(Translation) Gerardo Lissardy, writing for BBC Mundo, tells how the World Cup in Brazil has brought varying degrees of fortune to its citizens, from life-changing business opportunities to lost livelihoods.
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It was on one night in May that María de Lourdes Soares lost what little she had to make a living for herself in Río de Janeiro. The beachside spot where she used to sell coconuts and biscuits was seized in a bewildering municipal operation in the early hours of the morning.
“I’ve got nothing left”, says Soares, 70. “I have no way of getting by”, as she begins to cry.
According to Río’s City Hall, what happened that night was part of a standard procedure on the city’s beaches to “maintain urban order”. Yet Soares, who had been working in the same place for half a century, is convinced that it was simply part of a makeover the city was undergoing ahead of the World Cup.
“It’s to do with the World Cup, because there’ll be many tourists and gringos coming, and they don’t want to see our stalls. They want to see nice, pleasant things”, she insists. “The problem with politicians and governors is that they don’t want to show the poverty that Río has to the outside world”.
That same night May night, José Luis Munin Monteiro was on a plane returning to Río from São Paulo, where he had been invited to an event where he could tell other entrepreneurs about his success story, which was all thanks to the World Cup. His small pre-moulded cement business built four large ramps around the world-famous Maracanã stadium, as well as one of the rings around the roof of the arena, which will host seven games over the course of the World Cup, including the final.
That contract gave him and his firm a guaranteed monthly income over two years, allowing him to increase his turnover by 30% – a genuine springboard which launched his company to new heights and even broader horizons. “This work gave me my first million”, the 53-year-old businessman says pointing to the legendary Maracanã. “With this money I was able to start up a second factory”.
With the world’s biggest football festival about to start, Monteiro and Soares embody the two opposing versions of the World Cup in Brazil; for him a source of fortune, but for her nothing less than tragedy. They are two extreme examples of the ambivalence of an entire country ahead of the tournament.
Soares found out early the following morning that her vending spot had been seized. She arrived at her stall on Flamengo beach, only to find it flattened.
A widow, Soares lives with her daughter – a law student – in a humble favela in São Gonçalo, a satellite city on the other side of the panoramic Guanabara Bay. She says that the daily bus journey into central Río can take more than three hours, meaning that she has to leave her house at the crack of dawn in order to get to Flamengo for around six, when cariocas (Río residents) begin to do their morning exercises along the coast.
Soares is adamant that her stall has a permit from the city council, but municipal rules don’t allow for equipment being kept on the sand. She, like many other vendors who have suffered a similar fate, failed to comply with this rule simply because she was unable to afford night-time storage.
Now she reckons that she lost the equivalent of some US$3,000, and she also claims that this kind of thing only happens in Río before big events such as the upcoming World Cup.
“They want to portray a Río that isn’t what it really is. The (touristy) South Zone is really nice, but just look at the suburbs: they don’t have any water, sanitation, nothing”, she laments.
The operation carried out by the authorities wasn’t the only one launched in Río ahead of the World Cup. That same week, the government began its “Operation Barrier of the World Cup”, with the aim of preventing the proliferation of contraband and pirated products such as sports shoes, t-shirts or mobile phone covers. In the first few days alone, some 700kg of merchandise, with an estimated value of US$66,000, was confiscated.
This increased auditing is also a response to demands from FIFA that the business of its brands and sponsors be protected. Yet it has touched a nerve in a country where informal business is the only way that many families get by. One group, uniting street vendors in Río, has linked up with the People’s Committee of the Cup, an organisation that stands up for the Brazilians who have been displaced from their homes by works related to the World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games (also due to be held in Río).
According to the government, the displaced number “no more than 9,000”. However, activists insist that their ranks are far greater, and that their rights have often been violated.
Soares never became a member of the People’s Committee, but her view of the World Cup is also critical. She says that other vendors from Flamengo beach “have lost their jobs and are going hungry”.
“The World Cup is destroying everything”, she concludes.
Monteiro became a businessman because of these very same changes. He learnt his trade in construction from his father, a Spanish immigrant who was a foreman. As a child he sold bricks, but it was on one trip to Europe that he discovered the secrets of pre-fabricated cement blocks.
They are whole pieces which come out of the factory in a pre-moulded shape, saving the construction team both the time and effort it would take to mount the framework, pour out the cement, wait for it to set and then take down the framework again.
On his return to Río, Monteiro realised that this secret was still unknown in his homeland, and he began offering the blocks to clients. He set up a company, Trelicon, with his engineer brother, and in no time he had numerous clients and about twenty employees.
During a growth crisis within his business, he resorted to approach the Brazilian Micro and Small Business Support Service (Sebrae), which gave him free advice in areas such as administration and marketing.
When he found out about the works being carried out to upgrade the Maracanã, he went personally to the stadium to offer up his products, and in 2008 he finalised his “first big contract” for a two-year period, which allowed him to generate a turnover of more than a million reais (some US$440,000).
Today, Sebrae holds up Monteiro as an example of the Brazilians who have benefitted from the opportunities thrown up by the country’s hosting of the World Cup, from small firms manufacturing furniture and structures, to agribusiness.
The technical director of this state service, Carlos Alberto dos Santos, says that up to April they had registered business from participating companies amounting to nearly 370m reais (some US$160m). “In all 12 of the states whose capitals are hosting FIFA World Cup matches, companies are carrying out business [related to the tournament]”, dos Santos claims.
Monteiro dismisses the criticism of those who maintain that the World Cup was only ever a successful business for FIFA and its sponsors, at the expense of the US$11bn which Brazil has spent on the tournament. “I’ve never seen so many works going on in Río. Why don’t [the World Cup’s critics] go searching for these opportunities?” he asks. “I’m a small business owner and I went and found mine”.
Now that the streets of Río are being tentatively coloured with the green and yellow of Brazil, the future also appears to be lit in contrasting tones for Soares and Monteiro.
Soares, who receives a monthly pension equivalent to US$300 for her late husband, tells how she asked clients and friends to lend her money to replace some of the materials for her stall that got confiscated. Her daughter launched a campaign to recover them, but Soares is holding out little hope for that happening any time soon, and says that in any case a significant portion of her merchandise will have been ruined.
“At my age I won’t be able to get any more work: I’m 70 years old, nobody wants me”, she says wiping away her tears. She adds that she doesn’t even know how she will pay off her debts.
On the other hand, Monteiro has managed to seal new deals thanks to the sheer amounts of production, experience and prestige that his work at the Maracanã gave him. Included among these was a contract to supply with pre-moulded cement a section of the new Transcarioca, a Bus Rapid Transit system (BRT or BRTS) which the Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff opened a few short weeks ago, in a festive atmosphere with samba music playing in the background.
Monteiro also fulfilled his “dream” of opening a cement block factory with a business partner. He now employs 70 people in his two companies, located in an industrial zone in Duque de Caxias, on the outskirts of Río. Going through this humble district, he points out a street which he paved on his own, and he greets residents who had donated him construction materials.
He says that having been a part of the renovation of Río’s footballing temple stirs in him “a happiness that is absolutely priceless”.
However, surveys suggest that the support shown by Brazilians for the World Cup has fallen. A poll carried out by Pew Research Centre and published last week revealed that 61% of Brazilians have a negative view of the World Cup because they consider that “it takes money away from schools, health care and other public services”. 34% support the tournament, due to its capacity to “create more jobs and help the economy”.
Nevertheless, despite all the differences in their respective stories, Monteiro and Soares appear to share one fleeting point of view, when questioning the way in which the mammoth investment in rebuilding the Maracanã, to the tune of US$350m, was managed.
“How is it that the government spends that kind of money to build a stadium, only to shortly afterwards give it to private-sector initiatives so they can exploit it?” Monteiro the businessman asks. “Why didn’t they give it to them before?”
“Why invest millions in the Maracanã and yet not leave a penny for those of us who work?” questions Soares the coconut seller. “Not a penny…”
This is a translation of the Spanish original which appeared on the BBC Mundo website on 5 June.