The Police Arrest When They Want

The soccer has been brilliant, the policing heavy-handed, and the chanting rude—and aimed squarely at the president

Aside from the soccer, which has been brilliant, we have had referee controversies, acts of nature for which the Brazilians are contractually responsible, the squelching of protests with violence by the police, arbitrary arrests of activists and the confiscation of their computers, and the falsification of numbers at the Rio Fan Fest.

Another significant development for Brazilians was the abuse that the country’s elite heaped upon President Dilma Rouseff during the opening match. Rouseff has been suffering in the polls recently, and few groups are more hostile to her than the elites in the big southern cities. At various times during the Brazil vs. Croatia opener, the Paulistas in the most expensive seats (beginning at $450) struck up a chant telling the president to “take it up the ass.” As many Brazilian journalists have pointed out, these are the elites who have always dominated the country, and who treat any threat to their power and privilege as an existential crisis. Of course, they are not under threat and are in fact making more money than ever. They might think their position is being undermined by the Worker´s Party, but much like the Republicans under Clinton, they are stronger than ever.

I feel bad for Rousseff even though I don’t agree with her style or many of her policies. The rest of the politicians who were so happy to bring the World Cup to Brazil are nowhere to be found, leaving the president to absorb the brunt of public dissatisfaction. The mayors, governors, and ministers who were so gung-ho about staging the tournament now seem to be on holiday, where they can watch the political chips fall from afar. They are not showing up in the stadiums that they so recently and fervently called into being. I suspect they´ll be back in force after the tournament in order to position themselves for the October elections.

One one hand, the mood on the streets in Rio has been relaxed. Copacabana is completely swamped with foreigners parading about with their national flags, playing soccer on the beach, drinking and eating at the kiosks, and generally having a great time. But there is a tension that emerges when you talk to Brazilians, who say that things are terrible, that they couldn’t get tickets, that they feel excluded from the party. The occupation of the host cities by military forces is a clear sign that not everyone is happy with what is happening.

The first major march in Rio will take place today. The target destination is the Maracanã, a few hours before Argentina kicks off against Bosnia and Herzegovina. I expect to see several thousand robocops armed with the latest weaponry and very explicit instructions not to let protesters get remotely close to the stadium.

The circus is in full swing: public employees dressed as indigenous people welcomed the English in Manaus, and shock troops are attacking and arresting whomever they please. Meanwhile, the World Cup stadiums are exclusionary castles of private consumption in which the only adverse conditions have to do with heat, humidity, and the color of the grass.