World Cup Heartache Could Mean Victory For South America's Social Justice Protesters

Why World Cup Heartache Could Mean Victory For South America's Social Justice Protesters

As Uruguay, Brazil, and finally Argentina crashed out of the World Cup, violence flared on the streets of the South American nations. But this is far from simple football hooliganism.

In Brazil, millions have marched for social justice causes, right until the World Cup final, and more protests are planned. In Argentina, the spark for the rioting came from the team's 1-0 loss to Germany, but with the country under terrible economic strain, future trouble is likely to be linked to politics, not sport.

"The nations are very different when it comes to their football team. In Brazil, there is a sense of shame, and a sense of anger at the wasted money". Dr Francisco Panizza, a Latin American social affairs expert at London School of Economics, told HuffPost UK. "In Argentina, I think people still feel very proud of their team, and it's a unifier. The anger is directed at the government. It's about the economic situation."

Fans of Argentina clash with riot police after the World Cup final

"When Uruguay were eliminated, we saw huge numbers come out to protest on the streets. So you can start to see a pattern here. The protests will continue [and] football will not be the trigger anymore. It will be something else instead, but the underlying issues in all of the Latin American countries remain."

The Argentine government is in the grip of a financial crisis. It has until July 30 to reach an agreement with hedge funds suing for repayment of $93 billion of sovereign bonds which the country defaulted on in 2002. The American Supreme Court where the case was being heard ruled in favour of the hedge funds. If the country is forced to pay, it will head into its second default in 13 years.

To add to the headaches of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, last month her deputy Amado Boudou became the first sitting Argentinian vice-president to be charged with corruption.

"In Argentina, the country is going through its most severe economic crisis for years. I think if we see more violence there again, that will be the cause, not losing the World Cup final," said Panizza.

In Brazil, protests have focused on the $14 billion cost of the World Cup — the most ever spent on a tournament. The richest 10% of Brazilians receive 42.7% of the nation's income, while the poorest 34% receive less than 1.2%.

In the stadium on Sunday night, Brazilians booed President Dilma Rousseff, who is running for re-election this year, and sang derogatory chants about her. Apart from attending the opening game, the president has given all other matches a wide berth.

Now the World Cup is over, the protest movement could lose momentum, although some people feel the country can now concentrate on the issues that really matter.

Demonstrators holding an effigy with a skulls head in the colours of a Brazilian football shirt protest against the FIFA World Cup to demand better social services near the Maracana Stadium in Rio

“I’m a lot happier now than I would be if Brazil had actually won,” Gilson Bruno da Silva, 28, a bartender at a Copacabana restaurant, told the New York Times. “This was the best possible outcome because otherwise we would have forgotten all about the problems plaguing the country right now.”

Most of the demonstrators are "not exactly happy about Brazil’s defeat", according to Diego Iraheta, senior news editor at the Brasil Post. "Nevertheless, the meaningful defeat of the Brazilian team (losing 7-1 to Germany) shifted the scenario somehow. Suddenly, those people who were criticizing Brazil before the World Cup and became satisfied during the competition were now voicing again against the 'Brazilian way of doing things' – improvising solutions and not working hard on them – whether in football, politics, private or public spheres.

"Perhaps, if Brazil had won the competition, everything would have remained a blast. And now we are just three months from the elections. Thus it is time for all of us to think of what we want for and from our country.

"The activists will definitely continue to voice their demands. From my viewpoint, they may be leaving the protests on the streets in order to join some politicians’ campaigns."

"In Brazil, the protests are more likely to be effective, because they have a clear coherent focus which is on government spending and social justice," Dr Francisco Panizza told HuffPost UK. "There are also two key events coming up that will focus people there, there are the Olympics in 2016 and also an election in between.

"One thing might derail them, the fact that Brazilians expect the organisation of the tournament to be a disaster, but for the team to do well and probably win. In fact, you could say the opposite happened. If Brazil had won however, it is not likely to have made much difference to the politicians.

"All the research suggests that politicians are neither punished nor rewarded when the national team does well.

Irahata is optimistic that the "sense of joy" that permeated the country through the World Cup month could mean debate takes a more congenial tone in the run-up to the elections. "Despite the mistakes in planning and the delays in delivering some fundamental works, the event was a tremendous success.

"And this is due to the government and also to the people, who were welcoming supporters from all parts of the globe, guiding them and sharing with them this unique spirit of celebration we Brazilians have.

"But now what the activists hope is that all the other areas of our society, besides the Cup, are addressed with the real priority deserved. That is, better schools, better conditions of healthcare, more commitment to social needs and not only to leisure."


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