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Brazil can't kick negative attention ahead of World Cup


With rolling street protests, the militarisation of big city slums and worrying news about delays in building 2014 World Cup infrastructure, Brazil is attracting an unaccustomed level of negative publicity.


Violent clashes between hooded protesters and heavy-handed Brazilian riot police claimed international headlines this week. It is the kind of negative attention that is becoming increasingly common for Latin America’s largest country and strongest economy as it prepares to host the FIFA World Cup next year.

Massive, even unprecedented, street protests erupted all over the country in June as middle-class Brazilians demanded better transport,  health and education services. Since then, rolling demonstrations have continued, although on a smaller scale.

Marches in the mega-cities of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo have degenerated into clashes between youths and security forces, and Monday’s protest in support of striking teachers was no different. Buses were overturned and torched, with police responding forcefully.

Meanwhile, in a clampdown of violent drug gangs with free range in Brazilian "favelas", or  city slums, the government has stepped up efforts to pacify the impoverished neighbourhoods by sending in militarised police units.

Residents and rights groups, however, are crying foul, warning that police have used excessive force and even targeted the wrong people.

The Associated Press recently reported that figures for missing people in Rio’s shanty-towns has shot up by 33% in the past year.

Playing with stereotypes

The bad news coming out of Brazil stands in stark contrast to the promise of prosperity and peace that made headlines not too long ago. At the end of former president Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva’s second term, the country was enjoying something of an economic miracle and claimed bragging rights for securing not only the World Cup, but also the 2016 Olympics for Rio de Janeiro.

Sergio Charlab, a long-time Brazilian journalist who specialises in observing news about Brazil in the foreign press, says it is curious to see how stereotypes about Brazilians have been spun outside the country.

“There are established stereotypes about Brazil. Its beautiful people with great bodies, its beautiful nature, its bustling cities. Those were the images that we were used to seeing. Now, it’s as if the world is discovering the dark side of those same stereotypes. People are lazy and unproductive, and there’s all this scary urban violence,” he told France 24.

PR machine at work

Unsurprisingly, in the background of nearly every news story are the upcoming World Cup and Olympic Games. Several international reports have highlighted delays to the football stadiums that are supposed to soon host the sport’s largest party.

June’s huge protests took place at the same time as the FIFA Confederations Cup, often considered a dress rehearsal for the bigger World Cup tournament. One of the protesters’ biggest gripes has been the colossal sums spent on new stadiums for hundreds of thousands of tourists -- money they say should be going to improving Brazilians’ everyday lives.

That demand, it appears, will continue to hound Brazilian authorities. A visit by FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke and other officials were met by jeering protesters when they arrived at the construction site of the Arena Pantanal in the central city of Cuiaba on Tuesday.

According to Charlab, officials have decided to play up the good news and ignore the bad for as long as it is possible.

Indeed, President Dilma Rousseff has been busy on the social network Twitter in recent days but has failed to mention protesting teachers or missing slum-dwellers. Instead, she has blasted the United States and Canada for NSA spying, and cheered progress in other areas.

“I read that 4.5 million people have already signed up to buy tickets for the #WC2014,” she Tweeted in Portuguese this week.

“That’s a record in relation to previous tournaments,” she noted.

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