Favelas and a Football Stadium: Brazilian Activism Post-World Cup

People in São Paulo clash with police in protests in June 2014 (Victor Prat/Flickr Creative Commons)
People in São Paulo clash with police in protests in June 2014 (Victor Prat/Flickr Creative Commons)
People in São Paulo clash with police in protests in June 2014 (Victor Prat/Flickr Creative Commons)

As hosts of the 2014 World Cup, the eyes of the world turned to Brazil, a state seen as both a paragon in Latin America and troubled by domestic instability. On the one hand, Brazil boasts an emergent economy and a progressive female head of state who on October 26th was re-elected for her second term (albeit with only 51.5% of the vote). On the other hand, the destruction of many favelas, Portuguese for “slums,” for opulent World Cup facilities triggered a wave of anti-government activism. As the date of the first World Cup match drew closer, international spectators wondered if the hosts would be able to execute an event of such magnitude in the midst of open revolt. While the games went off more smoothly than the public unrest suggested – largely due to the government’s crackdown on protestors – the social problems that sparked the summer’s protests remain unresolved and thus threaten Brazil’s future as a “rising power.”

The questions surrounding the recent elections, and the beginning of Rousseff’s second term, include: what are the current issues being debated on the streets of Brazil’s cities? Have street protests changed, or disappeared altogether, since the final match in Rio? These questions are key to understanding the security and political landscape in Brazil, and will be important indicators for how Brazil reaches its potential as a “rising power.”

The answer to both of these questions lies in the nature of the past year’s protests. The World Cup protests were a manifestation of the public’s criticism that public funds were wasted on the World Cup and Olympics, while much-needed education, infrastructure and health care reforms lagged behind. Since favelas were destroyed and crucial reforms were not imposed, Brazilians took to the streets calling for greater governmental responsibility. As the World Cup fervor waned and the presidential elections approached, the issue of unemployment was thrust to the forefront. Dilma Rousseff faced off against Aeco Neves and Marina Silva, causing many pundits to question whether Brazilians had lost faith in their once visionary president. Several workers’ strikes have occurred, demonstrating that citizens are asserting their advocacy for domestic development over the international prestige for which Rousseff yearns.

Additionally, major protests have occurred in recent months on the topic of reproductive rights, land preservation and other social justice issues; however, they have not garnered the momentum or media attention of the World Cup and 2013 protests. While there has been a lull in protesting since the World Cup, it is clear that dissatisfaction is still bubbling beneath the surface. Prices and taxes are increasing while product value, education and social services for the average Brazilian are decreasing—a disturbing trend that Rousseff will have to address during her second term.

While recent protests may seem to be only a temporary setback to Brazil’s ascent to a position of regional and global leadership, these underlying grievances have the potential to threaten the very future of the government. Brazil is home to a large and underserved immigrant community, a plethora of favelas rife with poverty, drugs and gangs, and a national security threat posed by instability in neighboring countries. Brazil’s at-risk youth in low-income areas and slums may be more inclined to join gangs, drug cartels, or even terror groups if they see no alternative path to prosperity provided by the state. With the Olympics looming and the oppression of dissension during the World Cup still fresh in Brazilians’ minds, the Rousseff administration must deal promptly with these social issues in order to maintain its international prestige and avoid further popular unrest.

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of the Glimpse from the Globe staff, editors, or governors. 


Jessica Agostinelli

Jessica Agostinelli is a senior at American University’s School of International Service, studying Middle Eastern foreign policy and Arabic. She has interned at the Brookings Institution’s Center for Middle East Policy, The Visions Center for Strategic and Development Studies in Amman, Jordan, the National Peace Corps Association, and Shia Rights Watch. In the spring of 2014, she studied at the Jordanian Institute of Diplomacy, and has continuing interests in Arab diplomacy, counterterrorism, energy politics and human rights.