About 2,500 people marched through the streets to the centre of São Paulo, Brazil on Saturday to protest against the cost of hosting the World Cup. The sun was beating down and the temperature was hitting 29 degrees as people gathered on Avenida Paulista with flags, drums and – in many cases – black bloc gear. The march was billed as the first action against the World Cup in São Paulo in 2014, on the day that the city celebrated its 460th anniversary.
People have been irritated by the idea of hosting the World Cup for some time. I guess the thought of tens of thousands of football fans crowding the streets, pissing the official tournament beer up against the wall of your house for a month isn't an appealing one, but the main complaint is the huge expense of building the infrastructure to accomodate them when local social projects are in such dire need of investment. To try to cool things, the government set up three websites where citizens could track their spending. Unfortunately, this attempt at transparency was let down by a site that is difficult to use and which frequently gives contradictory, wrong or misleading information.
And so, on Saturday, the anarchists advanced, arms linked, chanting an animalistic: "Uh, uh, uh, uh" as they went. It was kind of scary. Shopkeepers and bar owners shuttered their premises and police were everywhere. The Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff, was the target of one chant. "Hey, Dilma, can you hear me?" screamed protesters. "There will be fighting in the World Cup!" Unsurprisingly, the country's riot cops are said to be as well-rehearsed as the Samba dancers ahead of the opening ceremony on the 12th of June.
As darkness fell, the anarchists paraded along Rua Augusta, occupying a bus, smashing the windows of a shop and vandalising several banks. The cops brought the teargas out in under five minutes flat. There was a stampede. I tried to protect myself in the doorway of a hotel. A kid of about 13, accompanied by his mother, had a panic attack right next to me. After inhaling a certain amount of tear gas, everyone kind of loses their mind. Minutes after I'd left the scene, protesters and journalists hanging out there were arrested.
Those who weren't being cuffed by the police were running through the streets of downtown and Bela Vista, one of the city's big Italian districts. In Consolação, I saw a VW Beetle on fire. Some say demonstrators torched it on purpose, others that it was caught by a flaming mattress that was being chucked around in the petrol bomb bonanza.
On Saturday, the Military Police's Twitter announced that 128 people were detained for questioning. A call to the Department of Public Safety yesterday revealed that, in total, 135 people were arrested, among them 12 minors.