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August 29, 2014

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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Brazilians rail against hypocrisy of the ‘people’s cup’

A boy helps his father build a shack on occupied land within view of the Itaquerao stadium in Sao Paulo on May 6, 2014.
By Alejandro Wall
Special to the Herald

The flip side to the world of FIFA becomes visible in Sao Paulo

SAO PAULO - It’s in the neighbourhood to the west of Sao Paulo, known as Itaquera, which sits next to the Parque do Carmo, that the flip side to the world of FIFA becomes visible. Some 4,000 families have occupied a 136,000 square-metre plot of land there, where they pass the night in tents fashioned from black nylon and wooden supports. They have guidelines that establish very clear priorities — bonfires are forbidden, as are candles and wasting electricity is discouraged.

Every evening, an assembly of residents decides how the struggle should continue. The plot is just over three kilometres away from the Arena Corinthians, the most pretentious of the names by which the Itaquerao is known the stadium where today Argentina will face Switzerland in search of a place in the quarter-finals. The land has already been assigned a name by the assembly — Copa do Povo. “The People’s Cup,” where Joseph Blatter isn’t in charge.

The leader of the occupation, which began a week before the World Cup was inaugurated, is 31-year-old Guilhermor Boulos. He’s a graduate of the Sao Paulo University law school and an activist with the Homeless Workers Movement (MTST), which was formed in 1997. “Na luta pela reforma agraria” (“In the struggle for land reform”) reads a banner hanging from one of the wooden structures. Boulos left his parents’ middle-class home 13 years ago to fight for housing in Sao Paulo and to assist with the occupations that fan out across the city. He’s married to another MTST activist and he has two daughters. He lives in Taboâo da Serra, also on an occupied plot of land.

Boulos has denounced the real estate speculation that was sparked by the construction of the Itaquerao. The stadium — which cost US$450 million, although only half that amount had been initially budgeted for — is the new home for Corinthians. They are Lula’s team, the most popular in Sao Paulo, but they didn’t have their own stadium until now. Lula sealed the construction deal with Andrés Sánchez when he was president and the latter was president of the club, although this was some time before the decision to play the World Cup in Brazil was announced.

According to estimates, the area — which had always been one of the city’s poorest — has increased in value by 50 percent. That has had a negative impact on rent which, according to some of those who are occupying the plot, jumped from 500 reales (US$250) to over 700 reales (US$350).

Yesterday, as the Argentine national team trained in the Itaquerao, was a key day for the Copa do Povo. A session of the Chamber of Councillors, the local municipal assembly, approved the Plano Director, a housing programme administered by the Sao Paulo government.

Families occupying the land have demanded the inclusion of the plot in the programme. Although a landowner is attempting to claim back the land, the MTST has argued that the appropriate taxes for the land haven’t been paid in over 20 years years and that grass covered the plot until recently. They say there are even abandoned cars littering the plot.

“We want to pay for our home at a reasonable price, one which is within reach of our salaries,” says Daniel, a 37-year-old bus-driver.

A fan of the Sao Paulo football club, Daniel adds that he wants Brazil to win the World Cup. He’s wearing a red MTST t-shirt and offers bread kept in a bag. He starts running some numbers. He says he earns 30 reales every day and that he wakes up at 3am and wants to have some coffee. That’s 3.50 reales. He will then spend five reales at lunch and another coffee later in the day is another 3.50 reales. Dinner and other small purchases will end up consuming a good part of his daily pay, which makes it impossible to make ends meet and even more difficult to have a home. And that’s without any kids.

Feelings about the World Cup are mixed. Some are against, above all because of the costs that it has required, some go to a relatives’ house to see Brazil’s games. That was one of the ways most of them suffered through Brazil’s game against Chile on Saturday at the Mineirao. In the settlement there is only one television, an old-fashioned square one, but on it the jogo isn’t shown, only the news. Joaquín, a 32-year-old employee of a company that makes salgados — salty, fried cakes filled with beef, cheese or chicken — says that he’s happy with the arrival of the Itaquerao.

“It’s true that the rent went up, but the area has improved and it will bring benefits to our quality of life,” says Joaquín, who rents in Itaquera but is occupying a barraca (“tent”) because he wants his own home, explains.

Daniel, the bus-driver who cheers for the Sao Paulo club, says that he has nothing against the Itaquerao. But he says just as money was spent to create a “FIFA standard” stadium, they need health, education, housing and work that is “FIFA standard.”

The MTST has an ongoing dialogue with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and Fernando Haddad, Sao Paulo’s Mayor, both of the Workers’ Party (PT). In fact, Dilma met with Guilherme Boulos a few days before the World Cup started and guaranteed that she would respond to the occupiers’ demands.

The MTST says that they are a revolutionary organization and that they do not have any links with political parties. If any activist, for example, wants to run in an election, he or she must first leave the movement.

Boulos wasn’t at the site yesterday. He was at the Chamber following closely the vote on the Plan Director. He didn’t want there to be any changes to what had been negotiated thus far and thousands from the site planned to head to downtown Sao Paulo in a caravan to exert pressure.

Meanwhile, there are a thousand more families on a waiting list to join the occupation. They also want their own home. The new ones must register first at the mayor’s office.

After the Plano Director was approved yesterday, there were fireworks outside the Chamber and celebrations at the site. But the fight continues.

At the occupation a message scrawled on a wooden wall reads: “Toda Copa tinha que ser do povo!”

Every cup must be the people’s.

@alejwall

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