Brazilians Use Lead Up To World Cup To Protest Grievances

Protests against June's World Cup — soccer's biggest tournament — swept across host country Brazil on Thursday. Twelve Brazilian cities saw demonstrations as well as many labor strikes.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Brazil is preparing to hold soccer's World Cup. Unlike baseball's World Series, it is the ultimate event of a genuinely global sport. And Brazilians competed fiercely to host it. But yesterday protests swept part of that country. People demonstrated in a dozen cities and some workers went on strike.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports on what happened and why.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: The protests began early in the morning in Sao Paulo.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Members of the so-called homeless movement burned tires and chanted. For several weeks now, hundreds of them have been living in an abandoned field, setting up makeshift dwellings. The symbolism couldn't have been greater; behind the protestors the still unfinished multi-million dollar stadium gleaming in the sun.

LUCIANO SIMPLICIO PIRES: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Luciano Simplicio Pires has nine children and some of them are with him at today's demonstration. Pointing at the stadium, he says he's a laborer who has lived in Sao Paulo for some 20 years. He says rents have sky-rocketed because of the World Cup works and he moved to the campsite with his family because he has nowhere better to live.

The World Cup is less than a month away. And many groups with grievances feel this is the perfect moment to highlight them.

Across town from the homeless demonstration, there was a rally in support of a teachers strike.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEMONSTRATION)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Monica Cristina Ferreira is 42 and teaches English. The teachers are asking for a salary raise, she says, and a series of other requests. Public education in Brazil is notoriously dismal.

MONICA CRISTINA FERREIRA: We have competent teachers, teachers are fighting and working very hard. And we are not recognized, we are not well paid. So we feel like we are lost. They are not helping us. And this Dilma, she only - the president, she only goes to visit the stadiums. She's doing - what is she doing for us?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Dilma is Dilma Rousseff, the president of Brazil. Ferreira says the problems with education in Brazil aren't new. But the World Cup, she agrees, has given them an opportunity.

FERREIRA: It's a way of showing, of calling attention and showing our power. So I think that people should come to the street to fight for everything. Not only education but also health and dignity - we have no dignity here, unfortunately.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: In Rio, bus drivers were on strike too as were military policemen in Recife.

Despite the hope of greater numbers, the protests yesterday were small. The biggest pulled in a couple of thousand people but they caused chaos. While most were peaceful, some ended in violence and arrests, streets were blocked off from traffic, causing gridlock.

Last summer in Brazil, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets with many complaints, from poor quality health care to the cost of public transport. But the one unifying theme that emerged was dismay over the huge cost of staging the World Cup - some $12 billion and counting - most of it coming from public coffers. Much of the infrastructure that was promised won't be delivered on time, if at all.

New polls show that less than 50 percent of people now support the World Cup being hosted in Brazil.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The afternoon saw the biggest protest of the day in Sao Paulo, a few thousand people in all. One group of student protestors were chanting against FIFA, the global soccer governing body.

Tiago Aguiar is one of the group's leaders. He says the strikes and protests have a central cause.

TIAGO AGUIAR: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says many of these public workers have been told there's no money to give them a pay rise or improve facilities. And yet hundreds of millions of dollars, he says, were spent in Sao Paulo alone to build a stadium. It's because of that contradiction that people are on the streets today, he says.

AGUIAR: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The night has fallen here on Avenida Paulista. And all around me there are hundreds of protesters still out in force along with the riot police. These are the images Brazil didn't want the world to see so close to the games, people protesting a World Cup that was supposed to catapult this country to stardom but instead will go down as the most expensive ever staged and among the most troubled.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Sao Paulo.

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