Brazil, after the World Cup: The circus is over! Now, where’s the bread?

Brasil

It is well known that, alerted by the clear-sightedness of poet Juvenal, the Roman emperors found in the maxim “panem et circenses” the magic formula for political stability, well aware that having people simultaneously well fed and nicely entertained was the way most sure to keep them far from politics, let alone from protest. Surely the fine smell of their rulers also noticed that both variables were likely to offset each other, so that in times of poor crops it was suited to maximize generosity with the shows, while periods of bonanza allowed them to be somehow more austere –although obviously any waste in order to keep the people amused would surely distract the counter in order to maintain them sufficiently fed.

And that’s exactly the dilemma that throughout all these years of preparation for the recently completed football World Cup has had to face Brazil, and the one that it will have to continue confronting during the two years still remaining until the Olympic Games Rio de Janeiro 2016 are celebrated. And according to many, it has not done so to the degree of balance that would have been desirable.

So far, the severe defeat (1-7) suffered by the Brazilian national football team in the semifinals against Germany, which not only wiped them from the fight for the title, but assumed the worst humiliation ever suffered by the four-times champion of the world, left much of the Brazilians with the feeling that the huge investment effort needed to build the necessary infrastructures for the World Cup has ultimately been useless. That the country had neglected basic needs of its citizens investing in stadiums, airports and roads more than it could afford to, only to end up being ridiculed while the whole world was watching. And to make matters worse, once the tournament was over, Brazilians were bound to return to the harsh reality of every day’s life: precarious favelas, rising criminality, police abuses, endemic corruption, lack of health care, deficient social services, inequality, and a growing distrust in politics and politicians –which President Dilma Rousseff had the opportunity to check from the moment she appeared on the authorities stand to preside over the final match of the tournament.

Has it been so? To a large extent, yes. It is well known that major sporting events, whether these are world championships, Olympic winter or summer games, or Formula 1 races are first and foremost an opportunity for the public showcasing: an expensive but effective way for the city or the country who organize them to position themselves among those whose name is synonymous with modernity, economic power and political influence. And also an opportunity for the enrichment of a few, at the expenses of many other needs remaining unattended. It was thus with Beijing in 2008, with South Africa in 2010 and with Sochi in 2014, and it will be so again with Rio 2016.

But in the case of Brazil, the impressive economic boom set in motion in the days of Fernando Henrique Cardoso, consolidated under Lula de Silva, and internationally projected with Dilma Rousseff is in no way a mirage, much less a fleeting consequence of the flow of capital generated by a large international event such as the World Cup. Brazil’s position as one of the five emerging powers known coloquially as well as officially as the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) has put it in an enviable position not only to keep on growing, but to lead the growth of an entire continent, to challenge the traditional north-south divisions, to reshape the Western-dominated world financial system, and even to set-up alternative forums outside of the existing multilateral mechanisms in order to reflect the growing economic clout of the BRICS and their specific priorities. All of them, decissions adopted on the occasion of the Sixth BRICS Summit held –far away from the glitter of the World Cup– in Fortaleza from 14 to 16 July, where it was noted that the BRICS already account for a fifth of the global economy, even though they have together less than 11 per cent of the votes at the IMF institutions.

In an international setting in which Russia will surely have to face a long period of isolation and serious sanctions from Europe and the United States, and in which the development of China, its growing presence in Africa and America, and his evident intention to monopolize certain raw materials is becoming a source of serious concern, the alliance between these five countries may well activate hitherto unknown economic flows. And of course, consolidate Brazil as a country where not only “jogo bonito” is (almost) always guaranteed, but as a place where growth is consolidated and fairness demanded.