rss

Author Archive for Jonathan Watts

0

AIA sponsorship is stain on Spurs shirts, say Kick Out Coal campaigners

Hong Kong-based insurance company holds stake of at least $3bn in coal projectsTottenham Hotspur may be top of the Premier League for a change, but the climate credentials of its shirt sponsor AIA are among the lowest of any club in the country, accord…

0

Rio de Janeiro returns to normal after marathon of mega events

After four years of intense scrutiny surrounding a World Cup, a papal visit and the Olympic and Paralympic Games, cariocas can go back to their normal routine with relief and self-congratulation

It is the end of an era for Rio de Janeiro. The Paralympics closing ceremony on Sunday, after four years in the global spotlight, marks the finishing line in a marathon of mega events that the host city will look back on for some time with a mixture of headaches, nostalgia, relief and no little self-congratulation.

“Mission accomplished,” the Rio 2016 president, Carlos Arthur Nuzman, declared to the 78,000 spectators before the final pyrotechnics at the Maracanã.

Continue reading…

0

From the streets to the Games: Brazilian Olympians’ extraordinary stories

Badminton star Lohaynny Vicente, boxer Robson Conceição and Greco-Roman wrestler Davi Albino are symbols of the upward trajectory that many Brazilians have aspired to, particularly over the past decade

The daughter of a slain gang leader, a former homeless child and a boxer who had to run 10km to and from the gym because he did not have enough money for the bus fare.

Brazil’s Olympic team – the biggest and most diverse in the country’s history – includes competitors with extraordinary life stories as well as remarkable sporting performances.

Continue reading…

0

What the Olympics means for the people of Rio

From the woman whose neighbourhood has been bulldozed to the Copacabana cop getting a break from gang crime – residents and workers of Rio countdown to the 2016 Games

A year before the opening ceremony of the 2016 Olympics, Rio de Janeiro is a city in motion, rehearsing, training, driving, sweeping, protesting, calculating and preparing for arguably the biggest event in its history.

At the Olympic Park in Barra da Tijuca, a small forest of cranes swings back and forth over the velodrome and gymnasium even as the last few hold-outs in a nearby favela resist police attempts to forcibly remove them. On the banks of the Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon, labourers bolt together seating for rowing spectators as frustrated commuters nearby sit in endless traffic jams and wonder how the roads will cope with the influx of visitors. There is work on the waters of Guanabara Bay, on subway expansion under the luxury condominiums of Leblon, in city halls and police meeting rooms.

Continue reading…

0

Brazil after the World Cup: almost back to business as usual

The turbulence generated by Brazil’s 7-1 drubbing by Germany, and the pre-tournament protests, has largely subsided, but slowly things may be changing
Fernandinho: We will have to face up to that game for the rest of our lives

It has been almost six months since Brazil’s 7–1 shellacking by Germany in the World Cup semi-final, but that is not nearly enough time for many to get over what happened.

Some Brazilians are in denial. Others still reeling from a football apocalypse. Most sit somewhere in the middle of the two extremes, but there are two main camps of thought in the debate about the significance of such a humbling loss.

Continue reading…



0

Brazil after the World Cup: almost back to business as usual

Turbulence generated by demonstrations and Brazil’s 7-1 drubbing by Germany has largely subsided, with little sign of change
Fernandinho: We will have to face up to that game for the rest of our lives

It has been almost six months since Brazil’s 7–1 shellacking by Germany in the World Cup semi-finals but that is not nearly enough time for many to get over what happened.

Some Brazilians are in denial. Others still reeling from a football apocalypse. Most sit somewhere in the middle but there are two main camps of thought in the debate about the significance of such a humbling defeat.

Continue reading…



0

World Cup diary: Government takes action in face of Argentina invasion

Brazilian protesters start to get their timing right, Big Phil gets his figures in order and records are being broken in the USSouthern Brazil has been invaded by close to 100,000 Argentinians who have been crossing the border in droves to watch their …

0

World Cup diary: Brazils hooligans cut loose after attack on England fans

Police release fans claiming to be from Corinthians Organizado after violence as Chiles Maracanã invaders say it was a spontaneous act

Brazilian police have released a group of local fans who attacked England supporters with bottles, knives, fireworks and knuckle-dusters.

Ten England fans required hospital treatment after the assault, which occurred while they were in bars in São Paulo ahead of Thursdays game with Uruguay.

Continue reading…

0

World Cup diary: Boy staged land rights protest before opening game

Mexican drug trafficker arrested by Brazilian police while Japans fans praised for reselling tickets at under face valueThe opening ceremony was almost a week ago but it continues to throw up controversy. Reports are emerging of an on-field protest by …

0

Reformed Fred happy to be Neymars straight man in Brazils World Cup bid

The much-questioned striker is ready to apply himself towards fulfilling a nations dreams of progress on and off the pitch Continue reading…

0

Brazil: the world at their feet

For Brazilians, football can mean salvation. It can also mean violence and corruption. Will the World Cup unite a nation? Jonathan Watts hits the road to find out. Photography by Mathias Braschler and Monika FischerClick here to see more photographs, a…

0

Brazil to order army into Rio slums as violence escalates before World Cup

Military deployment expected after spate of fire-bombings, murders and attacks on police bases in city’s favelas

The Brazilian authorities are poised to send the army into the slums of Rio de Janeiro less than three months before the World Cup. The move follows attacks on police that have resulted in the most tense standoff for years in the favelas.

The Rio state governor, Sérgio Cabral, has requested the reinforcements after assaults on police bases, apparently co-ordinated by the city’s biggest gang, Comando Vermelho.

An escalation of murders, revenge killings and fire-bombings have prompted talk of a war between the police and gangsters. Favela residents and NGOs say the situation is now more tense than at any time since 2010, when the authorities began a “pacification” programme to regain control of communities from armed traffickers.

The government is expected to announce details of the military deployment in the coming days, before the expected arrival in June of hundreds of thousands of football fans, players and support staff for the seven World Cup matches that will be held in Rio.

The pacification campaign is a crucial element in the city’s preparations for the tournament. Since it started, 38 police pacification units (UPP) have been established in favela communities, which are now occupied by more than 9,000 police.

Until last year, the gains in public security were evident. But confidence in the programme has been sapped by a series of human rights abuses by police officers.

Sensing a swing in public opinion, imprisoned Comando Vermelho leaders are said to have ordered their members to go on the attack.

Five police officers have been killed since February. The most recent of them was an officer shot in the throat during an altercation with two youths in a favela at the weekend.

Last Thursday, police posts in three favelas were set ablaze. The Mandela UPP – located in the Manguinhos complex, which was visited by Pope Francis last year – was gutted, two police cars were set ablaze and several other units attacked. Rio’s political leaders say the attacks are co-ordinated.

“It is clear that criminals want to weaken our policy of pacification and take back territories that were in criminal hands for decades,” said Cabral, who will meet Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, on Friday. “The state will not back down. The public may be sure we shall act.”

Residents say revenge killings by police death squads are on the rise. The most recent occupation resulted in two deaths as police moved into the favela communities in Manguinhos, Lins and Alemão on Friday night. Military police spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Claudio Costa said the killings occurred when police confronted drug traffickers. Those trapped in the middle fear a return to the bad old days.

“It’s definitely more tense than at any time since the UPP began,” said Hercules Ferreira Mendes, president of the Caracol residents association, which represents 8,000 inhabitants in Penha. “The traffickers are trying to take back the territory they held for so long. People are afraid to stay out at night. The later it gets, the more shootings and confrontations you hear. Nobody knows what will happen next.”

Although the biggest impact is felt by residents, the increased tension is likely to worry World Cup organisers. Many of the million or so fans expected for the tournament along with many national teams will pass by the Penha and Maré favelas on their way to and from Rio’s international airport. The Nossa Senhora da Penha church, perched high on a nearby hill, is one of the most visible sights on the road.

The reasons for the surge in violence are disputed. Police blame drug traffickers for the new offensive. Others say the main problem is that pacification has not been followed by improvements in social services and infrastructure despite promises from politicians.

Adding to the tension are human rights violations by police, which add to the widely held impression in the favelas that they are no better – and often a lot worse – than the gangsters they replaced.

Last week, passersby recorded video of a police car dragging an injured woman along a street after the officers had thrown her in the boot. Mother-of-four Claudia da Silva Ferreira died soon afterwards in hospital.

Many trace the start of the current increase in violence to the torture and apparent murder of Amarildo de Souza, who disappeared after being given electric shocks and asphyxiated during questioning by UPP officers in the Rocinha favela last July. Despite the arrest of the local police chief and more than a dozen officers, the case severely eroded public trust in the pacification mission.

“I knew at that moment that the UPP was finished. If I were a bandit, I would think ‘great’. It was like a bomb that blew up everything,” said Yvonne Bezerra de Mello, of the Uere Project, which educates children in the Maré favela community.

“The gangs have been very quick to reorganise. They’re very good at training their troops. Now our city is completely out of control.”

However, official statistics suggest the city has seen worse. Murder rates and gun crimes remain well below the peak of the mid-2000s. But armed robberies are back on the rise and with both sides in the drug war preparing for an escalation, long-time observers warn that the risks of even deadlier clashes are on the rise.

“It’s on course to be the worst it’s ever been,” said Nanko van Buuren, a Dutchman who has worked in Rio’s favelas for 25 years and whose Ibiss foundation runs programmes in 68 communities.

“I think when the federal troops arrive, there’ll be a war in some areas. If it doesn’t go well, we’ll also see protests during the World Cup.”

Although the spotlight is on Rio, this is by no means the most dangerous of Brazil’s cities. According to a recent study by the Mexico-based NGO, Citizen’s Council for Public Security and Penal Justice, Brazil has 16 of the world’s 50 most murderous cities – more than any other country. Six of those cities will host World Cup games – Fortaleza, Natal, Salvador, Manaus, Recife and Belo Horizonte. Rio does not even make the list.

theguardian.com © 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds



0

Former boxing champion Antonio Cermeno found dead

Body of 44-year-old Venezuelan sportsman nicknamed El Coloso found abandoned following kidnap of he and his family

Venezuela’s reputation as one of the most murderous nations on earth was further underscored on Tuesday when former boxing world champion Antonio Cermeno was found dead on a roadside.

The body of Cermeno – nicknamed El Coloso (The Colossus) during his career – was discarded on the Caucagua-Higuerote highway in Miranda a day after he and his family had been kidnapped. His relatives had escaped when their abductors stopped at a garage to refuel the car.

The 44-year-old was a popular figure in Venezuela and the boxing world. He held the WBA super bantamweight title from 1995 until 1997, and then won the featherweight title in 1998. After his retirement in 2006, he worked on social projects and helped to develop the Street Boxing program for disadvantaged youths.

His killing is the latest high-profile blow to a nation that is struggling to grapple with an explosion of violent crime.

Last month, a former Miss Venezuela and telenovela actress was found murdered in a car along with her British ex-husband Thomas Henry Berry.

In the wake of that killing, President Nicolás Maduro promised to tackle crime, particularly abductions and homicides. According to a 2010 UN report, Venezuela is among the four most murderous nations on earth. However, unlike the others – Honduras, El Salvador and Jamaica – it suffers far less from poverty and inequality, which has raised the question why it is to vulnerable to violence.

Concerns about crime are high among the priorities of the tens of thousands who have taken to the streets in recent week, resulting in more killings.

theguardian.com © 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds



0

Why Brazil’s footballers play to half-empty stadiums l Jonathan Watts

The killing of a Santos fan is a grim reminder of how, in the runup to the World Cup, violence scars Brazilian football

After I first moved to Brazil in 2012, I was struck – like many football-loving newcomers – by a mystery: why are the stadiums so disappointingly empty? It was the last thing I expected, having been brought up on a TV diet of rapturous Brazilian crowds, tales of the “beautiful game” and its enviably brilliant exponents like Zico, Pelé and Romário.

No matter how hard the cameramen tried to focus on the small pockets of fans, every wide shot of the pitch revealed the cavernous empty space that condemned game after game to near silence.

I’ve since heard countless explanations, including TV broadcasters’ demands for late-night match schedules, high ticket prices and the exodus of big-name players to Europe. The reason that makes most sense on a visceral level was the one told to me when I first suggested to Brazilian friends that we go and watch a match. “It’s too dangerous,” they replied.

While I have been to plenty of matches without incident, recent news reports and statistics show this is not an baseless fear. In the latest horrific case, a 34-year-old Santos supporter was killed on Sunday as he waited for the bus home from the derby match with São Paulo. Two car loads of rival fans set on the victim with iron bars, kicking and beating him. Marcio Barreto de Toledo, who was wearing a shirt that identified him as a member of a Santos fan group, died in hospital from multiple head injuries. “It was a cowardly act to attack a 34-year-old father who was just trying to get home after a match,” Cosme Damião Freitas, a director at the Santos fan group Torcida Jovem, said.

The lethal assault barely warranted a mention in the domestic media because such incidents have become all too commonplace. In each of the past three years, football-related killings have hit a new record. According to the Globo newspaper, 23 people died in 2012 and 30 in 2013.

All of the cases have been tragic, some macabre, such as the beheading of a referee who stabbed a player to death in an amateur match in Maranhão last June.

Elsewhere, supporters’ groups, known as “organizados”, operate like criminal mobs both in the way they fight for territory against rival gangs and in their use of threats and intimidation to influence their own clubs.

Games have been interrupted and players so frightened by physical assaults and intrusions on to a training pitch that they have threatened to strike. It is probably the frequency of the violence that is most alarming. Scenes of fighting are becoming staples on news programmes. Security guards are often deployed to escort players and the referees on and off the pitch. As I reported in December, riot police also had to be called in to break up fights during a match between Atlético Paranaense and Vasco da Gama. That game was interrupted for an hour as police quelled the unrest with rubber bullets, and a helicopter airlifted a badly injured fan from the pitch to hospital.

Such scenes help to explain why there is so little focus this year on the threat posed by English hooligans. That is unusual. Before almost every World Cup in my lifetime, notorious fans and firms have reared as large in the media buildup as damaged metatarsals, dodgy squad selections and shopping opportunities for Wags.

There will once again be travel bans for 2,500 convicted hooligans in the UK and undercover spotters are likely to co-ordinate with local police but these measures have generated less attention than in the past. This is perhaps because – compared to what is happening in Brazil – even the nastiest English pitbull fan seems relatively tame.

This is no cause for celebration for England. Rather, it is a clear sign that Brazil must do more to get its house in order or risk a far greater tragedy. Given the combination of rising violence and shoddy stadium construction, a Heysel-type calamity is far from unthinkable.

The World Cup ought to be the start of an improvement. The tournament is supposed to lift standards of play, public interest, stadium infrastructure and income for the sport. As in the UK from the late 1980s on, higher ticket prices are also meant to drive out the most violent fans.

Once the tournament is over, Brazil’s authorities will still have their work cut out persuading the public that football matches are no longer disasters waiting to happen. If they cannot do that, the big new stadiums will be just as empty as the old ones.

This article was corrected on 25 February. The original stated that 40 people died at Brazilian football matches last year, and had “seton” instead of “set on”.

theguardian.com © 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds



0

Fifa says Curitiba stadium is back on track for Brazil World Cup finals

• Arena da Baixada should be ready for first match on 16 June
• Delays had prompted concerns of games being switched

Brazil received a World Cup boost when Fifa declared that the Curitiba stadium is back on course for completion before the first of its four matches on 16 June.

The announcement lifts one of the biggest concerns facing the tournament organisers, who may have had to reimburse tickets, flights and hotels for teams and fans if the games were moved.

The national sigh of relief was almost palpable after the Fifa assessor Charles Botta judged that sufficient progress has been made in the past month, but football’s governing body warned that there was little margin for error and urged the hosts not to slack off.

“Curitiba confirmed as £WorldCup venue, based on the financial guarantees, the commitment by all stakeholders & progress made,” Fifa tweeted on its official account. “It’s a race against a very tight time line. Collective effort by all stakeholders involved in Curitiba must continue at highest pace.”

The Arena da Baixada is still far from complete. Images from the stadium showed scaffolding, cranes, cement mixers and workers wandering through piles of cement and stone.

The owners Atletico Paranaense said it is now 91% finished and work has accelerated sufficiently in the past month to ensure that the ground will be ready for its opening game – Nigeria against Iran.

The “D-Day” announcement – as it has been dubbed – came as the coaches of the 32 World Cup participants met in the southern city of Florianapolis for a technical seminar on logistics and facilities.

A month ago, Fifa’s secretary general, Jérome Valcke, warned Curitiba that it has just four weeks to shift construction gears or risk being thrown out of the tournament. “We cannot organise a match without a stadium, this has reached a critical point,” he said at the time. “Not only is it very behind in its construction, but it has failed to meet any of the deadlines set by Fifa,” he said at the time.

Fifa had reportedly begun looking into substitute venues. According to the Brazilian media, Porto Alegre, which is about 400 miles away, was put on standby.

This is far from the only problem facing the hosts. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/feb/16/brazil-world-cup-disaster-delays-protests-deaths facing the organisers as the countdown clock ticks closer to the tournament kick-off on 12 June.

Last week saw the sixth fatality at a stadium construction site. Antonio José Pita Martins, was crushed in Arena da AmazÙnia in Manaus, where three people have now died preparing the stadium where England will play their opening match against Italy. It has also emerged that a fire at the Cuiaba stadium in October had done structural damage despite promises by state officials that the impact was minor. An 18-page report by the Mato Grosso state Public Ministry warned that the blaze caused “structural damage” that “could compromise the overall stability of the construction,” according to Reuters. The sports ministry has promised to look into the matter.

theguardian.com © 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

0

Brazil’s World Cup courts disaster as delays, protests and deaths mount

An attack on the president’s office was just the latest alarming episode in the runup to June’s tournament

Another week, another storm of teargas and rubber bullets at a World Cup host city in Brazil. This time, the clashes were in the capital, Brasília, where 15,000 protesters from the Landless Workers Movement marched from the Mané Garrincha football stadium to the Palácio do Planalto state office of the president, Dilma Rousseff.

Riot police using batons and teargas fought off several attempts to invade the building. The demonstrators threw stones and tore down railings which they used as weapons. In the fierce fighting, 12 protesters and 30 police officers were injured.

Rousseff was not in her office at the time, but this latest explosion of unrest is yet another headache for the president in what is supposed to be one of the most triumphant, feelgood years in the nation’s history.

Hosting the World Cup was intended to show that Brazil – the land long condemned as the “country of the future – and always will be” – had finally arrived. It seemed a shoo-in for success. The five World Cup wins of the Seleção, the national football team, are arguably the greatest source of national pride among the 200 million population. Sure, given the nation’s laidback lifestyle, there were always bound to be a few glitches along the way, but it was taken as a given that the land of carnival and samba would mark the tournament by throwing the best party ever.

Those glib assumptions have taken a battering in the last eight months, starting with the biggest street protest in a generation during last June’s Confederations Cup and rising in violent, nerve-jangling intensity to the point where – just four months from kick-off – people are still being killed in protests, workers are dying in the rush to complete unfinished stadiums and the mood of the nation is far closer to unease than alegría – joy.

In the last month, the news has grown worse and the criticism sharper. Five stadiums that were supposed to be ready at the end of December are still under construction, prompting panic among Fifa’s executives. Last month, its president, Sepp Blatter, said Brazil was further behind schedule than any host since he joined Fifa in 1975, even though it has had the most time to prepare.

One stadium – the Arena da Baixada in Curitiba – is now in the last-chance saloon. Organisers in the city have two days left to prove they have accelerated the pace of building or the Fifa secretary general, Jérôme Valcke, has warned the venue could be kicked out of the cup. That is almost unthinkable given the logistical nightmare of finding a new venue at this late stage, but the fact that the matter was even raised in public underscores the frustrations the delays have generated.

The dire progress is also at least partly to blame for several deaths. Of the six workers who have been killed in stadium construction accidents, four have lost their lives since late November as the deadline pressure picked up. The latest casualty, Antônio José Pita Martins, was crushed last week in Arena da Amazônia in Manaus, where three people have died preparing the stadium where England will play their opening match against Italy. With no major domestic league teams in the city, the venue is thought unlikely to be filled again for football after July.

The waste of lives and money on such white elephants has added fuel to the anger on the streets. Initially public protests had nothing to do with football. Until last June, most were small, relatively peaceful and focused on single issues such as bus fares, healthcare, evictions and corruption. But Fifa’s mega-events have become a lightning rod for these and many other issues. “Não vai ter Copa!” (No World Cup) is now a popular chant at almost every rally.

Violence is a growing problem. Although demonstrations are far smaller than last June, they are often bloodier. The most recent victim was a TV cameraman, Santiago Andrade, who was killed when a protester’s flare exploded next to his head during a protest outside the Central do Brasil railway station in Rio de Janeiro.

Police brutality has only added to the problem, both on the streets and in the favelas, where a “pacification” programme aimed at driving out armed gangs has suffered a series of setbacks. Residents’ support for the operation has weakened since the torture and murder of a local man, Amarildo de Souza, by police last year.

His home – the Rocinha favela, which sits above the England team’s hotel – is now racked by gunfire almost every night. Elsewhere, Comando Vermelho gangsters have assassinated several police officers in what appears to be a resumption of tit-for-tat killings.

Football offers a far from safe refuge. More people die in stadium violence and supporter clashes in Brazil than in any other country. Players are no more immune and only slightly better protected. This was evident in the attack this month on the Corinthians training camp in São Paulo by about 100 angry fans who made a hole in the fence with wirecutters, then assaulted the team. Peruvian striker Paolo Guerrero, who scored the winner against Chelsea in the 2012 Club World Cup final, was throttled. Others had belongings stolen. The players have threatened to go on strike over the lack of safety, which will also be a concern at the World Cup, when Iran will use the same training facility.

For some analysts, such problems highlight the fundamentally disruptive and unhealthy impact of global tournaments, despite the promises of improvements. “What we are seeing in Brazil is an aggravation of ordinary living conditions as cities prepare for the World Cup. Traffic is worse, prices are higher and there has never been any kind of institutional reform to Brazilian football. Violence is a part of daily life in Brazil and to assume that this will go away because people feel good about the World Cup is as irresponsible as it is naive,” said Christopher Gaffney, a visiting geography professor at the Fluminense Federal University in Rio de Janeiro. Others, however, dismiss such views as curmudgeonly. Fifa’s ambassador, Pelé, insists the tournaments will bring rewards for Brazil – as long as people don’t ruin the party mood.

“Now we have three fantastic events: the Confederations Cup, the World Cup and the Olympics. The country can fill up with tourists and receive all the benefits from the tourists. And Brazil’s own people are spoiling the party,” he said in a recent interview. “I hope that people have good sense: let the World Cup pass on. Then we’ll make up for the politicians who are robbing or diverting. This is another thing. Football only brings foreign money and only brings benefits to Brazil.”

But King Pelé – as he was known on the pitch – has lost a great deal of respect among the public for an approach that comes across as a blind defence of anything that threatens his many corporate sponsors. Similar appeals last year only brought disdain.

Rousseff has also stepped up the PR drive, according to local media who cite unnamed aides as saying that the president’s team plans an advertising campaign to remind people that infrastructure projects have been accelerated by the tournament and are partly funded by private money. The president – who faces elections in October – has declared that the remaining obstacles to the World Cup are simple to overcome. But with huge delays over airport and underground rail projects and suspicions of overly cosy ties between politicians and construction companies, there also appears to be a shift of emphasis away from the hardware and preparations and towards the soft side of the tournament as a great spectacle and a great party. The new mantra – constantly repeated this year by the president and Fifa’s Valcke – is that 2014 will be the “Copa das Copas” (Cup of Cups).

It is, of course, not too late for the tournament to be a success. The country remains on an upward, if somewhat wobbly trajectory. Jitters are normal before any big event and every hiccup is magnified by the unusually intense scrutiny of the global media. Past mega-events have all been plagued by negative news – Tibetan protests before the Beijing Olympics in 2008, crime fears before the South African World Cup in 2010, security concerns before the London Games of 2012. Brazil, it is hoped, will also overcome its current hitches once the focus is on what it is good at: football rather than organisation.

But for the moment, there is still a gap between how the event is seen by the politicians in the futuristic but old buildings of Brasília and how it is perceived on the streets. A lot of work needs to be done to unify these two visions and time is not on Brazil’s side.

“This is a moment of unrest and uncertainty – both in terms of the cup and also society,” the 1970 World Cup winner and social commentator Tostão told the Observer. “The cup will happen. That’s certain. There is no way they will let it not happen. But what is success? For the Brazilian people, the cup meant lots of public spending, a lack of lasting infrastructure, a lack of social projects, but for the government a successful cup means something completely different. We’re all in doubt right now because we just don’t know what’s going to happen during the cup.”

• This article was amended on Sunday 16 February 2014 to give the correct gender of the Brazilian president.

theguardian.com © 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds



0

Rio: Brazil’s silicon beach

The digital economy has been a key driver of change in Rio de Janeiro, extending power to those living in the favelas

Anyone doubting Rio de Janeiro’s techward shift need only look at the famous pavement mosaics that mark the promenade along Copacabana beach. The black and white patterns have traditionally resembled the waves across which early settlers and modern tourists travelled. Last year, however, that antique, analogue design has been partly reconfigured to reflect a digital future with the addition of tiled QR codes for smartphones.

The pavement symbols link to online maps and tourist websites. That should be useful to the throngs of visitors expected in this resort during this year’s World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, but the significance goes far beyond the mega sporting events.

The tiled codes are a small part of an attempted makeover of party-town Rio into a Latin-American technology hub. Driven by multinational tech companies, local startups and city universities, the mayor, Eduardo Paes, is trying to shape a future for this resort that is as much about being smart as having fun. This is partly an attempt to ride a nationwide trend. Brazil – which is vying with France and Britain to be the world’s fifth biggest economy – is belatedly embracing wireless technology and social networks. Thanks to a surge in recent years, there are now more mobile phones (268.4m) in this country than people. Tablet sales have jumped from 220,000 at the beginning of 2012 to more than 5m today. And Facebook use has increased to the point where Brazil is now second only to the US in terms of the number of users.

More infrastructure and incentives are being developed. Telecom providers are now launching 4G networks in Rio and other World Cup host cities before the start of the tournament in June. The government has also launched a programme, Start-Up Brazil, that offers up to $100,000 in support to local entrepreneurs. Multinational investors are keen to invest in a growing market that will be in the global spotlight like never before. The city of Rio – which benefits from a stunning location, a cluster of universities and being host of the World Cup final and Olympics – aims to be the biggest beneficiary.

Several big tech companies are now moving in. Microsoft has announced a new $100m technology centre in the city that will house a development platform for the Bing search engine and a business incubator for local startups. Cisco Systems plans a $500m innovation centre in Rio that will include a venture-capital fund and co-development of new technologies.

The lure of significant offshore oil finds has also attracted global engineering firms. General Electric has opened its first research and development centre at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro’s $500m technology park, which also includes Siemens, Haliburton and Schlumberger among its tenants.

Inequality, poor transport systems and excessive bureaucracy remain major obstacles but at the grass roots technology is arguably being used in the most innovative ways to address social problems. The expansion of wifi and 3G networks into the favela shantytowns has widened the access of residents to information, as well as providing a means for shantytown dwellers to inform the outside world of some of the problems they face.

A digital mapping programme uses cameras on kites to record areas of poor sanitation or pools of murky water where dengue-carrying mosquitoes breed. And a citizens group, Meu Rio, set up a CCTV camera outside a school threatened with demolition so activists could quickly be alerted if bulldozers arrived.

Its social network campaign, which attracted tens of thousands of followers, forced authorities to change their plans and showed how technology is being used by a wide range of government and non-government actors to influence policy.

Leonardo Eloi, Meu Rio

Started in 2011, Meu Rio uses technology to mobilise Cariocas (residents of Rio) to influence public policy. Leonardo Eloi, who was among the founder members, says the group is building a decentralised network of lawyers, developers and other specialists who can help activists and NGOs to improve society.

“I want to create a community that is hacking for good,” he says. “A community of thinkers that provide technology at a low cost.”

Far more than just a click-and-forget campaign website, Meu Rio’s team analyses public policy proposals and helps connect members with city officials and focus email petitions. Designers and developers help to explain and amplify the message with videos, animation and infographics. The group also has a blog, which acts as a municipal watchdog by sending representatives to every city council meeting — something that most mainstream media organisations can no longer afford to do.

The organisation has successfully campaigned for greater government transparency and blocked a bill that would have allowed the government to secretly choose which business and infrastructure projects required environmental impact assessments. Famously, they also mobilised opposition to the planned closure of a public school, which was due to be demolished so that a new car park could be built for the Maracanã football stadium.

The city government has complained that Meu Rio is a tool for couch criticism rather than constructive governance. To prove them wrong, Eloi recently participated in a municipal “hackathon” competition to find technological applications that improve governance. Entering under his own name rather than Meu Rio, he was selected as the winner of the Grand Jury prize with a mobile phone app that helps drivers find parking spaces and alerts citizens when their cars are at risk of being towed away.

The software also allows them to notify police when their cars are broken into or scratched by flanelinha parking extortionists. Officials, drivers and pedestrians all stand to benefit from the savings in costs, time and pollution.

“It is all about collaboration. The crowd has its own intelligence,” says Eloi, who believes diversity is the city’s greatest asset.

“This is an important moment in Rio with lots of decision to be made. It’s time for citizens to be included in the decision-making process. This is a city with so much beauty, so many resources and awesome people. It would be perfect if it had a public policy that was really made by people for people. It’s much smarter to have 7 million minds and brains working on solutions instead of just the government.”

Robert Muggah, Igarapé Institute

Using technology to address social problems is the goal of Robert Muggah, a Canadian who has found fertile ground in Rio de Janeiro’s increasingly wired and pacified favelas.

He is the founder of the Igarapé Institute, which is working with city authorities on a “smart policing” project using mobile-phone technology to make public security more transparent and accountable.

Following agreement with the Rio State police, Igarapé is helping to design an android app that will record every movement and conversation of police officers when they step out of their cars. On a routine patrol the data will be downloaded at the end of the day and saved on the cloud. In crisis situations, the information will be streamed live to headquarters. Police chiefs are enthusiastic about having such extra surveillance and personnel management tool.

Favela communities will be more interested in the potential to reduce police abuses in a city that suffers an alarmingly high rate of killings by officers in the course of their duties.

Pilot programmes are now underway in Rocinha, the city’s biggest favela. If authorities approve, these will be scaled up in the coming weeks and the system could be introduced citywide later this year. Talks are also underway with authorities in Nairobi and Cape Town to adopt the system.

The project exemplifies the core goal of Igarapé, a non-profit organisation that works with partners from around the world, including Google Ideas, to use mobile technology to achieve socially useful ends.

Muggah is perhaps best known for his data-visualisations of the global trade in small arms and its link to murder rates and other crimes. He is also working with epidemiologists on a child security index that will analyse government data on young people’s experiences of violence in low-income communities. Other projects in development include a “big data” analysis of Twitter and Facebook postings before a recent wave of street protests to establish who are the prime movers, and a visualisation of data on money laundering and, eventually, timber extraction from the Amazon.

“Rio is an exciting place to test new technologies. Many people in government, the private sector and civil society are committed to evidence-based policy and action, and technology can help make this the norm.

“With so much going on – not least the World Cup and Olympics in the next few years – the city is a real-life laboratory,” Muggah says. “Young Cariocas [Rio residents] are increasingly digitally literate and enthusiastically pushing for social change. We have an unprecedented opportunity to help improve public security in the city. Technology will have a major role in making the city safer for us all.”

Grasiela Camargo, Clubinho de Ofertas

Clubinho de Ofertas (Offers Club) is the idea of Grasiela Camargo, who has built a network for businesses, primarily run by mothers who want to promote their services and search for reasonably priced activities they can do with their children.

Her online model has similarities with Groupon, but it is more intimate, more local and focuses on entertainment for families.

“This is super cheap,” says Camargo, 34, who lives in Rio. “I find small businesses that don’t have money to spend on advertising, and through our model we bring them big results. They pay with their service or their product.”

Since she and her husband launched the site in 2011, it has attracted more than 20,000 users in Rio. Although Groupon has five times that number of local users, Clubinho sometimes outsells its multinational rival because it says it is closer to its customers.

Until now, most of the business has come from theatres, shops and playgroups – many of which do not have the technical knowledge and marketing skills to promote themselves online. Camargo, who has learned website design and database management as she goes along – is now planning to expand into party services and an online children’s guide to Rio.

“Rio is a great city! There are lots of activities and culture, theatre and shows that are important for the educational development of the kids,” she says. “And there are lots of spots for startups, meeting groups where people exchange ideas, angel investors. There’s a big start-up movement in Rio.” As well as running a startup, Camargo takes pride in helping others – especially entrepreneurial mothers – to build their businesses. In addition to providing an online advertising platform and building a network, she advises clients on customer relations.

“We transformed the lives of the businesses – they learn from us how to sell,” she says. “One theatre was empty when we first went there. Now we can sell it out.”

Additional reporting by Anna Kaiser

theguardian.com © 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

0

Fury and frustration in Brazil as fares rise and transport projects flounder

Public responds to increase in bus fares and delays to infrastructure improvements with demonstrations and disruption

At 5am every day, Paula Elaine Cardoso begins her long commute from the poor periphery of Rio de Janeiro to her care worker’s job in the upmarket resort of Copacabana.

After a walk to the bus stop, she has to wait about 40 minutes to get a seat, then – provided there is no breakdown or accident – she has a nearly two-hour ride in the traffic, usually without air conditioning and often in temperatures over 30C. Hot and tired by the time she reaches the subway station, she must then line up again for another jam-packed journey to her destination.

Most days, she gets in shortly before 9am, the 22 miles having taken close to three hours. It is the same story in the evening. By the time she gets home, usually long after dark, Cardoso has spent almost a quarter of her day, and a sizeable share of her income, on public transport.

Little wonder then that she – like tens of thousands of other Rio residents – is furious that bus fares in the city are due to go up on Saturday.

“It’s absurd,” Cardoso says. “Minimum salaries are very low and basic living costs are already high so the transport fare affects the food on the table for many families.”

Her sentiments are widely shared, and the fare increase has already sparked a new round of street protests.

As this week’s London Underground strike has underlined, frustration is a common feeling among commuters around the world, but it is being taken to incandescent heights in Brazil’s two biggest cities, where transport has become a focus of fury about government corruption, inefficiency and inequality.

Bus price increases were the spark for the huge protests in more than 80 cities last June, prompting governments to postpone the fare hike and promise more spending on transport.

But commuter costs are now creeping back up. This Saturday, Rio will raise municipal bus prices by 9%, from 2.75 reais to 3 reais (75p). That may seem cheap compared with London or New York. But for a daily commuter, that still works out at about a sixth of the minimum wage of 724 Rs a month – more in the case of people who, like Cordoso, have to use buses and trains.

Mayor Eduardo Paes has tried to alleviate the impact by extending free bus passes to school pupils and by forcing the bus companies to install air conditioning on their entire fleets.

But this has failed to placate protesters. In Rio de Janeiro, there were barrier-jumping demonstrations last month by almost 100 people at Central do Brasil station. On Thursday, organisers are planning the sixth street rally in as almost as many months against planned fare rises.

In São Paulo, buses have been torched on an almost daily basis since the start of the year and subway systems have been interrupted this week by a wave of disruptions, confrontations and emergency brake-pull protests, forcing thousands of passengers to walk through the tunnels.

It was not supposed to be this way. When Brazil bid for the 2014 World Cup, one of the government’s main justifications for the multibillion-dollar expense was an improved transport infrastructure. Along with the Olympics, the sporting events were supposed to accelerate a $400bn plan to upgrade airports, subways, roads and bus links. But projects have been plagued by bureaucracy, inefficiency, corruption and a general lack of dynamism.

With just four months until the opening match, more than a quarter of the 49 original transport projects scheduled for completion before the tournament have been scaled down, delayed or cancelled. Promised new metro links in Salvador and São Paulo, and tram services in Brasilia and Cuiabá, will not be ready in time.

President Dilma Rousseff had promised that a bullet train between Rio and São Paulo would be built in time for the World Cup that would also link with the major airports in both cities. Today, construction has yet to start and refurbishment of the airport terminals – which remain shoddy throwbacks to the 1970s – will not go up for tender until March.

“It’s a joke. We were awarded the World Cup seven years ago and only now we’re calling tenders for the airports?” said Brazil’s 1994 World Cup-winning coach, Carlos Alberto Parreira, in a recent interview.

Social networks are filled with anger, dismay and embarrassment. Highlighting how slow Rio de Janeiro has been in developing its subway system is a now-viral image comparing the city’s metro to that of Shanghai’s since 1993. The single short line and spur of Rio’s system has barely changed and now covers 25 miles and 35 stations. Shanghai, meanwhile, had no subway in 1993, but is now a dense spider’s web, encompassing 333 miles of track and 329 stations.

Asked why Rio has moved so slowly, Mauro Kleiman, a professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro’s Institute of Urban Planning, said the city put too much emphasis on cars, neglected long-term planning and failed to keep pace with the speed of urbanisation.

“People are angry because the quality of transport services fails to meet demand,” he said. “With the economy growing, more and more people come to the metropolis. They get jobs. They commute. This leads to crowded roads and crowded public transport.”

While many cite Rio’s geography – mountainous terrain, proximity to the sea and complex soil structure – as the main challenge to the development of a subway network, Kleiman says such engineering challenges are not insurmountable. Instead, he says historical and political factors have undermined transport.

Rio had an extensive railway and tram system until 1962, but replaced most of it with asphalt roads. “This was when we switched from being a city of public transit to being a city of cars,” Kleiman said. The government’s priorities are also affected by the political clout of the city’s four main bus companies, which are concentrated in the hands of some of Rio’s oldest and most influential families.

Politicians also like prestige projects that can be completed during their term of office. Day-to-day maintenance and upgrades are not seen as priorities. As a result, Rio still has wooden sleepers on what is left of its tracks and rails are not regularly realigned, so trains wobble and often derail.

Juciano Rodrigues, a researcher at the Observatory of the Metropolis at the National Institute of Science and Technology, says class politics are also to blame. Unlike many other cities, he says, the outskirts of Rio are considered a “periphery” for the poor rather than a dormitory town for middle-class commuters. Relocations of inner-city favela residents often result in communities being pushed further from the fringes. As a result, many people are having to spend a major share of their income and their time on long commutes to low-paying jobs.

The government says that is why most of Rio’s transport improvement budget has been spent on the development of a Rapid Bus Transport System, which ought to be cheaper and quicker to roll out. Compared to recent decades, municipal officials say they are putting more money into easing commuter hardships. That is one of the reasons why they need more revenue.

But Rodrigues predicts more protests over the price rise. “It’s awful, terrible. They’re asking people to pay for something really bad,” he said. “This new rate is much higher than inflation. In percentage terms, the weight of transport in the family budget is the same as food.”

This is the crucial issue. Whether or not Brazil completes its projects in time for the expected influx of 600,000 foreign visitors for the World Cup, those who will be most affected by the quality and cost of transport here are those like Cordoso, who have to make the journey every day from the poor to the rich world.

• Additional reporting by Anna Kaiser

More on the buildup to the World Cup

Brazil in the spotlight: ‘Our hour has arrived’

Rio favelas being ‘socially cleansed’ in runup to sporting events

Fifa issues ultimatum to host city over World Cup stadium delays

theguardian.com © 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds



0

Fans break into World Cup centre and attack players

100 Corinthians supporters use wirecutters to breach fence and assault their team’s players, including striker Paolo Guerrero

Angry Brazilian fans broke into a World Cup training centre and assaulted players and staff on Saturday in an attack that highlighted the security concerns facing teams in this year’s tournament.

About 100 Corinthians supporters used wirecutters to breach the perimeter mesh around a coaching area in São Paulo – which will be used by the Iranian national side in June – so they could berate their team’s players for recent poor form.

No one was seriously injured, but the invading fans grabbed and throttled striker Paolo Guerrero, who scored the winner against Chelsea in the 2012 Club World Cup final.

“They tried to strangle the player who scored the most important goal in our club’s history. We didn’t deserve this,” club president Mario Gobbi said on Sunday.

According to local media, the fans refused to leave for two hours and also manhandled the coach Mano Menezes, striker Emerson Sheik and Alexandre Pato, a former AC Milan forward and the club’s most expensive signing last year.

The players were in such a state of shock that Corinthians initially requested the postponement of the match they were due to play on Sunday against Ponte Preta. The club said the game should be put back to “preserve and protect all involved”.

This request was withdrawn owing to commitments to TV rightsholders, but the mood of insecurity at the club persists.

Corinthians have referred the case to police and provided CCTV footage to help identify those responsible for what the club describes as an act of vandalism.

“Our employees don’t feel safe any more,” said Gobbi.

Brazil’s supporters organisations have a long history of violence, often with lethal consequences.

For the most part the hooliganism is associated with clubs and organised crime rather than the national side.

But with the World Cup due to start in just over four months, participating teams may seek reassurance that their players will be adequately protected from intensely passionate fans, both at training grounds and in stadiums.

As one comment on the latest incident put it: “After reading this, I don’t thing [sic] anyone will be willing to knock them [Brazil] out of the WC.”

theguardian.com © 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds



0

Angry Brazilian fans break into World Cup centre and attack players and staff

100 Corinthians supporters use wirecutters to breach fence and assault their team’s players, including striker Paolo Guerrero

Angry Brazilian fans broke into a World Cup training centre and assaulted players and staff on Saturday in an attack that highlighted the security concerns facing teams in this year’s tournament.

About 100 Corinthians supporters used wirecutters to breach the perimeter mesh around a coaching area in São Paulo – which will be used by the Iranian national side in June – so they could berate their team’s players for recent poor form.

No one was seriously injured, but the invading fans grabbed and throttled striker Paolo Guerrero, who scored the winner against Chelsea in the 2012 Club World Cup final.

“They tried to strangle the player who scored the most important goal in our club’s history. We didn’t deserve this,” club president Mario Gobbi said on Sunday.

According to local media, the fans refused to leave for two hours and also manhandled the coach Mano Menezes, striker Emerson Sheik and Alexandre Pato, a former AC Milan forward and the club’s most expensive signing last year.

The players were in such a state of shock that Corinthians initially requested the postponement of the match they were due to play on Sunday against Ponte Preta. The club said the game should be put back to “preserve and protect all involved”.

This request was withdrawn owing to commitments to TV rightsholders, but the mood of insecurity at the club persists.

Corinthians have referred the case to police and provided CCTV footage to help identify those responsible for what the club describes as an act of vandalism.

“Our employees don’t feel safe any more,” said Gobbi.

Brazil’s supporters organisations have a long history of violence, often with lethal consequences.

For the most part the hooliganism is associated with clubs and organised crime rather than the national side.

But with the World Cup due to start in just over four months, participating teams may seek reassurance that their players will be adequately protected from intensely passionate fans, both at training grounds and in stadiums.

As one comment on the latest incident put it: “After reading this, I don’t thing [sic] anyone will be willing to knock them [Brazil] out of the WC.”

theguardian.com © 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds