South America has been a special part of my life for four decades. I have lived many years in Brasil and Peru. I am married to an incredible lady from Argentina. I want to share South America with you.
“But you are Brazilian!” – after I rejected a sexual advance.
That’s what it says on the card above, one of several used in a campaign to report discrimination suffered by Brazilian students at the University of Coimbra in Portugal.
The idea that Brazilian women are more pliable than most feeds into at least two issues currently taken very seriously in the country: international trafficking of women and sex tourism. So it was no surprise that there were howls of protest this week when Adidas, sponsor of the forthcoming Fifa World Cup, launched this pair of T-shirts on its US merchandise site:
President Dilma Rousseff led the response on Twitter: “Brazil is happy to receive tourists for the World Cup, but it is also ready to combat sex tourism.”
The tourism ministry went further, saying the shirts associated the country with sexual activity and contributed indirectly to crimes such as sexual exploitation of children and adolescents. The ministry launched a campaign against sex tourism this year with an eye on the World Cup, when the country expects to receive 600,000 visitors, through material distributed in bars, bus stations, airports and hotels.
And here’s one typical response from the twittersphere, calling for a boycott of Adidas products:
But the response to the shirts was not only critical of Adidas. Many Brazilians used social media to argue that an image of heightened sexuality is one the country itself has been selling for a long time. Carnival, they say, is all about half-naked, dancing women. Television shows run competitions to find the woman with the best, biggest bottom.
Embratur, the national tourism promotion agency, has not always tried to deter the sex tourists. This is how it promoted Brazil to the world in the 1980s:
Sex sells everywhere of course and Brazil is far from alone in pushing the limits. Here is a recent poster campaign for Mash, a brand of men’s underwear – seen, for example, beside the highway leading to São Paulo from the international airport:
And this is how Devassa, a brewer, mixed sexism with racism to advertise its dark beer:
With sexuality such a prominent part of its aspirational culture, it is perhaps not surprising that Brazil is among the ten countries worldwide with the greatest number of victims of human trafficking and is a favourite destination for people seeking under-age sex. In 2013, a hotline number to report child sexual abuse received about 16,000 calls in Rio de Janeiro and about 18,000 in São Paulo.
A report by Brazil’s Ministry of Justice found that between 2005 and 2011, 337 Brazilians were victims of sexual trafficking, but the number is likely to be much higher – the report counted only victims who asked for help at Brazilian consulates and embassies abroad and were repatriated or offered temporary housing.
If you search online for the term “Brazil beach” you are as likely to find images of women in bikinis as you are of actual beaches. Brazil doesn’t need anyone, least of all a foreign multinational, to reinforce its negative stereotypes. It needs help changing them.
Fresh gospel: Brazil is preparing a new public-relations campaign to improve perceptions of the World Cup
For weeks workers at São Paulo’s Itaquerao stadium have been clearing up the damage from a deadly construction accident in November. A giant roof girder crashed through a wall of the unfinished 68,000-seat arena, killing two labourers and casting a pall over Brazil’s preparations for this year’s football World Cup.
“People working in there say it won’t be ready in time for the World Cup,” says Paulo Arminio, who sells snacks to construction workers from a van outside the venue and who witnessed the accident.
The government and Fifa, football’s global governing body, insist the stadium will be ready for the world’s most popular sporting event, which begins in June.
But the troubles at the Itaquerao – which came just months after millions of Brazilians took to the streets to protest against poor public transport and infrastructure, ailing government services and corruption – set the stage for a difficult year for Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s president. She is standing for re-election in October with her Workers’ party (PT), which has been in power for nearly 12 years.
The tournament could be the crowning achievement for Brazil, a time for o País do Futebol, or the country of football, to celebrate its economic achievements over the past decade, when Brazil built a middle class and cemented its role as one of the Brics group of leading emerging nations.
Yet the country seems in little mood to celebrate. Instead of the media hype normally associated with a World Cup year, there are fears that mass protests could return to haunt the tournament. The tensions are underscored by apprehension over an economy that may have slipped into technical recession in the second half of 2013 – something that economists say has been driven in part by overly interventionist government policies.
Ms Rousseff`s challenge this year will be not only to ensure a smooth World Cup but also to convince increasingly sceptical investors that Brazil’s economy can return to a path of higher growth. Her efforts will help determine whether the past 10 years will be seen as the “Latin American decade”, the period when the continent finally found its economic feet, led by Brazil. Otherwise, history may judge it as a missed opportunity that, with the exception of some more reform-minded countries such as Mexico or Chile, saw the region waste a decade-long commodity boom by focusing on consumption rather than investment, and not introducing sustainable reforms.
“We lost the narrative,” says Paulo Sotero, director of the Brazil Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars in Washington. “The combination of a negative or worrisome economic outlook and the delays in the construction and renovation of stadiums and public transportation systems for the World Cup has prevented Brazil from using a storyline that this is a positive event.”
The Arena da Amazônia in Manaus looks like a giant sea urchin, with a high-tech white exoskeleton encasing the football pitch within. The city, Brazil’s historic rubber capital, sits at the heart of the Amazon. It has proven perilously tardy in finishing the project, having missed the latest deadline in December.
During an inspection this month, Jérôme Valcke, Fifa’s secretary-general, looked relieved as he strode out on to the almost-completed stadium’s newly laid turf. “Sometimes a pregnancy is a bit more difficult than others,” Mr Valcke said, attempting to explain why the building of Brazil’s stadiums has run so late.
His diplomacy masked Fifa’s rocky relationship with Brazil. Last year, reeling from repeated delays and the mass protests that shook the country, Sepp Blatter, Fifa’s president, even questioned whether the organisation had “made the wrong decision” in awarding the games to the Latin American country.
. . .
It was not meant to be this way. When Brazil in 2007 won the right to stage the World Cup, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva had just won a second term as president. The economy was riding high on commodity prices, an expanding, youthful workforce and the discovery of extensive oilfields off the cost of Rio de Janeiro. There seemed to be nothing Brazil could not achieve.
An exuberant nation over-promised in its pledges to Fifa. While the soccer authority sought as few as 8 stadiums, Brazil committed to hosting games in 12 cities. It also promised other infrastructure for the tournament, even hinting that a proposed bullet train between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo might be ready in time. (It has been shelved.) “Soccer is more than a sport for us, it’s a national passion,” Mr Lula da Silva told the BBC at the time.
Fifa bought the story. Despite Brazil’s reputation for poor infrastructure, it said in a 2007 report: “The inspection team concluded that the existing air and ground transport infrastructure would enable Brazil to host an excellent 2014 Fifa World Cup.” Moreover, Fifa detected huge public support for the bid. “The inspection team was greeted during the various trips [to prospective host cities] with spontaneous manifestations of joy and hope.”
Next on the bandwagon were international investors, who seized on Mr Lula da Silva’s story of a new Brazil with 30m new consumers joining the lower middle class. In 2010, growth surged to a China-like 7.5 per cent on the back of a peak in commodity prices, a big expansion of loans from state-owned banks and a credit-fuelled spending spree by consumers.
Last June Brazil’s football-loving public suddenly turned hostile and threatened to scupper the Confederations Cup, Fifa’s dress rehearsal for the World Cup in Brazil. The protesters’ initial target was a bus and metro fare increase but it soon expanded to the poor state of infrastructure and public services, lavish expenditure on World Cup stadiums and general distrust of politicians. “We want ‘Fifa-standard’ hospitals,” the protesters’ placards read, not just Fifa-standard stadiums. The crowds even booed Ms Rousseff at the opening game.
The movement became the staging ground for a new mixture of hardcore leftist and anarchist activists who use so-called “Black Bloc” tactics, wearing masks and attacking the symbols of the state and corporatism, such as government buildings and banks. “I denounce the over-billing of the stadiums that have made the 2014 Cup the most expensive in the world,” said one protester.
Capital Economics, a London-based research house, this month criticised what it dubbed “the wasted decade” in the region. Instead of investing, many countries in Latin America, including Brazil, squandered much of the cheap finance available on a consumption boom. Investment as a percentage of gross domestic product in Brazil fell between 2008 and 2013 from over 20 per cent to about 18 per cent.
This has led to below-par growth during the past three years for Brazil: 2.7 per cent in 2011 and 0.9 per cent in 2012. It is expected to be below 2 per cent for 2013. Ms Rousseff is on track to have the lowest average economic growth during a four-year term of any president since Fernando Collor in 1990-1992, says Oxford Economics.
Meanwhile, government intervention in areas such as energy, finance and petrol prices has scared investors while inflation has remained persistently high.
“The authorities have missed a golden opportunity to utilise cheap external finance to increase investment, deepen the region’s capital stock and raise Latin America’s long-run growth potential,” wrote Neil Shearing of Capital Economics.
The government is not taking such criticism lying down. In January Ms Rousseff made her first trip to the World Economic Forum in Davos to say that Brazil was open for business. The central bank was raising interest rates to address inflation. The government had pushed ahead with infrastructure privatisation and had promised to rein in budget spending in a bid to prevent a credit rating downgrade by Standard & Poor’s.
. . .
Government officials argue the criticism is overdone. Brazil’s growth last year will probably exceed that of the current market darling, Mexico, which managed only 1.2 per cent. Unemployment is at record lows. Brazil has weathered several global economic crises, including the recent emerging market sell-offs, better than many other economies.
“There are a lot of concerns the economy is not growing that much but look at unemployment. Wages are still growing. Foreign direct investment is still flowing,” says João Augusto de Castro Neves of Eurasia Group. “These mixed signals, they explain [why the government is content with] this kind of muddling through.”
More importantly for the PT, Ms Rousseff remains popular. A poll released on February 18 showed she would be likely to win this year’s presidential election in the first round with 43.7 per cent of voter intentions versus 17 per cent for Aécio Neves, the more pro-business Brazilian Social Democratic party candidate, and 9.9 per cent for Eduardo Campos of the Brazilian Socialist party.
“My opinion is that the economy will not hurt Dilma seriously in the election . . . unless something very dramatic happens,” says Carlos Eduardo Lins da Silva, special adviser to the São Paulo Research Foundation.
Something “dramatic” is always a possibility in Brazil. No one predicted last year’s protests. While opinion is split on whether Ms Rousseff’s fortunes will also be tied to those of the Seleção, Brazil’s national team, the mood on the streets is likely to be more important.
In Manaus, critics have described the stadium’s cost of about R$600m ($255m) as extravagant for a city that boasts no top league soccer team and has widespread inequality. Despite being in the middle of the planet’s largest fresh water system, only 27 per cent of its 2m population is connected to sewerage, against a national average of 48 per cent.
The government argues the World Cup will help put the city on the global map. “Manaus will become much more known in the world because of the World Cup,” says Arthur Virgilio Neto, the mayor.
The challenge for him and his counterparts across Brazil will be to convince a sceptical public that the tournament was not an elaborate “jobs-for-the-boys” scheme.
“If it [investment] is only focused on the World Cup, that will pass and nothing will change,” says Diego, an artist waiting at the bus stop by Manaus’s stadium. “The World Cup will be like a piece of gold jewellery that turns out to have been made only of lead.”
Additional reporting by Samantha Pearson and Thalita Carrico
Demonstrations: Protest songs add to chorus of disapproval
Protesters in Brazil are turning to music to attack what they see as vast public overspending on the World Cup and police violence against protesters, write Joe Leahy and Thalita Carrico.
“Cabral get lost,” sings Los Vanda, a band that produces satirical covers of hit songs, changing the words to lampoon politicians, including Sérgio Cabral, the governor of Rio de Janeiro state. The band appears on YouTube wearing the masks of the so-called “Black Bloc” movement, an aggressive form of protest in which participants attack the symbols of the state and capitalism. “We’re tired of watching you steal.”
Few are willing to bet the protests that rocked Brazil last June, when more than a million people took to the streets to express their frustration with poor government services and perceived corruption, will return this year during the World Cup.
One reason is that more moderate Brazilians may be reluctant to participate in street demonstrations after violent clashes between Black Bloc protesters and the police.
“That mass of people that went on to the street in June never came back and probably they won’t,” says Carlos Eduardo Lins da Silva, special adviser to the São Paulo Research Foundation.
This year, however, there has been a groundswell of protest against the World Cup. Police in São Paulo detained 262 protesters at the weekend.
“We’re in favour of football and sport in general,” members of Los Vanda say in an email interview with the FT. “The problem with the World Cup was never the tournament but the manner in which it is being done. The World Cup attends to the economic interests of Fifa and not the interests of society.”
The government counters that the tournament will have a valuable social and economic legacy. In Manaus, deputy sports minister Luis Fernandes says a direct result has been improved internet networks in the country’s less developed north.
The government is also striking back on social media networks, hitherto the stronghold of the activist groups.
President Dilma Rousseff recently appointed a new communications minister to craft a public-relations campaign to change perceptions. The slogan, “The Cup of Cups”, aims to inspire Brazilians to take pride in the event.
Recapture of Mexico’s most wanted drugs lord boosts Nieto but cartels go on
By Jude Webber in Mexico City
Mexico’s recapture of the world’s most-wanted drug lord 13 years after he broke out of a top-security jail is a blow to the country’s criminal cartels and a coup for the can-do image of Enrique Peña Nieto, the president.
But even with Joaquín Guzmán back behind bars, this is far from the end for the Sinaloa cartel he controlled with such ruthlessness, cautioned Anabel Hernández, author of Narcoland, a bestselling book on Mexico’s drugs wars.
“His arrest is very important. He is a criminal who owes many lives,” Ms Hernández said. “But this is not even close to the end of the road for the Sinaloa Cartel. Ironically, the cartel will probably come out of this strengthened.”
Alejandro Hope, security analyst at the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness, said the arrest of Mr Guzmán was highly “symbolic – this was the face of impunity and the failure of previous administrations [to capture him]”.
Mr Guzmán – know as “El Chapo”, or Shorty – is credited with controlling as much as half of the illicit drugs delivered into the US every year. His wealth was such that for a spell he held a place on the Forbes rich list of the world’s wealthiest people.
The arrest on Saturdaycame as Mexican marines, working with US intelligence, stormed into a property in the Pacific resort of Mazatlán, surprising Mr Guzmán while he slept and before he had a chance to reach for the AK-47 he kept by his bed.
Unlike other operations which ended in a hail of bullets and sometimes the death of the drug boss, not a single shot was fired in the capture of Mr Guzmán – an operation that had almost succeeded a week ago.
Getting ‘Shorty’: call tips off US and Mexico
Just as in the fall of Colombian cocaine king Pablo Escobar in 1993, the fatal error that gave away Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán may have been using his telephone
Then, as troops struggled with a reinforced door, Mr Guzmán slipped into a maze of tunnels connecting several houses and the local sewer system, and disappeared, admitted Jesús Murillo Karam, Mexico’s attorney-general.
Mexico’s drugs war has claimed an estimated 80,000 lives in the past eight years, and Mr Nieto has made taking the fight to the cartels one of the themes of his presidency.
Ismael Zambada is the man expected to take the reins of the Sinaloa Cartel, due to the fact that he already shared power with Mr Guzmán, Ms Hernández said. Other analysts see Mr Zambada more as Mr Guzmán’s second-in-command.
Considered less violent and flamboyant than Mr Guzmán – a man who was said to revel in being untouchable by the police – Mr Zambada would be more open to alliances with other drugs organisations, such as the Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas, Ms Hernández added. This could boost the Sinaloa cartel’s power base, while keeping business going as usual.
Mr Hope said he expected the capture of a man with a $5m price put on his head by the US to fuel a shift to a more local, gang-based model of organised crime.
This would accelerate a transition from cartels closely allied to Mexican political and business bosses focused on shifting drugs into the US “to a more local, less sophisticated and more territorial model of organised crime”.
This is not even close to the end of the road for the Sinaloa Cartel. Ironically, the cartel will probably come out of this strengthened.”
- Anabel Hernández, author of Narcoland
This does not mean fewer Mexican drugs will find their way on to the streets. Yet it could mean more gang-ledextortion and kidnapping – activities that have turned into money-spinners for some cartels, like the Zetas.
“Small gangs no longer pose an existential threat to the Mexican state the way the old Sinaloa or Gulf cartels did,” said Mr Hope. “They would not have the financial or political wherewithal to capture large parts of the state. But they do pose a major threat to public security.”
Mr Guzmán – looking paunchier than at the time of his 2001 jailbreak, with black hair and a moustache – kept his face stony as he was paraded before the press before being flown to the Altiplano maximum security prison in the state of Mexico.
There, Ms Hernández noted, he will be in the company of other drug bosses, including Miguel Angel Treviño Morales, the head of the Zetas who was captured last year; Edgar Valdez Villareal, the drugs boss known as La Barbie; and his own brother, Miguel Guzmán. Their arrests, she noted, had done little or nothing to dent their cartels’ power.
Guzmán is also wanted on a string of charges in the US and a spokesman for the US Attorney’s office in Brooklyn, Robert Nardoza, was quoted by Reuters as saying that his office planned to seek the drug lord’s extradition. Prosecutors in Chicago, where Guzmán has been designated Public Enemy No 1 by the Chicago Crime Commission, were also reported to be readying extradition plans.