Featured

Fewer than half of Brazilians are positive about the upcoming FIFA World Cup, a new poll by Datafolha published on Monday has shown.

Some 2,091 Brazilians across the country were asked about their expectations towards the tournament which begins on 12 June in São Paulo: only 46% were positive about the event – 13% said ‘excellent’ and 33% responded ‘good’.

Brazil World Cup fans. Photo from travelblog.org

Brazilians are torn over their expectations for this year’s World Cup. Photo from travelblog.org

Thirty percent of those questioned in the survey had no strong feelings either way, and the remaining 24% concluded the World Cup would be ‘bad’ or ‘awful’ – 8% and 16%, respectively.

It allows [us] to say that 30% [of those surveyed] have some reservations over, and 24% totally reject, the hosting of the World Cup in Brazil,” Datafolha Director General Mauro Paulina was quoted by Folha de S.Paulo newspaper as saying.

A breakdown of the survey showed that most positive evaluations of the World Cup came from those who had only basic education and those in the lowest two income bands – the so-called ‘D’ and ‘E’ economic classes.

The results for this latest survey are a far cry from a similar survey in November 2008, in which 79 percent of respondents said they were positive about the World Cup.

The survey also asked whether the respondents were interested in football and the World Cup: 76% said they were interested in football, and 81% said they had an interest in the tournament itself.

Some 82% of people said they planned on watching World Cup fixtures – which increased to nine-in-ten if only male respondents are counted.

Beset by problems

Although the survey clearly shows that Brazilians have an interest in both the sport and the tournament, it does appear to show only lukewarm confidence in the country’s ability to host the event.

This latest survey has highlighted the difficulty that both FIFA and the Brazilian government have faced in garnering support for the event, with a build-up beset by problems: from major delays with stadiums and the very unpopular overall R$33 billion (US$14 billion) price tag to a number of construction site deaths and the downsizing or scrapping of a number of associated infrastructure projects.

13 March 2014 - World Cup Protest in São Paulo, Brazil - Photo by Ben Tavener

Protests against the World Cup, although smaller than in 2013, have continued in São Paulo. Photo by Ben Tavener.

Discontent over the preparation phase of the World Cup led to over a million Brazilians taking to the streets last June, in a show of anger against the government’s – and now, increasingly, FIFA’s – handling of the event.

Indeed, although mass protests against the World Cup have petered out, for now at least, a fourth round of protests against the World Cup – under the banner of “Não Vai Ter Copa” (“There Will Be No World Cup”) – is scheduled for Thursday in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and at least two other major cities in Brazil.

The survey comes as FIFA General Secretary Jérôme Valcke arrives in Rio for a week of meetings concerning the tournament’s final preparations.

Despite the negativity and many concerns by FIFA over the event’s preparations, President Dilma Rousseff has repeatedly promised a “Cup of Cups” and correspondents say that the World Cup will likely ultimately be saved by the country’s residual love for the game.

However, the Olympics, which are due to be held in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, may not fare as easily, as many of the sports are alien and not available to ordinary Brazilians.

Extended version written for Anadolu Agency

UPP Mandela. Photo by Ale Silva/Futura Press/Estadão Conteúdo

The Police Pacification Unit (UPP) in the Mandela favela, part of the Manguinhos complex, was torched on Thursday 20 March. Photo by Ale Silva/Futura Press/Estadão Conteúdo.

Brazil is to deploy federal troops to the city of Rio de Janeiro to ensure public security after a number of serious attacks on favela (shantytown) police stations across the city.

Rio state governor Sérgio Cabral and Federal Justice Minister José Eduardo Cardozo made the announcement on Friday following a meeting with President Dilma Rousseff.

Cabral and Rio’s public security secretary José Beltrame had traveled to the capital, Brasília, on Friday to ask the government for federal support to help quell the violence.

No further details were given in a subsequent press conference, but ahead of the announcement on troops Beltrame said: “We are ready […] to make sure there is no kind of threat to Rio’s citizens. We are out in maximum force on the streets of Rio de Janeiro.”

Military police had already bolstered their presence in a number of favelas (shantytowns) after a series of attacks on communities with Police Pacification Stations, known as UPPs, local media reported on Friday.

Extra officers and backup from tactical divisions were deployed in the favela communities after at least three separate “pacified” favela communities saw attacks on Thursday night.

Manguinhos favela. Photo by Felipe Dana/AP.

Manguinhos favela in Rio’s North Zone now has a far greater police presence due to a slew of attacks. Photo by Felipe Dana/AP.

Thirty-eight communities have so far undergone “pacification”, a city-wide policy by which police bring lawless areas, often controlled by armed gangs involved in drug trafficking, under their control by force, with UPPs left to consolidate gains.

On Thursday attacks were reported in three communities in different parts of the city with parts of the Manguinhos, Lins and Alemão favela complexes consequently waking up to a major police presence on Friday morning.

Manguinhos, in Rio’s North Zone, suffered the worst attack, Globo News reported. The head of one of the region’s UPPs suffered gunshot wounds and another officer was hit in the head by a rock. Both are reportedly stable in hospital and undergoing treatment.

The Mandela UPP, located in the Manguinhos complex visited by Pope Francis in June 2013, was set ablaze and gutted. Two police cars and five support bases were also torched.

The police chief in overall charge of Rio’s UPPs said he believed the attacks were coordinated.

‘On high alert’

The attacks brought some parts of the city to a standstill on Thursday night, with trains stopped in places due to running gun battles between criminals and police.

Local media in Rio de Janeiro reported that the Manguinhos community was without power after the attacks and schools were unable to teach around 4,000 school children on Friday.

All UPP communities have been put on high alert and police have had time-off suspended and are ready to carry out operationwhen deemed necessary, the local authorities said.

After meeting with the cabinet, Beltrame said the city’s security problems were down to Brazil’s “archaic” penal and prison systems, as well as a growing problem with crack use and gun crime within the country, the G1 news website reported.

Rio’s controversial pacification policy has been praised for integrating previously-lawless areas into the wider community and bringing security and public services to the city’s most underprivileged communities.

However, an underlying sense of distrust between residents and police remains. A number of incidents in recent weeks in which favela residents have been shot dead – by police or during police operations with criminals – has brought the topic of pacification back into the spotlight.

Written for Anadolu Agency

Rio police drag woman along road. Photo: reprodução/Globo Extra.

Amateur video shows police dragging Cláudio da Silva Ferreira, 38, along a road in Rio de Janeiro on her way to hospital. Image: Reprodução/Globo Extra

Three military police officers have been arrested after a dying woman was dragged along a road by a police car that was meant to be taking her to hospital in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro, the military police service confirmed on Monday.

The woman, 38-year-old Cláudia da Silva Ferreira, had reportedly gone out to buy bread on Sunday morning when she was shot twice by what police described as “stray bullets” in gunfire between officers and drugs traffickers in an operation in the Morro da Congonha favela (slum) community in Madureira, in Rio’s North Zone.

Officers then put the mother-of-four into the trunk of their police car to drive her to hospital and at some point during the journey to hospital, as amateur mobile phone footage testified, the trunk opened and she was dragged along the road for approximately 250 metres.

Shocked onlookers said the police were only alerted to what was happening by pedestrians and drivers when the car pulled up at traffic signals.

Health officials say Ferreira was pronounced dead upon arrival at hospital.

A police spokesperson said Ferreira should have been in the back seat alongside an officer and that the case was already being investigated internally by the military police:

“This type of conduct did not fit with the principal values of the corporation – which are the preservation of life and human dignity,” the spokesperson told reporters.

The investigation will also seek to establish whether Ferreira had been shot by police or traffickers in the anti-trafficking operation.

But local people took to the streets on Monday to protest the woman’s death, bringing a major local road to a halt as protesters burned piles of trash and accused the military police of killing favela residents indiscriminately.

‘Treated like an animal’

Ferreira, who took care of four relatives as well as raising four of her own children, was buried on Monday afternoon at a local cemetery.

“They [the police] treated her like an animal. Not even the worst trafficker in the world would have been treated like that,” Ferreira’s husband, 41-year-old security guard Alexandre da Silva was quoted by Brazilian daily Folha de S.Paulo as saying at the funeral service.

Silva said he believed his wife would have survived the gunshot wounds if she had not subsequently been dragged behind the police car.

Tensions have been running higher than usual in a number of favelas in Rio after new communities were ‘pacified’ – forcibly brought under police control – and previously-pacified areas reinforced by tactical squadrons after an increase in the number of attacks against police, including the notorious North Zone swathe of favelas known as the Complexo do Alemão.

Indeed an officer at one of the city’s UPPs – so-called “police pacification units” installed inside newly-pacified favelas – was killed last week after criminals attacked the station in Vila Cruzeiro, part of the Complexo da Penha group of favela communities.

Adding to the tension is an ongoing investigation into the alleged torture and murder of Rio bricklayer Amarildo Dias da Souza who disappeared in 2013. Local UPP police officers are the main suspects and proceedings against them have begun.

In 2008 Rio policymakers set out plans to ‘pacify’ forty favela communities and install UPPs. Last week saw the installation of Rio’s 38th UPP, in Vila Kennedy in the west of the city.

The policy of pacification has been largely praised by the wider community, but there remains significant distrust between favela community residents – which make up around 22 percent of Rio’s population – and military police.

Written for Anadolu Agency

Hundreds of people took to the streets of São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city and business centre, on Thursday night in a largely peaceful protest against the country’s hosting of the World Cup – which begins on 12 June this year at the city’s Arena Corinthians stadium.

See photos from the event

13 March 2014 - World Cup Protest in São Paulo, Brazil - Photo by Ben Tavener

World Cup Protest in São Paulo, Brazil. 13 March 2014. Photo by Ben Tavener.

The event, dubbed the “Third Act against the World Cup”, drew over 1,500 people onto the streets, according to police figures, although correspondents at the event say the figure appeared to be higher.

Police say 1,700 military police and riot troops were deployed to keep order, and differed greatly from the last anti-World Cup protest, on 22 February, when martial arts-trained police detained some 260 potential troublemakers in “kettles”, and tear gas and stun grenades were fired on protesters. This included at least five journalists, who were kept in the kettle despite showing their press passes.

Thursday’s march, which wound its way 10 kilometres through the heart of the city, saw only five arrests, according to police – one of which was a 15-year-old.

13 March 2014 - World Cup Protest in São Paulo, Brazil - Photo by Ben Tavener

This bank was vandalised in the mainly peaceful World Cup protest. Photo by Ben Tavener.

Military police were noticeably better behaved than before, and even acted with restraint when an explosive object – which police described as a type of ‘mortar’, was thrown at them on Avenida Paulista – the city’s central business street.

At least one bank – Banco do Brasil Estilo – was vandalised on Avenida Paulista, but businesses and wary onlookers – mainly workers and customers – were shielded by police while more volatile parts of the protest passed, with troops forming lines to seal off businesses and metro entrances.

‘No World Cup!’

The protest again ran under the banner of Não Vai Ter Copa – “There won’t be a (World) Cup” – and over 14,000 had signalled their attendance – or rather solidarity – on Facebook.

Brazil is spending R$33 billion (around US$18 billion) on the World Cup and many of the protesters are angry this money is not being invested into sorely-needed public services and infrastructure.

“I’m here not just because I’m against the World Cup, but because of everything that’s happening in Brazil, which hasn’t been going well for ages,” Débora Aoni, a 35-year-old actress from São Paulo, told an Anadolu Agency correspondent at the protest.

13 March 2014 - World Cup Protest in São Paulo, Brazil - Photo by Ben Tavener

Some 1,700 military police and riot troops accompanied the protest along its 10km course. Photo by Ben Tavener.

“We’ve got problems with transportation and infrastructure – nothing works,” Aoni continued.

“I hope a lot of people will join us at the next protest,” 24-year-old student Thiago Weber told AA. “I know people are afraid of the police but we have to stand up for our rights and our opinion about the government spending billions on this World Cup.”

This may well be helped by Thursday’s relatively uneventful protest – which both protesters and police will claim as a victory.

But while headline news in Brazil, Thursday’s protest was still a far cry from the hundreds of thousands of protesters than took to the streets in June and July 2013, during the World Cup warm-up, the Confederations Cup, but a fourth ‘Act Against the World Cup’ has already been called for Thursday 27 March.

And protests for the World Cup itself are more or less a certainty.

Unedited version of story written for Anadolu Agency

Rio Sambadrome. Photo by Ben Tavener.

Rio de Janeiro was awash with colour, music and parties this weekend as the annual Carnival celebrations burst onto the city’s streets.

Street parties lured hundreds of thousands of revellers from across the country and the world and top-flight samba schools battling it out to become this year’s Carnival Champion.

Carnival is celebrated through the country, but Rio de Janeiro hosts the biggest party – attracting an estimated 920,000 tourists from both home and abroad in 2014 – up 2.2 percent on last year’s figures.

At the Sambadrome. Photo by Ben Tavener

União da Tijuca won the 2014 crown. Photo by Ben Tavener.

Carnival-related tourism will also bring in US$950 million for the local economy, according to Brazil’s tourism board.

The city’s world-famous Sapucaí Sambadrome, designed by the late renowned Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, has been marking its 30th anniversary. Built in 1984, it is the venue for what the city bills as “The Greatest show on Earth” – the yearly samba school competitions.

Beginning on Sunday, top-flight special group samba schools continued for a second night on Monday to try to impress and surprise judges and wow audiences with their jaw-dropping floats and meticulously-choreographed routines in a final bid to become this year’s champion.

Schools fighting for the champions’ crown spend up to US$7 million on their parade, which they spend the whole year getting just right: each school depicts a historical or allegorical story through song, dance and costume, and each has around an hour to make their way down the length of the Sambadrome – a process involving thousands of dancers which takes spectators into the small hours of the next morning.

An intense two-day wait for judges to make their minds up then follows before the announcement.

UPDATE: União da Tijuca have been crowned the 2014 Carnival champions!

Million at street parties, despite mounting rubbish

However, most come to Rio not for the Sambadrome, but for the street parties – known as blocos – of which 465 have been hosted across Rio throughout the Carnival period this year, and some have drawn enormous crowds – many in fancy dress or drag.

Rubbish piled up in Cinelândia, central Rio de Janeiro. Photo by Ben Tavener

Rubbish piled up in Cinelândia, central Rio de Janeiro. Photo by Ben Tavener

The Cordão do Bola Preta street party – the city’s oldest and one of the biggest – united over a million partygoers on the streets of Rio’s historic Centro region.

A number of the parties are themed and while some are more family-friendly, they are well-known for their alcohol-fuelled debauchery.

The morning-after sight of streets strewn with rubbish is a common one at Carnival, but has been exacerbated this year in no small way by a strike by street cleaners the city’s municipal cleaning company, Comlurb.

Around 400 street sweepers tried to march on the Sambadrome on Sunday afternoon but were met by military police and clashes ensued as police began to disperse the group.

Rubbish was piled up in many central regions of the city, after some street parties attracted far more revellers than expected.

“I’ve never seen anything like it. There’s trash piled everywhere and the place doesn’t smell great,” Julie, 26, a visitor from the United States, told an Anadolu Agency correspondent at the city’s AfroReggae bloco. “But this is still an amazing party, so we have no regrets in terms of coming here. Rio is gorgeous.”

The number of toilets at the sites was also noticeably lacking.

Even the Sambadrome was left looking worse for wear as the lack of cleaners left refuse strewn down the parade street at the middle of the 70,000-capacity venue.

Biggest protests in a generation

This year’s Carnival was also different for another, more subtle reason: it was the first to take place since the outbreak of mass anti-government protests seen throughout Brazil since last June – the biggest protests the country had seen in a generation.

Although protests were called for by some groups on social media website, including one under a banner of “Occupy Carnival!”, no World Cup-related or anti-government protests took place and locals say Carnival was always unlikely to see any major protests.

Rio's street parties - the "blocos" - are the true heart of Carnival. Photo by Ben Tavener.

Rio’s street parties – the “blocos” – are the true heart of Carnival. Photo by Ben Tavener.

“I’m not interested in protesting during Carnival. I’ve come all the way from Fortaleza to be here in Rio – the protests can start again afterwards, but now it’s time to party and have fun with friends,” Vitor, an 18-year-old engineering student, told AA.

Twenty-four-year-old Bruna, from Rio, agreed: “I’m not happy with the World Cup coming here, and our government still needs to know we’re angry, but this isn’t the time or place.”

Although crowds at the sporadic anti-government and anti-World Cup protests have now dwindled, they have continued with much more momentum than many observers initially credited them with.

Big protests by the “Não Vai Ter Copa” (There Won’t Be a World Cup) group on social media sites are being organized at least every month, and protests are being planned for the time of the World Cup as well.

Spotlight on Brazil

The world is now watching with heightened interest as Brazil holds its final major dress rehearsal to show it can deal with hosting the huge international events – something which Brazil, and in particularly Rio, has said it is already has a good track record in doing – with annual events such as the Réveillon New Year’s party and Carnival.

Não Vai Ter Copa. Anti-World Cup poster. Photo by Ben Tavener

Não Vai Ter Copa. An anti-World Cup poster in Rio. Photo by Ben Tavener

Brazil has now had several mainly successful dry runs including the FIFA Confederations Cup and World Youth Day last year.

Security has also been ramped up across Rio and other cities in Brazil, and both military and riot police have been on the streets to maintain order and visitor safety.

Last week, officials said 150,000 police and soldiers would be deployed, as well as 20,000 private security agents, across the twelve stadiums to keep protests under control and allow fans to get to their games – something FIFA urged Brazil to guarantee in recent weeks.

Concerns about infrastructure and hosting tourists have been largely masked by anxieties whether the country will have stadiums ready and delivered to FIFA on time.

Stadiums in Curitiba and São Paulo are currently representing the greatest worries for FIFA and are likely only to be ready in May – a month before the first World Cup match. São Paulo’s Itaquerão stadium is scheduled to host the opening game between Brazil and Croatia on 12 June.

Extended version of article for Anadolu Agency

On the face of it, Thursday brought some sorely-needed good news for Brazil.

The country’s national office of statistics, the IBGE, confirmed the country’s economy had bounced back, if only modestly, with better-than-expected results for the last quarter of 2013 and the year overall, achieving annual GDP growth of 2.3% – more than the US, the UK and other advanced economies.

Brazil Finance Minister Guido Mantega. Photo: Marcello Casal Jr/Agência Brasil

Brazil’s Finance Minister Guido Mantega said the figures were a ‘surprise’ for the government. Photo: Marcello Casal Jr/Agência Brasil

After negative growth in the third quarter of 2013, some economists feared Brazil could be facing a technical recession.

In the end the fourth quarter rebounded with 0.7% growth, buoyed by strong consumer spending, investment and 2.0% growth in the country’s services industry, upon which 70% of the economy relies.

The surprise uptick in the economy is a much-needed boost for the government of President Dilma Rousseff, who is seeking re-election in this October’s general elections, and has been suffering from a compounding of anti-government protests, World Cup concerns, political scandals, and more recently problems with water and power supplies – all of which have seen approval ratings for both Ms Rousseff and her government slide.

Finance Minister Guido Mantega told reporters the positive fourth quarter results had come as a surprise, saying 2013 had seen “quality growth spurred among other things by investments”.

It was certainly better than in 2012, when Brazil grew just 1%; however, the general feeling among analysts surveyed by Anadolu Agency appears to be that the results are mildly encouraging at best, and indeed, nobody is expecting growth to return to the impressive 7.5% seen in 2010 or even to the 4% average seen over much of the last decade, when the economy was boosted by China’s seemingly unstoppable demand for Brazilian commodities.

Over the past decade, Brazil has used available cheap and plentiful external finance options to catalyse a consumption boom, which led to the ‘feel-good factor’ experienced particularly by new middle-class Brazilians in recent years.

But it also led to significant consumer debt and over-target inflation. Now China is no longer buying such vast quantities of commodities, and the global economy is still struggling to recover.

Growth grounded?

Mr Mantega said industry in Brazil was suffering from a “lack of dynamism in the global market”, but was upbeat about the future, defending Brazil as now being in better shape to tackle international instability.

However, once touted as a star among emerging markets, today Brazil’s economic prowess is being described more than ever in shades of ‘fragile’ and ‘vulnerable’, and the IMF recently labelled Brazil as one of the most susceptible emerging economies.

In truth, Brazil has always been a vulnerable economy.

Although international instability, currency volatility, and dwindling demand from China certainly play a role, economists say internal problems – substandard infrastructure, rampant consumer debt and dismal confidence in both the country’s market and policymakers’ decisions at the Central Bank – are also hampering growth and believe Brazil now faces a long period of uninspiring annual growth of around 2%.

I’m sceptical about the economy’s future. We have major issues with infrastructure and the labour market and reforms are sorely needed,” Fernando Chague, professor of economics at the University of São Paulo (FEA-USP), told Anadolu Agency.

According to the USP economist, Brazil failed to implement the necessary fiscal changes in the last decade, while the going was good, and grew largely “in spite of the government”.

“There’s no political strength to do so now, and the uncertainty we are facing is not good for the economy,” Professor Chague warns.

Neil Shearing, chief emerging markets economist at London-based macroeconomic research company Capital Economics says Brazil could in theory get back to annual growth of four percent: “First, economic reform would have to take place to rebuild the supply side of the country’s economy, but politically this would be very difficult at the current time.”

Brazil is now entering the home straight to this year’s general elections, with political campaigns set to start in earnest later this year.

“The much more probable scenario is therefore one of continued weak annual growth of around two percent,” says Mr Shearing.

Boosting confidence

But there have been some positive comments emerging from the situation, and a few economists praised the results and the country’s 6.3-percent increase in investment last year.

That jump in investment should go some way to convincing wary investors that improvements to the economy are occurring and that the government is likely to be more market-friendly should President Rousseff win a second term in office.

Regaining sagging market confidence at home and overseas is also going to be key to getting Brazil back to more impressive results, but investment is still below the level that many investors would like to see and pessimism is said to reign among business leaders – who bemoan the incumbent government’s monetary policy as having been too overbearing.

Businesses also want Brazil to tackle the toxic mixture of suffocating bureaucracy, a poorly educated labour force and infrastructure that is not fit for purpose – all of which increases the price of doing business in Brazil, often referred to as the “Brazil cost”.

Professor Chague cites the example of Brazil’s ports which, despite investment, still experience major backlogs in getting goods in and out of the country.

Investments have been promised in the government’s official acceleration plans (PAC) and in some cases made – but progress is slow and many projects have hit obstacles.

Tough year to come

The overseas market has also not been enamoured by Brazil’s national debts, even though the government has promised to cut US$18.5 billion in public spending this year to show it is tackling the issue.

With extra investments promised for infrastructure, the World Cup and the Olympics to pay for, and more money pledged for cash-strapped public services in response to protesters, few people are expecting Brazil to spend less this year, and ratings agencies have hinted they might put Brazil on a negative outlook if signs of economic improvement fail to appear.

Most market analysts put GDP growth forecasts for 2014 at 1.7 percent and the government’s official prediction has recently been slashed from 3.8 to 2.5 percent.

Despite this Mr Mantega says he believes the Brazilian economy to be “on a trajectory of gradual acceleration [that] will continue in 2014” and described 2013 as a “difficult year”.

But the government is in a Catch 22 situation: they must spend more to appease social unrest and prove they are investing more and improving infrastructure, but also simultaneously cut spending to allay market concerns and bolster confidence.

Several additional issues – including a severe drought in parts of the country affecting harvests, economic chaos in neighbouring Argentina and Venezuela, as well as ongoing protests and the make-or-break of this year’s World Cup – could also collude to stymie economic activity further and make 2014 yet another difficult year.

Extended version of article for Anadolu Agency

A protest against the World Cup held in the centre of São Paulo has ended in running battles with riot police and at least 260 protesters detained on Saturday evening.

Police say around 1,000 people took to the streets around the central República area of the city. A strong presence by both military and specialist riot police was visible throughout the event.

Police disperse protesters with tear gas and stun grenades. Photo by Ben Tavener.

Police disperse protesters with tear gas and stun grenades. Photo by Ben Tavener.

The protest began peacefully at around 5pm local time, but tensions had been high from the start – with a number of masked individuals in the crowds and a number bearing anarchy symbols.

See photos from the scene

By about 6:40pm a small number of protesters began to throw rubbish bins and glass objects at police, and vandalise a number of banks and other shops – graffitiing anti-World Cup and anti-capitalist slogans.

Streets were strewn with rubbish and some protesters were seen kicking telephone booths and bus stops.

Police responded with rounds of tear gas and stun grenades to disperse the crowds, and also detained around 260 people in a police “kettle” – a holding area where they were then taken to local police stations for processing.

A number of journalists covering the protests were detained in the first wave of kettling – some were released after around half an hour.

Those in the police ring were told to keep their hands behind their backs and were forbidden from during their cell phones.

230 detained at World Cup protests

Police say they detained around 230 people at Saturday’s World Cup protests in São Paulo – including journalists. Photo by Ben Tavener.

After some time, both they and fellow protesters on the other side of police lines began calling for their immediate release.

Police had warned that they would pick out those likely to cause trouble and take them out of the protest in an operation using both martial art techniques and the kettling tactics.

UPDATE: All those arrested have now been released from police custody.

‘No World Cup’

Saturday’s protest, which had been organised on social media and was held under an ‘anti-World Cup’ banner, was in reality a continuation of the wave of mass protests seen in June last year, which saw over a million Brazilians take to the streets.

Protesters still have a long list of various grievances, including an end to what they see as gross public spending on international sporting events being held in Brazil to the benefit of a few, despite officials speaking regularly of the events’ legacy for the ordinary Brazilian.

The 2013 protests were initially sparked by an increase in public transport fares, and then diversifying into protests over the spending on the World Cup and Olympics, police brutality, government corruption and underfunding of public services.

Saturday’s protests, which included representation from a number of radical left-wing parties, saw placards and banners calling for an end to spending on the World Cup and corruption, and for better funding of the country’s public education and health systems.

The protests have been going on since last June, but the media stopped covering them,” 29-year-old student Thiago, from São Paulo, told Anadolu Agency.

We’re not so against the World up happening in Brazil but against the way it’s taking place. So much corruption, shameless corruption in front of our very faces.”

Twenty-four-year-old student Maria Ana, also from the city, told AA: “Things in this country only work for a very small number of élite people and all the other services for the mass are of terrible standard.”

Tonight’s protests was meant to be peaceful – we were just chanting our slogans, but the police were brutal and attacked us,” she continued.

However, despite police’s decisive response to aggression on Saturday night, their overall presence and tactics seemed to be better coordinated and restrained than in past protests covered by Anadolu.

Brazil will stage the World Cup in June and July in twelve cities around the country, all of which have seen protests at some stage since last June’s million-strong protest turnout.

Three of the twelve stadiums have yet to be delivered to FIFA despite a December deadline. Curitiba earned a last-minute reprieve last week after threats it could lose World Cup status altogether.

Story and video made for Anadolu Agency.

Curitiba's Arena da Baixada. Photo by Reuters.

Curitiba’s Arena da Baixada is one of the World Cup’s cheaper stadiums and will seat 41,500 people. (Photo: Reuters)

Brazil’s southern city of Curitiba has been granted a reprieve and will be kept on as a World Cup host city, FIFA Secretary General Jérôme Valcke confirmed on Tuesday.

The news was confirmed on Valcke’s personal Twitter account ahead of appearing before members of the press at the FIFA Workshop in Florianópolis:

Valcke continued that: “It’s a race against a very tight timeline. Collective effort by all the stakeholders involved in Curitiba must continue at highest pace.”

Even before the official FIFA announcement came, Curitiba mayor Gustavo Fruet had confirmed to local media that the city would remain in World Cup, citing an earlier telephone conversation with the FIFA Secretary General to inform the mayor what would be said at the press conference.

Valcke said Curitiba had understood the pressure it faced but had convinced FIFA that it could finish the job on time.

Curitiba is due to host four first-round fixtures, starting on 16 June with Iran v Nigeria, and followed by Honduras v Ecuador on 20 June, Australia v Spain on 23 June, and Alegria v Russia on 26 June.

FIFA’s biggest headache

Valcke told reporters on Tuesday that the Curitiba stadium, known as the Arena da Baixada, would be handed over to FIFA on or around 15 May, a month before holding its first World Cup fixture, and that at least two test matches – one at the end of March, one at the end of April – would be conducted ahead of this.

The decision was made as FIFA’s Charles Botta visited the stadium. Workers reportedly scrambled to cover muddy patches in the stadium entrance just before the official arrived, Folha reported.

This inspection, plus ‘guarantees’ from Curitiba, finally convinced FIFA that the city should be retained as a World Cup host.

The city’s newly-renovated 41,500-seater stadium has been FIFA’s biggest headache in the run-up to the tournament, and even now is only reportedly 90 percent ready and is the country’s most delayed stadium.

Last week some Brazilian media outlets, including Estado de S.Paulo newspaper, said FIFA had started working on contingency plans to move games schedule to be held in Curitiba to nearby stadiums – likely to include Porto Alegre, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro or Belo Horizonte – but this was denied by FIFA and local officials.

However, most Brazilian commentators said it would have been unthinkable to many for Curitiba to have lost its World Cup venue status: both for a local government that is in an election year and for FIFA itself in effect to admit that it had lost control of one of its tournament’s host cities.

Beset by funding delays

Local officials say one of the main reasons that the Arena da Baixada has been so delayed was that crucial funding was delayed.

After private funding of R$234 million (US$97.5 million) to renovate the 100-year-old stadium ran out, an extra R$90 million of public money was pledged used to get the stadium finished. Local authorities recently released another R$39 million for additional workers.

Even so, it is the cheapest of the twelve World Cup stadium projects, alongside the Beira Rio stadium in Porto Alegre.

It is understood that both private and public sources came up against severe delays securing and receiving funding from the country’s National Development Fund Bank, the BNDES.

However, concerns over safety have also contributed, after work at the stadium was temporarily halted in October 2013 after a slew of reported safety breaches.

Public reaction to the news

A sense of relief now reigns among Curitibanos – people from Curitiba. Among them is 24-year-old student Ricardo Becker, who has tickets for the match on 23 June when Australia take on reigning champions Spain:

I’m thrilled. It would have been a real shame if not, not to mention testament to a city’s incompetence and lack of accountability. Even so, I do resent how overpriced the work on the stadium has been and how public money has gone missing,” he told Anadolu Agency.

Communication corodinator Camila Tremea, 29, said she was also relieved, given the amount of time and money that has already been invested by the city in the project: “With just a few months to go to the World Cup, you couldn’t have taken it away from the city. The city’s businesses have prepared for this.”

Leonardo Bittencourt, a 35-year-old English teacher also from Curitiba, told AA he thought the World Cup would be a “good thing” for both Curitiba and Brazil as a whole, as it should improve its international image in the end, despite the “obscene amounts of money apparently wasted and misappropriated,” he added.

Workshop overshadowed

Coaches of all 32 qualifying FIFA World Cup teams have gathered in Florianópolis, one of Brazil’s top beach resort cities, for a three-day workshop that is traditionally used to thrash out the finer details of World Cup rules and regulations, logistics and the like.

Delegation leaders, team managers, security and medical officials and members of the press from World Cup finalist nations are taking part in the event, which should ideally be held at a time when the finishing touches are being put in place by the World Cup host nation.

However, this time the seminar has been overshadowed by speculation Curitiba would be stripped of its hosting rights, which was in the end proved incorrect.

Edited, extended version of article written for Anadolu Agency