With the World Cup on the horizon and the Serie A season kicking off this weekend, fans of Brazilian clubs should be licking their lips at the footballing delights to come. But with attendance absurdly low and the national scene mired in conflict, the reality is quite different.
By James Young
Legal disputes threaten to paralyse Serie A of the Brasileirão, mirroring similar recent stoppages in the lower divisions. An average top flight attendance of 14,000 – on par with the Australian A-League and well below attendance in the football-averse United States. Major clubs riddled by enormous debts and frequently unable to pay player salaries. A calendar that forces top teams to play around 80 games and spend five months of the year competing in state championships against tiny local clubs. Rising ticket prices that make games inaccessible to ordinary fans. The threat of torcida organizada (hooligan gang) violence.
At a time when the domestic game should be basking in the World Cup sunshine, why is Brazilian football in such a shoddy state?
The military dictatorship ended in the 1980s, and Brazil’s military forces have struggled to establish a role for themselves ever since. Sidelined from politics and unlikely to be deployed abroad due to Brazil’s “rainbow diplomacy,” they have been pushed reluctantly into acting as back-up police forces.
By Mauricio Savarese
Fifty years after the coup that overthrew progressive President João Goulart and installed a military dictatorship, Brazil’s Armed Forces are nowhere near the centers of political power. The few that want them back in charge can’t get more than 1,000 people to their marches. In recent weeks, Brazil has remembered the 50th anniversary of the golpe, and criticism for the generals who occupied the presidency during military rule was so overwhelming, that a key question has returned to the public debate:
What should the role of the military be in South America’s powerhouse?
Drug crime has returned to some of the favelas taken over by Rio’s police in recent years, putting the ‘pacification’ program under further scrutiny. Escalating violence and accusations of human rights abuses indicate police forces may be losing control. One resident group questions the wisdom of trying to resolve the problem with more military force.
By Anna Jean Kaiser
Complexo do Alemão and Complexo da Penha, favelas in northern Rio, have recently seen a wave of shootings, four police fatalities in 30 days, and accusations of human rights abuses commited by police. Rocinha and Manguinhos, two other favelas supposedly conquered and ‘pacified’ by Rio security forces since the push started in 2009, have seen armed attacks on police stations.
In the wake of what seems to be a loss of control, Rio Governor Sergio Cabral has called upon the federal armed forces to intervene and act alongside UPP and state military police.
For five years now, foreign and domestic observers have largely praised the pacification program. But recently, it’s become clear how difficult the long-term situation will be.
After years of an uneasy relationship between Rio’s government and technically illegal street art, a new decree passed by Mayor Eduardo Paes has divided the city’s much-celebrated community of graffiti artists. Above, artist PXE approaches a wall in Arpoador.
By Nathan Walters
On a purely aesthetic level, pixação—the spiky black glyphs that pop up at dangerously high spots on buildings and spread like a virus on any exposed stone (pixadores surface of choice)—doesn’t offer much to most viewers.
The graffiti style, which is most dominant in São Paulo, can be academically explained in a few different ways: runic inspirations, pulled from old heavy metal album covers, or unbridled Dadaist impulses. But for most people, this doesn’t make it any more palatable, which is the point. It’s the “Kilroy was here” and “f*** the police” tags reduced to an illegible signature that empowers its author because it flies in the face of society’s tastes. It’s no wonder the government and property owners despise it.
Increasingly, Brazilians are blasé about two things most everyone used to be excited about – the FIFA World Cup and a wave of protests. We’ll see which way the pendulum swings again come June. Above, last year’s protests become the theme of a small ‘bloco’ at this year’s Carnaval.
By Mauricio Savarese
Attitudes went from “This is going to massive,” “Everyone will be fired up” and “It will change Brazil forever” to “Not again…,” “I can’t wait for this to be over” and “There is just too much hype.”
Radicals aside, there are now few Brazilians overly enthusiastic about either of the two mutually antagonistic events taking place in the country this year: the FIFA World Cup and the protests that have rocked the streets since June. Interest faded very slowly; people got sick of infrastructure issues around the World Cup and violence from agitators and police during protests.
Carnaval, long concentrated in traditional party centers like Rio, Salvador, and Recife, is taking roots in new cities all over the country. James Young reports from landlocked BH, Brazil’s unglamorous third-largest city, which is learning to put on its own celebrations.
By James Young
Brazil’s carnaval capitals are well established. There’s frevo music on the steep cobbled streets of Olinda, and the giant Galo da Madrugada bloco (street party) in next door Recife, until recently considered by the Guinness Book of Records to be the biggest carnavalesque gathering in the world.
If trotting behind giant sound trucks listening to axé superstars such as Ivete Sangalo or Claudia Leite is your thing, then Salvador, Bahia is the place. And the most flamboyant carnaval of them all, whether you fancy watching the samba schools parade in the sambodromo or getting hot and sweaty among 2.5 million revellers at the Cordão da Bola Preta bloco, is in Rio de Janeiro.
It’s safe to say that the comparatively reserved, landlocked city of Belo Horizonte, Brazil’s third biggest, is not high on the list of traditional carnaval destinations.
By Dom Phillips
Last month, Brazilian television network Globo showed something shocking it had never shown on a prime time soap opera before: a kiss between two men. The kiss, between Félix (Mateus Solano) and Niko (Thiago Fragoso), had been anticipated and was shown in the final episode of the novela Amor à Vida (Love the Life). Here it is.
Sensitively handled, romantically filmed, it caught Brazil’s imagination and set social networks ablaze. The next morning, the kiss was headline news and Globo’s news site G1 was one of many to run celebratory stories.
Its primetime Sunday night magazine show Fantástico interviewed both actors and called it “the kiss that moved Brazil.”
You might think: they took their time. Isn’t it 2014 already? The first gay kiss on a British soap opera on long-running East London drama Eastenders happened way back in 1987. Was Brazil ready for the shock? The answer is yes, not, and not sure. Sometimes this confusion seemed to take hold of the same person. Many Brazilians literally did not know what to think.
Alex Ellis took over as the British Ambassador here last July, having previously served as Ambassador to Portugal. Claire Rigby spoke with him last week following the opening of a major David Bowie exhibition at São Paulo’s MIS museum, which arrived in Brazil following showings in London and Toronto.
By Claire Rigby
Are you really a lifelong David Bowie fan?
Yes. The first music video I ever remember seeing was ‘Ashes to Ashes’. It must have been in 1980, and I remember being amazed. What’s this? I couldn’t work it out. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before. I think that’s quite a common reaction to seeing David Bowie for the first time, and you get that feeling again with some of the material in this exhibition.
How old were you then, and how old are you now?
I was 12 then, and I’m 46 now. Something that makes me respect Bowie even more after seeing this exhibition is that you realise the real depth to his work – it’s not an image: this is who he is. The clothes, the videos, the sheer creativity. These were some of the first people to make videos, some of the first people to use the internet.
“Apartheid” is too strong a word to describe Brazil’s serious class and race problems, says Mauricio Savarese. But it comes closer to describing the truth than the often-repeated claim that Brazil is a country without racism. Here, it’s not the state which is prejudiced. Above, youth at a planned ‘rolezinho’ in Rio de Janeiro.
By Mauricio Savarese
A few years ago a professor tried to get a sense of the social background of the students in my class. First question to his 45 pupils: “How many of you have been out of São Paulo?” Everyone raised their hands. “How many are working?” Fewer people raised their hands. That went on for ten minutes. In the end, two questions made one thing very clear: those seats weren’t for everyone. “How many of you went to one of our terrible public schools?” It was just me, and one other student. Everyone else in the room had studied at private schools.
A gruesome video recently released is only one example of a penitentiary system often dominated by medieval conditions and shocking violence, Dom Phillips reports, and quasi-feudal political arrangements in the state of Maranhão have done little to improve the system there.
By Dom Phillips
It cannot have been an easy decision for this newspaper to publish a gruesome cell-phone video in which Brazilian prisoners paraded the decapitated bodies of three gang rivals.
But the video put both the crisis at the Pedrinhas prison on the outskirts of São Luís, and the government of Maranhão state where the prison is situated, under the spotlight.