Interview with Dave Zirin
HAVANA TIMES – Thousands of people marched in Brazil on Wednesday in one of the largest protests of the 2014 World Cup. Members of the Homeless Workers Movement blocked a major freeway in São Paulo to protest massive spending on the tournament and to call for more affordable housing.
In another World Cup city, Porto Alegre, police fired tear gas and stun grenades at demonstrators protesting against the international soccer body, FIFA. The peaceful protesters were vastly outnumbered by an army of riot police in military gear.
Earlier this week, Vice President Joe Biden was in Brazil to watch the United States defeat Ghana 2-1 — and to try to mend ties with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff after revelations of National Security Agency’s spying on Brazil, including on Rousseff’s personal cellphone.
All of this comes as Brazil looks ahead to the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, with another round of mass displacement underway. We go to Rio’s Maracanã Stadium to speak with sportswriter Dave Zirin, author of “Brazil’s Dance with the Devil: The World Cup, the Olympics, and the Fight for Democracy.”
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We turn now to Brazil, where thousands of people marched Wednesday in one of the largest protests of the 2014 World Cup. Members of the Homeless Workers Movement blocked a major freeway in São Paulo to protest massive spending on the tournament and to call for more affordable housing.
PROTESTER: [translated] The idea today was not to schedule a meeting. The idea today was simply to denounce the construction companies, which donate great sums to political campaigns in this country. The idea of this act is also to put pressure on legislators to vote on the city’s general plan and budget.
AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about this and what’s happening overall in Brazil, Dave Zirin is still with us, author of Brazil’s Dance with the Devil: The World Cup, the Olympics, and the Fight for Democracy. He is outside the Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro.
Dave, talk about what’s happening there right now.
DAVE ZIRIN: Well, the protests are happening, and thank goodness for Democracy Now! and other independent news outlets for even giving coverage to this so people know. Yesterday, there was a demonstration of 400 to 500 teachers right in the middle of Rio de Janeiro. They were protesting for—basically for their co-workers who went on strike in protest against FIFA and the World Cup priorities, saying, “We want FIFA-quality schools.” Their co-workers who went on strike were actually fired, which is a violation of Brazilian law. So 500 teachers were marching behind a banner that said, “FIFA, go home!” demanding that their co-workers actually be rehired.
There was no violence at the end of this demonstration, fortunately, yet in Porto Alegre and São Paulo, as you reported, there, there was violence, put on by the police. I mean, there is so much police pressure on demonstrators right now, whether it’s mass arrests, whether it’s the use of concussion grenades, whether it’s the use of tear gas, and as we’ve also seen, even the use of live ammunition. And what’s so ironic about all of this is that at the same time—you see behind me the Maracanã—yesterday 75 Chilean fans rushed the stadium, knocked down the gates and actually damaged all sorts of property, and they were just let out, and they’ve been asked to leave the country in the next three days, while demonstrators who don’t do 1/10th, 1/100th of the property damage that took place at the Maracanã have been subject to all sorts of physical and torment.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Dave, obviously, these protests will not end when the World Cup ends, because in another two years there is going to be the Olympics, and there’s more construction planned, isn’t there?
DAVE ZIRIN: Absolutely. Just yesterday, I was at a favela called Vila Autódromo. I had visited there two years ago. It was the home of 500 families. Now it’s the home of 350 families. The great crime of Vila Autódromo is that they happen to be next door to what is going to be the Olympic Village. Ten yards away, the Olympic Village is being constructed, and here’s this favela that has been there for decades. And when I went there, I was prepared to see one out of every three homes destroyed, which is what I saw, and it was a very upsetting thing to see. What I didn’t expect to see was the fact that many of the trees had been uprooted from Vila Autódromo. What I didn’t expect is people telling me that the trash had not been collected and that streetlights were only on sporadically. One of the residents there described it as psychological torture being put on the favela by the city to encourage them to move or accept payouts and leave, so that whole area can be developed for Olympic construction.
AMY GOODMAN: The context in which all of this is taking place, Dave, that you say most are not responding to, you just tweeted this morning, “Invitation & Resources for World Cup Journalists to #EndTheStigma,” CatalyticCommunities. Explain.
DAVE ZIRIN: Absolutely. Catalytic Communities is an NGO here in Rio. They do amazing work. They started the initiative called RioOnWatch, which people can go online and check out. And what they’re trying to do is dispel a lot of the myths about favelas, the reality of favelas. The reality is that favelas are not slums. They are living, live communities, and they’re places that should be protected and not become casualties of the World Cup-Olympic rush. And they’re trying to aid journalists so they do real reports about the favelas and not things that either exoticize them or speak about them in the worst, harshest-possible terms, like places like The Daily Beast, which just did an article on it which I think—people can read it for themselves—has 50 things wrong with it in terms of how they actually discuss the favelas.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Dave, could you talk a little about the role of FIFA in terms of all of these development projects that occur wherever the World Cup goes?
DAVE ZIRIN: Absolutely. I mean, FIFA, the organization that oversees international soccer, they make a series of demands on a host country if they’re going to go there. Those demands involve security and surveillance. They involve infrastructure. They involve building new stadiums. And they involve a willingness to put up tons of debt.
Now, it’s worth saying, Brazil, as a nation, is not a victim in the FIFA relationship, nor is any country that hosts the World Cup, because there are always interests in the country that benefit greatly from FIFA being there. For example, in Brazil, the most powerful industry—you might call it the equivalent of the natural gas and oil industry in the United States—is construction. And so, building new stadiums, new infrastructure, all the rest of it, that’s a huge boon to the powerful construction industry in Brazil, so they love that FIFA’s here. That’s why I’ve described it as a neoliberal Trojan horse, because it comes in, and people are supposed to be excited about soccer and hosting this big party, but in reality it pushes through a series of development programs, which are mainly for the benefit of big construction, big real estate and tourists—and tourist money coming in, and not for the people who actually have to live here once the cameras have left and once the confetti has all been swept away.
AMY GOODMAN: And how Brazilians feel about the World Cup? Their team tied Mexico zero-zero Tuesday.
DAVE ZIRIN: Well, it’s interesting. I watched Brazil played Mexico in a favela, Asa Branca, right next to Favela Vila Autódromo, and everybody gathered around to watch it. And what was fascinating is, everyone was really into soccer, not everybody was rooting for Brazil. And for a lot of folks here, rooting against the national team is actually a point of pride, given all the disagreements the people have with FIFA and the government and how they’ve implemented the World Cup. That was a very interesting thing to see.
AMY GOODMAN: I know we might lose the satellite, but we’re going to take advantage until we do. Dave, the issue of where the World Cup and Brazil politics go from here?
DAVE ZIRIN: Oh, everywhere it goes right now, going forward, is the October elections, where Dilma Rousseff of the Workers’ Party is going to be running for re-election, and the 2016 Olympics, which are going to be held right here in Rio. So the struggle is not going anywhere. And already, you’re seeing Dilma Rousseff use a lot of carrot and a lot of stick in terms of how they’re trying to get people ready for the Olympics. You mentioned earlier the protests by the Homeless Workers Movement and also the Landless Peasants Movements that have been taking place. Those protests have actually been very successful. They’ve gotten agreements from the federal government to take some of this land and actually develop low-income housing on it. And there were 20,000 people in the streets right before the World Cup. They had to promise that they would not march on famous Corinthians Stadium in São Paulo, and if they made that promise, they were going to get public housing. And so you see this very interesting dynamic operating in Brazil where they are offering both carrot and stick. They’re offering now significant payouts to a lot of people who live in the favelas if they’ll move, not just using brute force to get them to move.
AMY GOODMAN: Dave—
DAVE ZIRIN: And that’s entirely because of resistance.
AMY GOODMAN: Before we lose you, Vice President Biden was there. Edward Snowden has applied for political asylum in Brazil. Do you think there’s any relation, offering Brazil old archive information, very important, about the Brazilian dictatorship and U.S. involvement in it from decades ago?
DAVE ZIRIN: I think that there probably is. I mean, the question of the dictatorship is a live one in Brazil. It always is. Remember, we’re talking less than 30 years. And a lot of the protests against FIFA, what—the slogans you hear at the marches I’ve been at is the idea that FIFA is reimposing a form of dictatorship on Brazil, a very young democracy. And so, people want information. They still want to know more about the role that the United States played in aiding a decades-long dictatorship here in Brazil. And so, I am convinced that people want that knowledge here in Brazil, that it’s very important to them, and they want to see it. And it’s to the benefit—I mean, I think that what Edward Snowden has done has been to the benefit of all of us, because we get to actually have this information and judge this history for ourselves.
AMY GOODMAN: But do you think Joe Biden is possibly there to put pressure on Dilma Rousseff not to give asylum to Edward Snowden?
DAVE ZIRIN: I think that’s—I have no idea, to say for sure, but it was certainly curious to see Joe Biden in the box at a FIFA match trying to figure out whether or not he should put a baseball cap on, when to cheer, when to stand up. There was kind of like a high comedy pantomime of, “OK, it’s soccer. What do I do? When am I supposed to be excited?” And so, it made sort of—so why is Joe Biden here right now? And there’s no doubt that—you know, there’s an old expression that sports is politics by other means. I think there’s no question there’s probably some political horse trading going on.
AMY GOODMAN: He was just there to see the beautiful game. Dave, thanks so much for being with us. Dave Zirin, author of Brazil’s Dance with the Devil: The World Cup, the Olympics, and the Fight for Democracy, joining us from Rio de Janeiro, where he’s covering the 2014 World Cup and everything around it, talking to us from just outside Maracanã Stadium.