With the world cup set to kick off in three days, things in the host country - which according to numerous report is largely unprepared for the grand spectacle - are going from bad to worse.
As SCMP reports, earlier today police in Sao Paulo fired tear gas to disperse protesters supporting a subway strike that has unleashed transport chaos three days before the Brazilian mega-city hosts the World Cup kick-off. "A group of about 150 protesters set fire to piles of garbage to block a central street in the Brazilian business hub, prompting some two dozen riot police to fire stun grenades and then tear gas to disperse them. The demonstrators were backing a five-day-old strike by subway workers that has posed a major headache for the sprawling city of 20 million people ahead of Thursday’s opening match between Brazil and Croatia."
Below is a photo gallery of event in Sao Paulo over the past few days.
But in recent weeks, a series of strikes by public transport workers, police, teachers and others in several Cup host cities has proved more disruptive than demonstrations. If such strikes continue, "there will be chaos during the World Cup," said Carla Dieguez, a sociologist at Sao Paulo University's School of Sociology and Politics.
"What we don't know is how long the (subway) strike will last and if workers in others cities where games will be held will also go on strike," she said. Unions across Brazil are using the leverage of the World Cup in an effort to get concessions from authorities, as has happened before other big sporting events. Ahead of South Africa's World Cup in 2010, bus drivers went on strike.
What do the workers want? Higher wages of course, even though they have already backed off from earlier demands for a 16.5% wage hike, and are only seeking a 12.2% boost. The government however is offering "only" a 8.7% increase. Still, with the strikes crippling mass transportation in the key city, with every passing day it would seem that the strikers have increasingly more leverage. If only on paper. In real life, things are not going quite as planned:
Demonstrators from various activist groups shouted “No to repression!” before police broke up the protest. Several helicopters could later be seen hovering overhead.
Police also used a stun grenade against a separate group of about 70 striking workers who had gone into a central metro station to try to convince supervisors to join the strike, said union president Altino Melo dos Prazeres.
Police are holding about a dozen of the workers at the station, where officers used tear gas and truncheons to disperse strikers last Thursday, a union official said.
The union has reduced an initial demand for a 16.5-per cent wage hike to 12.2 per cent, but the government is offering only 8.7 per cent.
To be sure, strikers are confused by the government's stern refusal to yield to even lowered demands:
Prazeres said he was confident the strikers had the upper hand. “I don’t believe the government wants to thwart this Cup,” he told reporters.
Which means that the teams of the United States, France, Argentina, Uruguay, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Honduras and Cameroon all of which are expected to arrive some time today, may find themselves without any mass transit options (not that they would be particularly concerned by this)
The latest strike is just one of many problems plaguing the world cup:
Authorities are keen to resolve the latest labour dispute and avoid further embarrassment in a World Cup hit by delays and cost overruns even before it has started.
Corinthians Arena has become a symbol of the problems besetting the tournament. At the weekend workers were racing to finish the 61,600-capacity stadium, which has been chronically behind schedule and over-budget. Work on the 12 host stadiums has also been overshadowed by accidents that have killed eight workers. Three of the deaths were at Corinthians.
But not everyone is losing from the ongoing confusion plaguing the world cup. One group is set to profit handsomely - Brazil's 1 million (+?) prostitutes. The Independent explains:
According to the locals, it's the bar capital of the world, with more than 12,000 catering for the five million citizens of Brazil's third city. Others will recall Belo Horizonte as the scene of England's most humiliating football defeat, when a hearse driver and teacher from the US stunned the national team at the 1950 World Cup. But if the 5,000 or so English ticket holders expected here for England's final group game against Costa Rica in a few weeks' time look a little more closely, they may remember it for something else. As is the case across Brazil, peer behind the mask and another reality stares back at you.
In downtown Belo Horizonte are 23 brothels, known locally as zonas. They are hidden up narrow staircases between shops in the grim city centre, a place so grey, in parts, that you could be in the old Soviet Union except for the scorching sun above. Nearby, in an empty office on the top floor of a shopping centre, a handful of the 2,000 or so prostitutes who work the city are getting English classes from a volunteer in order to cash in on the six matches the city's Mineirão stadium will host (including one semi-final). All the while, tucked away at the back of an indoor car-park, is Aprosmig – a union for those within the industry in the state of Minas Gerais (the name is a contraction of the "Minas Gerais association of prostitutes"). "For sure [the city's prostitutes] will get more money with the World Cup," says the fiftysomething woman working the desk. "In the nightclubs they'll be earning a lot. It's normal for foreign guys to look for them, they always do, and now there'll be more foreign guys. They'll do very well."
At the time it was suggested there were as many as one million sex workers, and while that may have been an overestimate, prostitution is undeniably widespread. At one point, the government's own employment website offered tips for those wishing to attempt prostitution, going step by step through preparation, seduction and delivery of service. It was later toned down after much pressure from conservatives and the religious right.
Which is also known as capitalism: providing a service, with market prices set based on prevailing demand. Which is better than what Venezuela's socialist hookers have to look forward to: as reported previously, what they do have to look forward to are FX trading terminals.