A world city in the making?
Traditionally, only better-off Brazilians traveled abroad, and only the hardiest and most adventurous of travelers bothered to come to Rio.
About a decade ago, as the country’s fortunes improved, more Brazilians began to travel. And in the last five years or so, Rio started to reduce violence and show a prettier face to visitors. Then came the mega-events. Transformations, residents and visitors form a fascinating and ever-changing symbiosis.
The 2014 World Cup, lasting from mid-June to mid-July, may mark a new phase in the city’s development. Rio is accustomed to an annual noisy and dirty invasion at Carnival. Last year we had a visit from the Pope, which brought in, for a few days, a different sort of tourist: groups of young people bearing guitars and national flags, singing, hiking, and praying.
Now, we have thousands of cost-conscious soccer fans who’ve made Rio their home for longer stays. Some even drove here, from Argentina and Chile. With no hesitation, they’re simply using the city, adding a new layer to everyday life. They’re in restaurants, on buses, running along the beach. Which is just the way tourists act in cities that belong not only to themselves but to the world.
The visitors may not be taking taxis, however. Cabbies complain that many tourists purchased packages including all transfers, and prefer buses to taxis. Maybe it’s just as well the plan for taxi drivers to learn English didn’t take hold.
What remains to be seen, and is largely dependent on the October gubernatorial elections and subsequent public policy choices, is how safe Rio will be after the Cup — for tourists and residents alike. At the moment, the city is probably more crime-free than ever, with ten of thousands of police officers and soldiers keeping the peace (except for the occasional brawl between soccer fans). And they’re doing this despite complaints about spoiled and scanty rations, as well as the condition of the barracks where those who are from out of state are housed.
The Cup has eclipsed just about all other news, but the life of the city does continue (despite many holidays), particularly beyond the South Zone. The Complexo do Alemão cable car system was shut down for inspection after a night of shooting this past week, and seven military police are under investigation for a shooting death in Manguinhos. Both areas have pacification units.
As does Rocinha, where cops and traffickers had a shootout Friday night on a main thoroughfare, Rua 4, and in nearby alleyways. This was unusual, as drug traffickers ordinarily stay high up in pacified favelas, far from the police and most transit. One explanation, according to a resident, is that the traffickers came down the hill to watch soccer games and celebrate with the rest of the community. The shooting may also have something to do with an arrest on Friday.
So far, anti-World Cup demonstrations, where police have firmly cracked down, haven’t affected the games or traffic in general. An invasion of the Maracanã press center by disgruntled Chileans turned out to be much more newsworthy.
The World Cup has, however, served to underscore Brazilian class and political differences, a focus of attention given that in October, Brazilians will also either reelect current president Dilma Rousseff, or vote in one of her opponents. An unquantified part of the crowd at the São Paulo opener cursed crudely and booed when her image appeared a large screen; in a marked departure from tradition, she and FIFA president had opted not to make speeches.
While Facebookers spent the following days watching videos and discussing the cursing, another video soon appeared online, of an upscale São Paulo World Cup match party whose participants appeared not to be aware of a world beyond their own. They were quickly dubbed yellow blocs, in a sarcastic reference to violent black bloc tactics which led to the end of the street demonstrations last year.
In recent days, São Paulo has seen more demonstrating and debate over the World Cup than has Rio, which tops the official ranking of tourists, both foreign and Brazilian — and, despite taxi drivers’ laments, stands to make the most income from the twelve-city event.
Perhaps this is why most cariocas seem to want to share the World Cup –and maybe their city, too — with visitors. The doorman of a building not far from the Maracanã stadium turned around his television so ticketless Chileans could watch their team play Spain, through the bars of the fencing surrounding the building.
Or is it all about nothing more than the beautiful game itself? As the championship unfolds in the coming weeks, we’ll soon find out.
Watch this Porta dos Fundos video to see just how enmeshed soccer and politics are right now in Brazil.