Welcome to São Paulo, Ground Zero of Protest, Foment, and Labor Strife

Stop! Go! Yes! No! And where, for heaven’s sake, is the stadium?

The metro strike has ended in São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, for now. Jerome Valcke, FIFA’s Secretary General in town for the FIFA Congress, says there is no Plan B to get 61,000 fans to the nearly finished Itaquerão stadium. Of course, there might be a general strike across the country on Thursday, but it’s maybe, probably just a rumor. Panic has ensued. Calm Down! Hurry up! Slow down! How do I get to the stadium?

For those who may be confused about the stadium that will host the opening match between Brazil and Croatia on Thursday (if it’s ready, and you can get to it), it’s known locally as the Itaquerão, after the Itaquera neighborhood in eastern São Paulo, where it’s located. FIFA, on the other hand, calls the stadium Arena Corinthians or Arena São Paulo. It was recently decided that 6,000 seats would be removed because they turned out to have obstructed views, so the Itaquerinho is now below the 65,000 minimum capacity FIFA requires for a World Cup opening match.

The metro strike that paralyzed São Paulo has ended, but there are still protests and threats of more strikes. It is not hard to find videos of police violence in Brazil. A sense of dread mixed with nervous anticipation and grave uncertainties have heightened tensions. I am taking a friend’s counsel: expect the worst and be pleased with anything else.

The FIFA Congress made light of it all, by providing a nice lesson in Brazilian stereotyping. During its opening presentation, a malandro—an urban trickster often associated with the city of Rio de Janeiro—chased a Bahiana, a dark-skinned woman from the state of Bahia, and spanked her rear-end on stage. A more appropriate morality play would have had both the malandro and the Bahiana chasing Herr Sepp Blatter with Havaianas to give him a resounding chinelada, a spanking with flip-flops.

To complicate the general mess, much of what happens during the World Cup will influence the October elections, when Brazil will be out of the world spotlight. The government has launched a global advertising campaign to sell the tournament to Brazilians and foreigners alike in a last ditch effort to rally public and global opinion. To more specifically target the Brazilian audience, the center-left Workers’ Party, knowns as the Partido dos Trabalhadores or PT for short, has launched an advertisement that does not mention the World Cup at all. Not a word. What the ad shows is Lula, the former president and founding member of the party, bragging about how much Brazil has sold to foreigners under the Workers’ Party: number one in soy exports, number two in beef, number one in football players, number X in product Y. He doesn’t talk about domestic issues like education, sanitation, public security, corruption, the development of infrastructure, or other quality of life issues.

Lula’s ranting is followed by President Dilma Rousseff’s earnest, strident, and pained plea insisting that her government is going to face the crisis in education—after the World Cup. Fine; so will I. Come mid-July, I’ll go back to teaching my classes that were cut short because we had to let Brazuca and Fuleco get it on in the Itaquerinho.

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