The Material World column from the June 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard
The upcoming mega sporting events and multi-billion dollar businesses, this year’s World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games, are drawing many rural migrants from Brazil’s poorest regions, as well as neighbouring countries, to the cities in search of work. Slave labour remained largely a rural phenomenon in Brazil, where it occurs on cattle ranches and the sugar cane plantations but now many new victims have become trapped into forced labour. There are widespread abusive labour recruitment practices in Brazil which lead to debt bondage and deprivation of liberty. There are an estimated 18 million victims of forced labour worldwide, including 25,000 to 40,000 in Brazil.
Luiz Machado, national coordinator of the International Labour Organisation’s Special Action Programme to Combat Forced Labour said the United Nations is worried about a sharp increase in slave labour ahead of and during the World Cup and the Olympic Games. ‘These major events draw workers from around the country, and immigrants, for the construction of stadiums,’ he explained. ‘Major infrastructure works also have a social impact, in terms of sexual exploitation and even child labour...’
Of more concern to others is the mobilisation of the military, with checkpoints at the entrances to the favelas and patrols on foot and in armoured personnel carriers to maintain ‘law and order’ and ensure a ‘safe and peaceful’ festival of football. A new so-called pacification police unit, the UPP, has been created and has already been in action with prolonged gun battles with the many powerful criminal gangs, such as Comando Vermelho (Red Command), who often took on the role of legislative, executive and judiciary lawgivers in the areas where the state has been absent during previous decades. According to a Financial Times report (27 March) common crimes such as robberies have risen in ‘pacified’ slums as the police are largely less feared than the former drug gang leaders.
People are enraged that their lives were being sacrificed for the sake of sport which will enrich the lives of speculators seeking the gentrification of the favelas. 500 families live in Vila Autodromo, once a fishing village now turned favela, and they are now threatened by eviction because of government plans to build the Olympic Park nearby, and documents reveal a plan to build a 1 million square meters luxury condominium in its place. ‘Why is that the rich people can live here, but the poor ones who already live can't stay?’ asked Altair Guimarães, of the resident's association. This is the third time he has been forcibly removed from a home. This time, he says, he and his neighbours will fight. And stay put.
People are angered at the billions of reals being borrowed and spent on the World Cup and Olympic Games infrastructures, knowing it will be they, the Brazilian working people, who will have to suffer the consequences. The government is investing huge amounts of money in stadiums while women give birth in hospital corridors and waiting rooms. In January, police opened fire on residents of the Morro São João Mill neighbourhood, in New North Zone of Rio de Janeiro, who were protesting a lack of electricity for weeks in their community. The World Cup still remains the priority. The poor are paying a heavy price for money-making international sporting events.
While Brazil was playing a warm-up friendly against Spain, police were firing tear gas at demonstrators not far away. Brazilians are football fanatics so why are they so anti-World Cup? Is it the price tag for the six-week tournament which is expected to be $11 billion (a very conservative estimate)? Or because at least nine people died in the construction of the country's 12 stadiums, where observers have said corruption and incompetence permitted the contractors to line their pockets? Perhaps it is because the government has relocated more than 15,000 families from favelas across the country. By the time the Olympics arrive, that number could rise to more than 100,000.
Or might it be the fact that police in Rio de Janeiro killed one suspect for every 229 they arrested last year. In the United States, police killed one suspect for every 31,575 they arrested, or that in 2008, police in Rio killed 1,137 people, whereas in the entire United States police killed 371 people. In fact, the murder rate in Rio de Janeiro has declined. But it appears to be offset by the dramatic increase in missing persons. Last year nearly 5,000 people went missing. Many people blame the police.
Enjoy the games, those sporting spectacles that are supposed to appease and placate the masses.