Everyone has an idea of what Rio de Janeiro is like during the World Cup, with the massive parties on Copacabana, the violent protests, and the hordes of tourists. While living in Rio for a month I took my camera around everywhere, attempting to shed light on the other side of Rio, the real Rio, the one not seen on TV or in the newspapers. Here is my portrait of Rio de Janeiro.
We weren’t able to watch the World Cup final because we were trapped in a plaza by 10,000’s of military police. They began firing tear gas, stun grenades, and pepper spray, injuring dozens of people in the process. It was definitely one of the craziest days of our lives.
“We want schooles, metros, trains, buses, ferries and hospitals”
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.
Patrick joined us in the living room as we kicked back and watched the end of the friendly between Fluminsense and Italy. As we cracked open a couple Antarctica beers, he explained that he usually doesn’t drink beer, however he was growing anxious about upcoming protests and World Cup. On Tuesday a group of Indians are planning to retake Aldeia Maracanã, a castle like building adjacent to Maracanã Stadium. They were forcibly removed in 2013 and relocated in preparation for the World Cup. The government intended to build a shopping center on the site, but they have been lagging so far behind in construction that the building is still standing.
As Patrick rolled another long joint to calm his nerves, he mentioned that the Indians were not the only people forcibly removed from the area around Maracanã in preparation for the World Cup. In fact, over 1000 families had been kicked out of the Favela do Metrô, the neighborhood located below where we are staying and the stadium. The government wanted to kick more people out to build a giant parking lot, but some community members fought back and won the right to remain in their homes. The government sidestepped the issue by building a unnecessarily gigantic metro stop and a overpass, accepting that if they can’t demolish the whole neighborhood they can at least block tourist from seeing it.
When a families home is destroyed, the government relocates them to outskirts of Rio, areas “dominated by paramilitary groups. made up of crazed firefighters and police officers. It’s like a concentration camp, no schools, no nothing, just forrest all around.”
This is not an isolated incident, all across Rio the government is demolishing neighborhoods,constructing unnecessary highways and noise barriers to create the illusion that Rio is just Copacabana in preparation for the World Cup and Olympics. They are spending billions of dollars to fuck over the poor in Rio instead of using the money to improve social services in underserved communities. Pacification Police (UPP) have invaded the favelas closest to tourist areas. Although the came to bring peace, all they brought was violence and life under a military occupation.
In 2007 there were 20,000 police in Rio, now there are 100,000. Police are stationed on every corner, but it is as dangerous as it has ever been. The UPP routinely get high on cocaine at night and shoot people with cellphones believing that they are armed.
Brazil did not have a culture of protest, however Rio’s residents are quickly realizing that increased enforcement is not the way to go and the resentment and protests are growing rapidly. During the Confederations Cup last year, a preparatory tournament for the World Cup, what started out as a 200 person protest over increased bus fares grew into movement of 1 million strong in just 20 days. It opened many people’s eyes to the injustices of the government and the protest movement has been amplifying ever since.
Hours and joints kept passing by as we watched Patricks crazy videos of the protests in Rio. Eventually we ran out of beer and decided to hit up the pizzeria on the corner. As we stepped out of the house, the cop who lives next door gave Patrick a dirty look. Patrick had decided to rock a shirt with the World Cup logo, but instead of a ball, the football player is kicking a bomb. Underneath it says ‘fuck the World Cup’. The lady working at the pizza place told Patrick come by during the World Cup, because they’ll have specials and open up earlier than usual. “I’ll be filming the protests,” Patrick responded, “you should have a special that when you buy a pizza you enter to win a gas mask.”
Patrick has been filming with black bloc protesters for the last seven years. His production company is the biggest one of its kind in Brazil showing the struggle from the people’s perspective. He is always at the protest’s front lines, getting the most insane footage and producing journalistic videos, posting them online the same day, and selling the footage to new agencies around the world. If you are looking for protest footage or connections in Rio, he’s the only guy to talk to. He has is no competition. Now he pays four people to film here in Rio and two in Sao Paulo.
There is an unbelievable amount of pressure on the Brazil team to win the World Cup. If they are kicked out early Rio will explode in anger. The government must be praying frantically for a win so that all the destruction and pain caused by the World Cup can somehow be justified and the country doesn’t plummet into chaos.