Imagina na Copa


The last time Brazil lost a World Cup at home, in 1950, it was a national disaster. Celebrations had started the night before the final, and Brazil only needed a tie to seal the cup. When Uruguay won, reporters quit. Fans committed suicide. The color of the Brazilian uniform was forever changed from blue and white. In 1994, when the goalie from the 1950 game tried to attend a practice of the national team, the coach wouldn’t let him near the field.

A young Brazilian taught me a saying: “In life, you can change your wife, but you cannot change your mother or your soccer team.” In Brazil, soccer is not a game. It is something to be born into. In 2014 the FIFA World Cup will be held in Brazil, and this means enormous excitement and changes for Rio de Janeiro.

The main targets of these changes are the favelas. The city aims to pacify these communities by way of a police force for the Cup. Favela is a complicated name, as is pacification. Catherine Osborn, a Yale alum studying the effects of the upcoming games in Rio, told me, “It’s problematic that the community policing program which has come to the favelas is called the pacifying police, because it implies that they were war zones beforehand— which they weren’t.”

My first night in Rio, after somehow failing to find the stairs to the metro, I got into the elevator at the metro station. I assumed the others in the elevator were all going to the metro as well, even though they stared at me. The elevator rose one floor after another, away from the metro platform, and I nervously followed the crowd across a winding metal bridge to the entrance of a closely packed, loud neighborhood. Minutes ago I’d been walking through wealthy, tourist-filled Copacabana. Now I was at the mouth of a village built into a mountain. There was a sudden density, as though if I were to look up at the sky or down towards the ground, neither would have room to exist. It was my first encounter with a favela, and I fled quickly once I realized where I was.

I’d heard the word before arriving, and like many other outsiders, I linked it to violence. If I had a desire to go see a favela, it was a patronizing one reminiscent of the way upper class Rio citizens, Cariocas, might go “slumming,” or slum touring. Twenty percent of Rio’s six million residents live in favelas. Translated, the word means “slum,” but the favelas are not always poor or squalid. Rio de Janeiro is a city with many hills, and usually the favelas are communities that climb up the sides of those hills.

Despite their prevalence, favelas—the home to samba, funk, and soccer stars—were long treated as movable islands in city development efforts. For most of the twentieth century, the government evicted residents without notice, destroying homes and communities. Displaced citizens were sent to government housing projects, like the famously violent United States-funded City of God.

Rio is in the midst of a new process of favela integration. The first step of integration is the pacifying police units that have received press for dramatic takeovers in which residents get killed. Some think the police intervention is necessary. Tucker Landesman, a graduate student researching favela integration in Rio through the London School of Economics, told me, “What they [the government] learned with Favela Bairro [a favela upgrade program] was that just physical infrastructure, just going in there and putting in place massive upgrading, good sewer lines, paving roads, isn’t enough, because then they leave and the schools become grafittied, drug lords come back. They’re justifying the militarization of space based on that.” The police units (UPPs) come in to establish government rule, and stay so that the favela can transition into the “legitimate” city.

The Brazilian police who secure these communities have a history of corruption. Militant off-duty police or traffckers control favelas outside of government policing, and the traffickers are the kinder of the two. When police murder random civilians, it hardly makes the news because, according to Landesman, it happens every day. “The enemy is potentially any and every young black male of the favelas, the traficantes, bandidos, so they set up this idea of who this enemy is, but the enemy doesn’t exist,” he said. “There are problems, but there doesn’t exist this abstract. You can’t just kill ‘that’ person and everything will get better. They have recognized this.” The UPPs were designed as humanitarian community policing programs. In theory, the state has moved on from the idea that if you kill all the drug dealers the problems will disappear, and that the favelas can be picked up and moved to the city outskirts. In practice, the city does not always listen to the concerns of the residents before completely altering a favela.

Jane Nascimiento, a director of the Vila Autódromo Residents Association, said, “Entire communities are being removed without a choice, and they are required to accept housing from the Minha Casa Minha Vida program in very distant locations where they are afraid of living. Since the government wants the land where these people are living, it should at least respect their human rights.” The people of Autódromo are currently resisting eviction in the face of a city that wants to install a new a bus line in the place of their homes. “Things related to urban development here in Rio are happening in a completely authoritarian way. Here, the person with a voice is the person who has economic power and a close relationship with the government,” Nascimiento said.

In Asa Branca there are not massive evictions, but Bezerra, the president of the Residents Association, was not complimentary about public works projects. He said the upgrades in the zone of Rio where he lives are happening only because of games construction. There’s a saying, para ingles ver, meaning “for the English to see, but not for the Brazilian to live.” Bezerra said, “Everything in Asa Branca was built by Asa Branca residents. We don’t count on the Prefeitura [mayor’s offce] for anything.”

Many people with whom I spoke mentioned the phrase, Imagina na Copa. It means “Imagine during the Cup,” or, colloquially, “if you think it’s bad now, think about how it will be during the Cup.” The three words are laughed out when buses or crowd or traffc are stopped. Nathan Monteiro Valadares, a wealthy Carioca, used it to answer whether he thinks the Cup will be a good thing for the city: “I don’t know. The city is going to make changes. I don’t know if they’ll maintain them. Imagina na Copa.” Nathan told me he is still a little afraid to enter the favelas. “I don’t feel comfortable there,” he said.

Favela do Metro was home to one of the most famous samba schools. Each year during Carnaval, the school of Mangueria would come out in pink and green with a riotous drum line and dancers with impossibly quick hips. Favela do Metro was in the center of the city, near the Maracanã, the soccer stadium that was constructed for the 1950 World Cup. The Maracanã is currently undergoing reno- vations, and as part of the process, residents of Favela do Metro were pressured to leave. Those who stayed encountered intensified drug violence amidst the abandoned homes and rubble. Their community is now uninhabitable, in order that a stadium serving fewer and fewer Cariocas could be renovated.

Twenty-nine of the 30 highest-attended games in Brazilian history took place in the Maracanã. All 30 were before 1984. Today, the games don’t start until the telenovelas are finished; the television audience is valued more than the live one. Kick off is too late for families with children to attend, and returning home after the late night games is dangerous. After this round of renovations on the Maracanã, it will seat less than half of the spectators it did during the 1950 World Cup, and the seats will be more expensive. During the Cup, they’ll be unaffordable for any former residents of Favela do Metro. Thiago Rufino, a young favela dweller who cares more for his local team than he does the national team, said, “The only people who are going to be in Maracanã during the final are the people from Globo [a media conglomerate].”

Near the stadium, there is a mural of a boy wearing a yellow national jersey and crying. A bloody soccer ball and the words “Destroying my community for the Cup, Metro Mangueria” are painted in Portuguese next to his portrait. In the bottom right hand corner, in English, the graffti reads, “Thank you FIFA.”

Brazil cares about the game, perhaps to the point of destruction. If they lose in 2014, the people of the favelas who lost their homes in preparation for the Cup will still have the bitter memories of eviction.

Abigail Carney ’15 is an English major in Jonathan Edwards College.  Contact her at Catherine Osborn contributed reporting. Interviews for this article were conducted in Portuguese.