Corruption and the 2013 protests in Brazil

A piece written at the time looking at the build up of social and political tensions that ultimately led to the massive unrest during the Brazil World Cup of 2014 brazil world cup protestsBy Vishnu Kadiyala

Beginning in 2012, many of Brazil’s major cities such as Goiânia, Natal, Porto Alegre, São Paulo saw an increase in bus and train fare costs of about 30 centavos per ride [1]. Initially, this set off small scale protests, which the government tried to quell by “cancelling” taxes on bus fares. But this failed to stop an increase in bus fares, which set off perhaps FIFA’s worst nightmare on the eve of the 2013 Confederations Cup, which was supposed to be the Brazilian Football Confederation’s coming out party for the 2014 World Cup [2].

Organized using social media, over 2 million people protested in the streets of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Goiânia, Manaus, Brasilia, Porto Alegre, Belo Horizonte, Salvador, Natal, Recife, and Cuiabá, among others. In addition to being Brazil’s largest cities, these cities are distributed throughout the country, so were chosen as venues for the 2014 World Cup. Thus, these protests signaled a deep dissatisfaction with both the Brazilian Government and FIFA, perhaps foreshadowing similar events in 2014 when the world’s gaze will be be on Brazil.

Background to the Protests-Corruption and Backbending to FIFA’s demands
Corruption in Brazil is a pervasive social problem. This is not surprising – Brazil is quickly developing country that has seen over 40 million people lifted out of poverty in just the last decade. And like other growing nations, it faces the problems of corruption, as poorly paid government officials take bribes to supplement their income. Before we start out discussion on the corruption that led to the 2013 protests, we must make clear that the corruption you see in the country is not any more extreme than what is seen in similarly developing nations such as Turkey and India, which saw their own anti-corruption protests recently.

But corruption is an undeniable part of Brazilian politics and life. This is especially true in the highest levels of government; succeeding administrations have used government money to pay for pet projects, handing out contracts to friends and family in return for a cut of the profits. Over the last few years, Brazil has been rocked by the mensalão scandal [3]. This was essentially a vote buying scandal, where the ruling PT Party was paying certain congressional opponents a monthly stipend for their vote.

Since Brazilian politics is closely intertwined with the media and business, this quickly enmeshed many of the leading figures of Brazilian society. The President, Lula  Da Silva, was implicated by involvement of his chief of staff, José Dirceu, and his government almost collapsed. This was, however, only one of many scandals that have plagued Brazil recently. Indeed, the cost to Brasil of corruption in government was estimated to be 53 billion dollars. [4]

During the 1st decade of the 2000s, Brazil was picked as the host for several important sporting events. It was picked as the host for the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup, which is a tournament for the best recent winners of the six continental championships and the winners of the world cup. In 2004, Brazil was selected as the host of the 2014 World Cup. And in 2008, Rio De Janeiro was picked as the host city for the 2016 Olympics. This meant that Brazil was being selected to host the world’s two largest sporting events in the span of only 2 years, and would have less than a decade to improve it’s infrastructure, stadium, and hotels in order to host such a grand event.

The problem is that the cost to Brazil for the 2014 World Cup is expected to be 14 billion dollars at the very least [5], which is about three times what South Africa Spent just 4 years ago. This is a staggering amount in a nation that only spends 37 billion dollars on education. Investments in stadiums and hotels benefit the construction companies, many of are among the PT Worker’s party’s biggest campaign donors. Additionally, much needed infrastructure projects are being ignored [5].

Massive stadiums are being built in cities with no large professional teams – the cities of Manaus and Cuiabá are building large stadium with no plans for any future tenants. The money earmarked for infrastructure projects is being spent on widening roads, thoroughfares, and viaducts. Brazilians, on the other hand, largely use public transport, so this infrastructure push is designed for visiting tourists, not the average Brazilian. Much needed public transportation projects have been put on hold as the nation rushed to cater to the World Cup [5].

These projects have also been plagued by budget irregularities, poor construction, and lax workplace safety. The Arena Amazonas in Manaus, Maracanã in Rio and in the stadium of Brasilia have been exposed to be well over budget, and Brazil has thrown more money at these projects in lieu of cracking down on the corruption there.  Money has been spent on a 140 million dollar aquarium in Fortaleza when that state was facing a massive drought [5]. In November 2013, 2 workers died when a crane collapsed on them Itaquerão stadium in Sao Paulo [6].

Additionally, more than 170,000 people have been evicted from their homes in the favelas of Brazil. These evictions are often violent, and sometimes happen overnight. You can read more about this in the following page :The Favela

And lastly, the Brazilian government has passed “Exceptional laws” to cater to FIFA’s demands. These laws override existing laws, and allow certain actions to be performed that would otherwise be illegal. For instance, these laws allow states and cities to incur higher debts for the World Cup than otherwise permitted. In addition, at FIFA’s demand, the country has set up a 2 km “exclusion” zone around each stadium. Within this zone, FIFA has power over who enters these areas and what is sold, essentially superseding the authority of the Brazilian state. Only goods approved by FIFA can be sold her- thus, a restaurant in this zone could be fined for selling Pepsi instead of Coca Cola (which sponsors the World Cup). Additionally, traditional Brazilian stadium fare, such as Salvador’s Afro-Brazilian deep fried acarajés, cannot be sold. [5]

Exceptional laws have also included a draft law that established the crime of “terrorism”. This is a particularly sticky topic for many Brazilians, as such a law was used by Brazil’s military dictatorship in the 1980s to suppress dissent. Social movements fear that such laws could be used to suppress political protests. The Country has also set up special “World Cup Courts” [7]. Supposedly created to reduce crime and speed up the often lethargic Brazilian courts, protesters fear that these will be used to suppress dissent.

Corruption in the Confederação Brasileira de Futebol
Another major complaint of the protesters stems from the massive corruption in the Confederação Brasileira de Futebol (CBF). Until 2012, the head of the CBF was a man called Ricardo Teixeira [8]. The son-in-law of FIFA’s longtime president João Havelange. Teixeira was known to be extremely corrupt – he is known to have stolen around 10 million dollars during the ISL scandal, and is known to have had a “relationship” with Nike in which he would receive a cut of their merchandise sold in Brazil.

Because commercial bribery was not a crime in Switzerland where these events occurred in the 1990s, Teixeira has faced no consequences. Teixeira is also known to be a bit of a bully. After the BBC’s Panorama show did a report on corruption in the CBF, he threatened England’s Football Association and said he would “make their lives hell”. He is widely believed to be one of the reasons England lost it’s bid to host the 2018 World Cup [8].

In 2012, when the weight of these allegations became too much for even the CBF, he was forced to “resign” and now lives in a multi-million dollar mansion in Miami. He was replaced by José Marin, a man known for his support of the Brazilian Military dictatorship in the 1980s, who is also known for stealing the medal of a player at an awards ceremony.

Due to the behavior of such “outstanding” gentlemen, it is easy to see why the CBF is held in such low regard. One of the fiercest critics of the CBF is the former star Romario, who won the golden ball at the 1994 World Cup. [9]

Romario has called the CBF a “disgrace” and believes that Teixeira is “directly a part of everything that has been evil in Brazilian football for the last 10 years”. According to Romario, FIFA has robbed the Brazilian public and that the country will be worse off due to the tournament. He believes, like many protestors, that the money could better have been spent on improving services in Brazil. As someone who is interested in running for politics in Brazil, his criticisms have clearly struck a chord in Brazil [9].

The Protests – more to come in 2014?
So while the straw that broke the camel’s back may have been the implementation of the bus tax, there were many underlying factors behind the 2013 protests in Brazil. Starting in Goiânia, the protests spread across the country. The largest protests were in Rio de Janeiro, where almost 400,000 people showed up to protest [10].

The protesters had several demands, some relating to the expenditure of the sporting events. They wanted more spending on public transportation, education, hospitals, and science. They also wanted Brazil’s taxation rates to be reduced – at 36%, the nation’s income taxes are the highest in the developing world and are higher than some Western countries, despite which the nation has poorly functioning health services, a low education rate, inadequate welfare benefits, and a growing rate of unemployment. Additionally, the protesters also demanded that royalties from Brazil’s newly discovered oilfields be used to improve the social welfare of all Brazilians in a transparent manner [10].

They also wanted to repeal and prevent passage of laws that would hinder the fight against corruption. Most significant was a law called PEC 37 (BBC New 2013). PEC 37 would have limited the ability of federal prosecutors to investigate crimes. Federal prosecutors in Brazil are widely respected, and are known to be less corrupt than other institutions of the state. They had instigated many anti-corruption efforts, including the stories that broke the meselao scandal. PEC 37 would have removed such powers, and assigned them exclusively to the police, who are among Brazil’s most corrupt institutions.

While the protests were mostly peaceful, there were some instances of violence. Some groups tried to storm the CBF headquarters in Rio, and while others stormed the National Congress Building in the capital. Protesters also tried to disrupt the final of the Confederations Cup between Spain and Brazil, but were turned back near the stadium.

Ultimately, these protests were partially successful. PEC 37 was defeated in the Brazilian Congress, and the Senate voted to spend 75% of oil revenues on education and 25% on health infrastructure. They also agreed to increase the number of doctors and allow new prosecutors in the fight against corruption. However, many protesters remain unsatisfied – they believe that only with more action can changes truly be implemented.

Romario, for one, believes that the protesters will return next summer. He says that “Not only do I think they will return, I think they should return. There will be a World Cup here next year, we know that. But this, these demonstrations, is the way you make politicians wake up”. Perhaps he is right. With the eyes of the world on Brazil, perhaps the protesters will return to make their concerns heard [9].


“Corruption and the 2013 Protests in Brazil,” Written by Vishnu Kadiyala (2013), World Cup 2014, Soccer Politics Blog, Duke University,


– See more at:



[1] “Brazil bus fare protests turn violent” Al Jazeera
[2]  Panja, Tariq.  “Brazil Caps Confederations Cup Marked by Protests With Title”  Bloomberg News June 30 2013
[3] BBC NEWS “Q&A: Brazil’s ‘big monthly’ corruption trial”.
[4] Atunes, Anderson “The cost of corruption in Brazil could-be-up-to 53-billion-just-this-year-alone” Forbes Nov 28 2013.
[5]  Amaral, Marina and Viana, Natalia.  “Why Are Brazilians Protesting the World Cup?” Nov 26 2013
[6] Watts, Johnathan.  “Two killed as crane collapses at Brazilian World Cup stadium”  The Guardian  Nov 27 2013
[7] Gibson, Owen and Watts,  Johnathan 2013 “Brazil plans ‘World Cup courts’”  The Guardian Dec 4 2013
[8] Conn, David “Fifa corruption intrigue deepens as Brazil’s Ricardo Teixeira resigns’”  The Guardian Mar 12 2012
[9] New York Times “Romário, a World Cup Champion, Is Now a World Cup Dissenter’”
[10] “2013 protests in Brazil” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia  Nov 26 2013
[11] “2013 protests in Brazil” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia  Nov 26 2013
[12] BBC News “Brazil Congress rejects controversial amendment” The British Broadcasting Company  June 26 2013

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