Brazil remains an enigma. Since Lula's promising election in 2002 and re-election in 2006, the second largest economy in the Western Hemisphere has been seen as a center of hope and potential for participatory democracy and regional integration. The 21st century has seen Brazil explode onto the world stage, with a staggering rate of economic growth and the hosting of the upcoming 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics. It is the largest country in Latin American in both territory and population, and its economy now ranks as the world’s seventh largest.
However, despite what may seem to be a shimmering surface, deep problems still exist within Brazil. Though economic growth has been monstrous in the first decade of the 2000’s, recent years have seen this growth slow considerably; while millions of people have been lifted out of poverty during this economic boom, millions still remain in poverty; and though a burgeoning middle class is beginning to chip away at the long-existent gap between rich and poor, a vast wealthy disparity still exists. Meanwhile, corruption remains widespread within all levels of government and violent crime persists. Environmental woes also continue to plague the country in both city and rural areas - inadequate or completely absent sewage systems means waste from Rio de Janeiro favelas flow directly into the ocean, and harmful agricultural and land policies continue to hurt the lowlands as roads spider through the Amazon and the Landless Movement faces ongoing repression.
The preparations for the upcoming World Cup and Olympics have been a topic of particularly intense controversy within Brazil. Tens of billions of dollars will be spent in preparation for these mega-sporting events, far over what was initially budgeted, and in the face of serious social issues that still remain present in Brazil: poverty, infrastructure, hospitals, sanitation, and education to name a few. The world’s attention will shift south during 2014 and 2016 for a glimpse of a country that continues to elevate on the world stage politically and economically, but many critics say the government is simply attempting to put on a face for the rest of the world - makeup, so to say – for what is still very much a developing country with serious dilemmas to tackle other than sporting events.
Proponents tout that the long-term economic benefits of the World Cup and Olympics will be sizable and spread evenly across Brazil’s social groups; others say this could not be any further from the truth. With a government so deeply entrenched in corruption, a few politicians and developers are sure to profit off of these several weeks of sporting events; however, it’s unlikely the vast majority of Brazilians will.
Economics aside, thousands of impoverished favela residents have been forcefully evicted from their homes to make room for new subway lines and other projects directly related to the World Cup and Olympics. Little dialogue, short notice, and few good alternatives have infuriated favela communities and watchdog groups. Long an alienated and marginalized group in Brazil, favela residents continue to feel the pinch of exploitation.
Additionally, many stadiums and other sporting infrastructure is far behind schedule and in danger of not being ready in time. To make up for lost time due to corruption, bureaucratic delay, and government inefficiency, projects have been sped up at the expense of worker safety, posing a quandary for all involved.
Hundreds of thousands of Brazilians took to the streets in 2013 in protest of these and other issues. Corruption, rising prices, violence, poor public services, and unjust World Cup and Olympic preparations are only some of the grievances on the list of fed-up citizens. With such a large national population and increasing levels of education and income, the persistence of these deep national problems suggest the coming decades will be a fascinating time for the country and people of Brazil.