed in 1989. The Central Bank of Chile, like that of Brazil, is an inflation targeting central bank. Chile’s inflation target is 3 percent with a 1 percent tolerance window on either side. Chile has both a legally independent central bank and one of the most stable economies in the region and has maintained higher growth, lower inflation, and lower interest rates than Brazil in recent years. Clearly, central bank independence needn’t threaten financial stability or macroeconomic performance, provided an appropriate set of economic and political institutions are in place.

While President Rousseff and Ms. Silva differ in opinion on central bank independence, there is one aspect of Brazilian economic policy that both support — Bolsa Familia. Bolsa Familia is an anti-poverty program that provides cash transfers to a quarter of the Brazilian population. To receive these payments, families must keep their children in school and vaccinated. The program, launched by former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in 2003, is widely acclaimed for its cost-effectiveness and for keeping more children in school instead of at work. Bolsa Familia seems very likely to remain in place, but other components of Brazilian economic policy will depend critically on the outcome of the election.

Carola Binder is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Economics at UC Berkeley.

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The Underside of Futbol

By Diego Ponce de Leon

Just a week ago I sat near Kenya’s Lake Naivasha watching the Brazil vs. Chile game. Chile was the underdog, and after having easily walked over Spain, they were the clear favorites inside the bar. In fact, every Kenyan I met that day was cheering for “red hot Chile.” I was amazed how well they knew the Chilean and Brazilian players (beyond Alexis Sánchez and Neymar) and found myself to be the only one cheering when Gonzalo Jara hit the bar and lost the game. The mood was incredible: halfway across the world, I was sitting at a table with Egyptian, German, American, and Kenyan friends watching a futbol game in peace. After leaving my home country of Mexico more than a decade ago, I am equally proud to be Latin American as to cheer for Giovanni Dos Santos’ goals. Although that night I was proud to see everyone cheer for Latin America — I haven’t seen anyone here cheer for Europe, it’s Latin America all the way — I was equally aware of how the World Cup has eclipsed glaring social inequities in our side of the world.


Chilean fans celebrate their nation’s 2-0 defeat of Spain in the World Cup in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 18, 2014. (Australfoto/Douglas Engle) © Douglas Engle 2014

Don’t get me wrong — I love futbol, and the World Cup is even more amazing. Watching the sport in itself is incredible, but watching an emerging economy take on a historical empire and take it out of the World Cup is inspiring. This year in particular, the underdogs have put up an incredible fight. Costa Rica, Colombia, and Mexico, who all played their hearts out, arguably deserved to win their knockout matches. Many across the continent and throughout the rest of the world share this fervor for underdogs.

This sentiment is not shared, however, when evaluating social inequities in the region. FIFA and the mainstream media have ignored protests against the World Cup in Brazil, while some governments (including Mexico) have used the event’s popularity to surreptitiously contrive and implement widely unpopular political reforms. Even my own friends who are attending the World Cup, members of Latin America’s well-educated middle class, take only glossy photos of their trip, avoiding situations and images that could potentially spoil their experience. Despite the goals and some comradery, this failure to note social tensions in the host country has left a sour taste. With Brazil’s devastating loss against Germany in the semifinals, there will be no comfort — nor justification — for the thousands of Brazilians who were displaced to make way for tourists in major cities.


Churrasco, a beer, and a card game in the Mangueira favela during Brazil’s second World Cup 2014 match, June 17, 2014. Brazil tied with Mexico 0-0. (Australfoto/Douglas Engle) © Douglas Engle 2014

This World Cup has also highlighted yet again the pervasive discrimination that exists throughout Latin America. Mexican fans partook in deep ignorance cheering “P***” in unison at referees and team opponents throughout their games, arguing that the latter was not a homophobic remark but merely a colloquialism contextualized by situation. FIFA, in one of its most remarkable moments of utter absurdity, was tempted to sanction Mexico for discriminatory remarks — an unbelievable statement, given that the organization will host the next World Cups in Qatar and Russia, countries where it’s borderline illegal to be gay. Juan Camilo Zuñiga, the Colombian player who fractured Neymar’s vertebra has been receiving racist death threats, and a Brazilian candidate for congress went as far as suggesting that he should be assassinated.

In Brazil, a country where 60 percent of the population is either mixed or black, their absence is glaringly omitted from stadium stands (while some of the Brazil players dye their hair blonde and the black and mixed population sells beer and souvenirs to people on the street).About $US 4.2 billion have been spent on stadiums as well as on urban tourist infrastructure (airports, roads, renovated stadiums, athlete villages, and telecommunications), but little has been spent to improve basic services such as access to quality healthcare, education, and public transportation. Surveys around Brazil before and during the World Cup suggested that more than 60 percent of Brazilians think that the World Cup will not help the country.This imposition of mega-events without public consultation is the epitome of how politics is done in Latin America – and futbol is no exception. Traditionally the people’s game, the sport has long transformed itself through FIFA into a smoke screen and favorite tool for corruption, gentrification, and political obfuscation.


World Cup 2014 opening match in Mangueira Favela in central Rio de Janeiro. (Australfoto/Douglas Engle) © Douglas Engle 2014

When Argentina wins the World Cup this Sunday, let’s remember those players who have used futbol to stand for something bigger than shoes, t-shirts, and cars. Let’s remember Socrates (Brazil, Corinthians), Caszely (Chile), Predrag Pasic (former Yugoslavia), Mekhloufi (Algeria), and Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast). In the words of Pablo Gentili, an Argentine academic and education reformer who has spent the last 20 years in Rio de Janeiro:

Understanding football is a way of understanding popular culture. There is an oppressive football that aims to colonize the hearts and minds of the poorest people, and sometimes it succeeds. But there is also a liberating football that, like emancipating dynamite, shudders the popular soul, filling it with affirmation and pride.

Lets hope Brazil can recover from this event, and that the 2014 World Cup wasn’t just an excuse for white elephants and the tearing away of social fabric. If Argentina doesn’t win, let’s just forget this World Cup ever happened. If Argentina does win, let’s hope that Messi and company have the class to party with Brazil and the rest of Latin America in this historical triumph.

Diego Ponce de Leon is a Ph.D. student in the Energy and Resources group who is working on smart urban energy infrastructure in Nicaragua. He is also a National Geographic Energy Challenge Grant Fellow, you can follow him on Instagram. Site: dleonb.com

Douglas Engle is a freelance still and video photographer based in Rio de Janeiro.

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Where Are the Protests? The Fitful Giant and Its Futebol

By Elizabeth McKenna

“The giant has awoken,” went the catchphrase. Last June, more than a million Brazilians took to the streets, initially to challenge a bus fare hike. The image of a once dormant, now dynamic colossus became one of the primary metaphors for the country’s 2013 protest cycle. One year later, as Brazil hosts the largest single-event sporting competition on earth, these masses are nowhere to be found. As one street vendor told me, “We Brazilians are anesthetized.” And futebol, it seems, is the opiate of choice.

A flyer that circulated on social media platforms before the planned June 20 anniversary protest. Superimposed on an image of the 300,000-person march on that date one year earlier, the text reads: prepare your breath, no letting up, 2014 will be bigger. The protest was billed as “The Return of the Giant” and given the Twitter hashtag #20J. Anniversary.

A flyer that circulated on social media before the planned June 20 anniversary protest. Superimposed on an image of the 300,000-person march on that date one year earlier, the text reads: prepare your breath, no letting up, 2014 will be bigger. The protest was billed as “The Return of the Giant” and given the Twitter hashtag #20J Anniversary.

A lone protestor flanked by dozens of military police on June 20, 2014. Two hours after the planned reprise of last year’s march, fewer than 30 demonstrators were present. Nine youth with backpacks, suspected members of the black bloc, were arrested for carrying “prohibited items”: gas masks, Guy Fawkes masks, and even camera batteries.

A lone protester flanked by dozens of military police on June 20, 2014. Two hours after the planned reprise of last year’s march, fewer than 30 demonstrators were present. Nine youth with backpacks, suspected members of the black bloc, were arrested for carrying “prohibited items”: gas masks, Guy Fawkes masks, and even camera batteries.


Does the World Cup alone explain why the streets are now devoid of demonstrators? A closer look at how last year’s protests were organized, the composition of the “new masses” who marched, and the few but steadfast activists who continue to occupy land and organize strikes provides a more complete picture of what became of Brazil’s 2013 unrest.

Mobilizing, not organizing

Liz McKenna at the June 2013 general assembly held in Rio to discuss the protest agenda.

Liz McKenna at the June 2013 general assembly held in Rio to discuss the protest agenda.

“No political parties!” the demonstrators cried last year in an effort to remain neutral. At a 100,000-person march I attended on June 17, 2013, protesters shouted down and then violently expelled members of a union with strong ties to the governing Workers Party (PT). Four days later, more than 2,000 people attended a general assembly to discuss the agenda for the next march. In the absence of a facilitator, the meeting began two hours late, and then only because a similarly partisan union, CSP Conlutas, lent their sound system to the gathering of mostly college-aged students.

In his book on the recent wave of global uprisings, Manuel Castells argues that the kind of horizontal, leaderless, and technology-driven mobilizing I witnessed last year can be a new source of power for aggrieved populations. This anti-authority approach, sometimes referred to as the practice of prefigurative politics, appeals nicely to the Left’s longstanding fear of structure, institutions, and leadership. Yet while communication networks have only increased in sophistication and reach in the past 12 months, the protests and assemblies have not. An older tradition in the social movement literature offers a similarly unsatisfactory explanation for the Brazilian case. Some theorists predict more unrest in propitious political circumstances, such as when the international public eye is trained on the country or when a presidential election is imminent. Yet despite the confluence of these factors in Brazil, the mass demonstrations dissipated almost as quickly as they began.

Who marched last year?

Although the vast majority of fans who can afford to watch the World Cup at the stadiums are white and wealthy, Brazilians from all social classes are transfixed by the games. As Pedro Peterson pointed out in his recent CLAS blog post, there is an important distinction between Brazilians’ passion for the jogo bonito and the atrocities committed in its name. When the national team plays, shops close, office workers are given paid leave, and all cars and public transport come to a halt. Yet in contrast to the apparent classlessness of the Cup, the composition of the June 2013 masses represented a narrower segment of Brazil’s urban populations.

Public opinion polling firm Datafolha found that the June 2013 protesters earned on average more than two times the minimum wage and were relatively well-educated and media-savvy. In São Paulo, over 77 percent of the demonstrators had attained some education beyond high school, and in Rio de Janeiro fully 86 percent had received either a high school or a university diploma. A staggering 84 percent of survey respondents did not claim affinity for any political party. None of these attributes conform to the profile of Brazil’s sub-proletariat masses. In subsequent surveys, public support for the protests declined from 89 percent in June 2013 to 66 percent in October 2013. Upper-class respondents were much more likely to continue to support the protests (80 percent) as compared those with the least schooling (47 percent) and those from lower income-brackets (42 percent).

These data seem to support the “differentiated” and “thin” adjectives that scholars have used to describe Brazilian democracy. Sociologist Luiz Werneck Vianna writes that neoliberal polices that re-entrench inequality are evidence of his country’s efforts to modernize while ignoring what it means to be modern. In his 2008 book Insurgent Citizenship, James Holston similarly notes that “Brazil’s differentiated citizenship is a case of centuries-persistent politics of legalized differences” (31). In other words, it was a shock that these relatively better-off and politically disengaged segments of society took to the streets last June and of little surprise at all that they have yet to return en masse.

The giants who never slept

When news media and newsfeeds touted the revival of the giant in 2013, many longstanding social movements responded with incredulity: “The giant may have just woken up, but the periphery never slept,” activists countered. As social scientist and favela resident Mônica Santo Francisco noted, “[People on the] margins never slept because the police never let them.” Guilherme Simões, a member of the Homeless Workers Movement’s (MTST)’s executive council, echoed this sentiment in a personal interview:

Brazil has a long history of peasants, workers, and marginalized classes engaging in struggle. The giant never slept, [that is], the Brazilian people who are most exploited have always resisted, but always within the context of a very strong state. The Brazilian state is perhaps one of the strongest and most consistent in post-colonial history; it has been able to administer class conflict very efficiently.

Worthy of investigation, then, are the numerous strikes, smaller-scale street protests, and land occupations that predated and outlasted June 2013. Although smaller in scope and scale, several actions have been extremely effective. For example, during Carnaval earlier this year, Rio de Janeiro’s garbage collectors went on strike, letting mountains of trash putrefy on crowded streets and otherwise picturesque beaches. They won a 37 percent salary increase. One of the MTST’s most recent occupations near São Paulo’s Itaquerão stadium — called the People’s Cup — earned them a meeting with President Rousseff and the promise of an additional 2,000 low-income housing units.

Perhaps a towering giant was never an apt metaphor for Brazil’s 2013 protest cycle. Demands were contradictory, ideologies at odds, and organizing structures virtually nonexistent. Instead, it appears that old-fashioned organizing practices are a more powerful locomotive of social change than are momentary uprisings convoked in cyberspace. Far from leaderless mobs, sustained grassroots campaigns depend, as ever, on the unglamorous but necessary work of movement building — regardless of how Brazil’s seleção fares in the end.

Elizabeth McKenna is a graduate student in the Department of Sociology at UC Berkeley.

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The Sins and Marvels of the World Cup

Pedro Peterson

Pedro Peterson (left) with a fan of Chile's La Roja.

Pedro Peterson (left) with a fan of Chile’s La Roja.

Eduardo Galeano, the world’s greatest football fan-poet, once said that “football is not guilty of the sins committed in its name.” In Brazil’s World Cup, which is built on sins both shameless and grotesque, and which has been a spectacle of football both lovely and exhilarating, Galeano’s line has offered fans of the sport an absolution of sorts.

Graffiti outside the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro asks: "Who's the Cup for?"

Graffiti outside the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro asks: “Who’s the Cup for?”

The sins committed in the name of the tournament became apparent to casual fans during last summer’s Confederations Cup in Brazil. Protests that drew millions of citizens to the streets of the country’s major cities received more attention than the football played on the pitch. The protests began with demonstrations against hikes in bus fares in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, and then spread as the violent police repression drew solidarity marches in other urban areas. It was not a great leap to contrast the inefficient, expensive, and unequal public services in Brazilian cities with the billions of dollars spent on stadium renovations and lagging “legacy projects” associated with the World Cup. The tournament quickly became the focal point of the protests.

In addition to the perception that stadiums were being prioritized over public services, the work related to the tournament itself was highly troublesome. As many as 250,000 residents were displaced by the stadium and infrastructure developments associated with the tournament; the projects were carried out hurriedly with minimal citizen participation; and there is increasing evidence of misspending and graft. On top of it all, federal and state governments have awarded FIFA $250 million dollars in tax exemptions on the estimated $4 billion profit it will reap. At the same time, FIFA has demanded that the Brazilian Congress overturn a law designed to ensure public safety during sporting events, which, among other things, banned the sale of alcohol (a clear affront to one of the tournament’s main sponsors, Budweiser). Although the protests during the actual World Cup have not reached the levels of last summer’s demonstrations (partly due to heavy, military-style suppression), a sense of ambivalence among Brazilians is impossible to ignore: from the stubborn defiance of the Twitter-friendly slogan #NãoVaiTerCopa; to powerful anti-Cup graffiti and street art; to the crass, misogynistic taunts thrown at President Dilma Roussef at the opening match between Brazil and Croatia in São Paulo’s new Itaquerão stadium.

Inside Maracanã Stadium.

Inside Maracanã Stadium.

What about the business happening on the pitch? This is the ninth World Cup of my lifetime, the first played in my native Brazil since 1950, and by far, the most compelling of them all. We’ve seen an absurdly high average number of goals per match (almost three, the highest since 1970). And the tournament has been blessed with so many captivating stories it is impossible to keep them all straight: underdogs unseating traditional powerhouses (Costa Rica against Uruguay, Italy, and England), marvelous goals (Van Persie’s header against Spain), genius individual performances (Neymar, Messi, Robben), unresolved oral fixations (Luis Suarez), and inspired team performances (Colombia, the United States).

Fans without tickets watch the match on a video screen.

Fans without tickets watch the match on a beachside video screen in Rio de Janeiro.

Aside from whatever happens to my Seleção, my lasting memory of the World Cup will be attending the Spain v. Chile game at Maracanã Stadium, where the southern La Roja eliminated its former colonial power and the reigning World Cup champions. Maracanã itself is an unrecognizable vestige of the gritty stadium I had visited dozens of times during my childhood after FIFA-standard renovations costing a cool $550 million turned the stadium into an attractive, safe, and highly exclusive national monument. Seating capacity is down — from just under 200,000 when it was inaugurated 64 years ago, to less than 80,000 today — with tickets officially selling for US$90 to US$1,000 (for those lucky enough to win the “privilege” of buying one in FIFA’s lottery).

But after each of Chile’s two goals, I jumped and hugged unknown Chileans in ecstatic South American solidarity, like I had done so many times in that stadium with my fellow flamenguistas. Now, a day before the group stage ends and the real excitement begins, I have been voiceless for about 10 days, my health has long ago abandoned me, my dissertation research is in shambles, and I go through daily cycles of indignation, national pride, national shame, exasperation, and speechlessness.

The business may be ugly, but the jogo bonito is as beautiful as ever.

Pedro Peterson is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of City and Regional Planning at UC Berkeley.

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