After many crowded days of watching World Cup games at the FIFA Fan Fest on Copacabana, I wanted to see what other Brazilians thought of the World Cup.
Back in June of 2013, Brazil came to a standstill as the largest protests in decades swept the country, with citizens expressing anger at the increasing cost of living and the governments decision to spend billions on FIFA stadiums while ignoring the basic needs of lower and middle class citizens. While these protests are largely over, there still exists a small minority who continue to express themselves, yet while the number of protesters are getting smaller, the response from the military police is becoming increasingly more violent.
While I have only been here for 3 weeks, it seems that most Brazilians are quite content with the fact that the World Cup is here, in fact they seem so swept up with their daily lives that the World Cup is just an afterthought. That being said, the frustration of these protesters speaks volumes about the massive internal problems Brazil faces as a country. The violent military and police crackdown I saw on this night is no way of dealing with these problems, it is only sweeping it under the rug for another day.
We made it! Safe, exhausted and excited, we are no longer floating thousands of miles in the sky, waiting for the captain to land. We are now living within the creature they call, the Cidade Maravilhosa (Marvelous city). It’s hard to say what makes the city so marvelous. It is an incredible combination of the people, the geography, the climate, the architecture, the festivals, the list can go on forever. At the top of this list would be something I will never forget; the first impression that our host, Patrick Granja, made upon us when we first arrived on his doorstep. Patrick is a remarkable person who’s deeply involved with fighting corruption and documenting the brutal tactics that the police force have been using on the poorest people here in Rio. His passion, it would seem is to give a voice to those who are beaten down into silence, to put a name with the unidentified bodies that are left in the streets after police “pacify” a favela. He found the time in his busy schedule to give us a ride to Copacabana, and I am so glad he did. It turned to be a ride I will always remember.
We started out in his hatchback from Maracana Stadium and drove through the district of Lapa. Outside of Maracana Stadium, Patrick told us of his memories going to the old stadium, before it was remodeled for the World Cup. How the seats were packed with the local people, and the tickets were affordable enough, even for the poorest of families. Where they sat didn’t matter, it was the love of the game that brought everyone together. I found it strange then, that most of the graffiti in Rio didn’t depict a love of the upcoming World Cup, rather, they expressed a clear discontent about the event. When I brought it up to Patrick, he wasn’t surprised, instead he was in agreement. The resentment to the World Cup had nothing to do with soccer, or any lack of love for the sport. This is a country that worships its players, they put people like Pele next to god in their hearts.
It was the elite police forces that had been assembled from all over Brazil, and were going around Rio to stomp out criminal activity that was making the locals give up on their love for soccer. In a massive effort to make the city safer for the huge influx of tourists who will be making their to Rio in less than a week, the Government has started to “pacify” the most dangerous parts of the city by sending in their most highly trained squads of riot police to root out the criminals they believe will harm the image of the city. This makes things tough for the people who live in those neighborhoods and aren’t participating in any criminal activity.
The people have started protesting intensely, and the police have responded with brute force, firing live rounds into protests, beating anyone who doesn’t stand down, and violently punishing anyone who publishes material that incriminates them. Patrick and his crew are literally on the front line, laying down their lives to try and get attention to the subject. In spite of the danger he lives in, he still had a sense of humor. There is a joke, according to Patrick, regarding the tools that this new police force uses. Before the riot police began turning protests into warzones, the local police force was using expired tear gas to disperse the crowds. Tear gas becomes very dangerous once it passes it’s expiration date, and the effects of it can cause far worse symptoms than it usually would, in some cases, it can kill. According to Patrick, when the new Federal police force came in with their tear gas, he noticed that they weren’t affected by it. He joked with his friends that only the local police had “the good shit” or the expired and lethal tear gas that they had grown accustomed to. He did say that one perk of the newer gas was that while protesting, he and his friends noticed feeling a little high, a welcome relief in the midst of flash bangs and bullets raining over them. It must have been the effects of the new tear gas that inspired him, but while we were sitting in traffic, surrounded by cars, motorcycles and people all weaving in and around one another,
Patrick decided to share his stock of Paraguayan Ganja. I sat next to him in the passenger seat, a bit nervous about smoking it because of a police car that was right in front of us. This, he told us, was no problem. The police don’t care about marijuana in Rio, because they don’t make any money off it anymore. New legislation requires police who catch you with it to bring you into the station, confiscate your Lambsbread and have you sign a form that states that you will no longer use the substance. Prior to this law, the Police would take your sweet, sweet, cheba, throw it away, then threaten you with jail time, or worse, if you didn’t grease the wheels for them with some cash. Now, they have nothing to blackmail people with, and no means of making money, so why bother with arresting anyone? Corruption in this city sometimes works out in our favor.
Patrick was in the middle of telling us stories of injuries he suffered over years of filming protests when he noticed that the traffic on the way to Copacabana was intensifying, a sign he took to mean that the tunnel that would take us there had been shut down due to a protest put on by the local teachers. He dropped us off nearby and hurried over to film what he could of the protest. Suddenly it was real. We were in the city, surrounded by the sounds of Rio dancing around us, like an orchestra composed of Rio’s urban musicians, from cars honking indiscriminately to, engines struggling to propel their cargo another mile, coughing and hacking their way through winding streets, all with the unique musical sound of Brazilian Portuguese flowing in the background. This is an enchanted land, as old as it is beautiful, as lovely as the people who live and work on it’s wonderful landscape.
We finally sat on the beach of Copacabana, our heads filled with stories of corruption and brutality, our eyes lost on the perfect white sands and warm waters of Rio de Janheiro; a paradise surrounded with colossal mountains that break the clouds. My eyes were transfixed upon Cristo Redentor, as he stands atop the highest peak overlooking the city. The ruler of a utopia, and the witness to a purgatory all at once, his arms outstretched as the winds drive painful memories into the past, and bring with them hope that this land can forever remain what it was meant to be: Paradise.