Where are the protesters?
For months leading up to the World Cup, the streets of São Paulo were filled with chants of protests and provocative warnings from social movements promising widespread demonstrations during the mega-event that has cost Brazil more than $11 billion. It was only a month ago that black bloc groups warned they would bring chaos to the World Cup with the help of the Primeiro Comando da Capital, the largest criminal organization in Brazil.
But three weeks in, anti-World Cup groans have been all but silenced by national exuberance for the Brazilian soccer team.
The shift begs an obvious question: What happened to all the protesters? The answer, of course, depends on whom you ask.
“The police repression leading up to the World Cup was simply too much for most protesters,” Givanildo Manoel, a member of the Popular Committee for the World Cup in São Paulo, told VICE News. “The legal and direct repression of protesters had the effect of shrinking our movements. That is what they wanted.”
Even so, there have been protests during the World Cup, and in numbers that exceed what has been reported in the international media. To be sure, the demonstrations have been smaller than they were during the time leading up to the World Cup, but they have also been contained and violently dispersed by the military police on numerous occasions.
On June 23, a ‘There Will Be No World Cup’ movement protest on São Paulo's Paulista Avenue was broken up by police with tear gas canisters and rubber bullets before it even began.
“The police showed up in huge numbers and said that our protest couldn’t take place because our movement didn’t have a leader,” Igor Silva, a member of the movement, told VICE News. “Can you imagine? There is no law anywhere that says that a leader is required. They are looking for any way to break up these protests.”
That same night, protesters Rafael Marques Lusvarghi and Fabio Hideki Haranowere were detained under questionable accusations of criminal association. A video showing Hideki’s apprehension has been widely distributed as evidence that the detention was arbitrary and that he was not carrying explosives, as the State Secretary of Public Security has asserted. More then 10 days since their detention, Human Rights Watch has called for a prompt investigation into these allegations.
Three days later, at a public debate calling for the release of Hideki and Marques, two lawyers were detained after questioning authorities about their personal identification, which by Brazilian and international law must always be clearly displayed on their uniforms.
In response to an interview request, one black bloc member from São Paulo wrote, “I would be happy to [give an interview], but today I am chasing down lawyers because police are going into protesters’ houses.”
On Thursday, the São Paulo State Chamber of Deputies approved a law banning the wearing of masks in protests, while the Folha de São Paulo newspaper released an opinion poll showing that pride in the World Cup had jumped 12 percentage points, up to 63 percent from 51 in early June.
As the national team takes to the field today, a holiday has been declared in Brazil — one of a total of 64 local and federal holidays declared across the country during the month-long event. And while horns and fireworks will likely drown out any voices of dissent today, a greater test may still lie ahead.
“Brazil could lose to Colombia today, and in that case we don’t know what could happen,” Manoel, from the Popular Committee for the World Cup, told VICE News. “It could be chaos, the streets could fill, or it could be nothing. No one knows anymore.”
Follow Eva Hershaw on Twiiter: @beets4eva