With 2 Days Till Kickoff, World Cup Host City Is Stricken By Strike

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The World Cup kicks off in two days, and fans are pouring into Brazil. But in Sao Paulo, the site of the opening game, metro workers are striking over pay, fueling fierce clashes.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish. Two days to go 'til the biggest event in the world's most popular sport. Last minute preparations are underway in Brazil for the opening of the World Cup soccer tournament, and so still are the protests. Demonstrators, once again, took to the streets today, opposing the billions of dollars in spending the cup has required. For the past five days, South America's biggest city, Sao Paulo, has been paralyzed by a Metro strike. That's where the first game will be played on Thursday, and it's where we find NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro. Hi, there, Lourdes.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: Hi, there.

CORNISH: So let's start with that Metro transit strike. I understand that it's been suspended. And, of course, the key word here, apparently, is temporarily. But what does that really mean? And how are things there now?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, traffic is certainly better, which is great for the people who live here, like me. But, of course, the big question is what will happen during the World Cup opener. The union has left open the possibility that it may strike on Thursday. And that's the big day, of course, when most of the fans will be using the Metro to get to the stadium here in Sao Paulo, when Croatia will be playing Brazil. We also had the partial collapse of a monorail earlier this week that is being built here as part of the World Cup works. One worker was killed. So, you know, it's been a bumpy week here, so far.

CORNISH: And you've done a lot of reporting about the protests and demonstrations over the cost of the World Cup. It's clocking in somewhere - I guess, $11 billion. Demonstrators have been talking about how the government should spend on healthcare and education. But are people expecting these protests to continue through the tournament?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, in moderately good news, one of the main groups of protesters, the Homeless Movement, called off its demonstrations for the duration of the games. They came to a deal on subsidized housing with the federal government. And that's pretty much followed a pattern here. Different groups with different agendas have been using the World Cup to sort of squeeze concessions out of the government. And the government, for the most part, be it local or national, has been caving. But there are other protesters - people who are not necessarily looking for anything in particular, but rather oppose the World Cup spending, generally. And those protests certainly are continuing and are expected to continue during the World Cup.

CORNISH: And can you give us more context about what's driving this anger? What's led us up to this moment?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, isn't about football. I think there are many things that are going on in Brazil right now. You have a slowing economy. It's only expected to grow about two percent, at best. You have a lot of inflation. High prices - insanely high, in some respects. You have a new economically empowered class that is demanding better services and more accountability. And you have, generally speaking, a very entitled and entrenched political class that is riven with corruption. So add that to the rampant mismanagement of the World Cup in the lead up to the games - the over-spending, the delays. And I think you have a people who are very upset, who are very fed up.

CORNISH: Of course, people are descending on the city. And you've been out on the streets talking to fans today. What are they saying?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, the fans are here. They want to have a good time. They're all about the football - soccer, as it is known in the United States. The larger political turmoil in the country, many have told me, hasn't really impacted them so far. They're out on the streets. They're sight-seeing. They're hanging out. They're soaking up the atmosphere. They're just really excited, really pumped up for the World Cup to start.

CORNISH: And, finally, the teams - are they all in the country yet?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Not all. There are a few stragglers left. But what you're really asking me, I'm sure, is are the Americans here? And the answer is, of course, they are. Actually, what is fascinating to watch is how the local press is turning over every single thing that the different teams here doing all over the country. For example, just watching local TV, we know that the Argentinians have a picture of the Pope up in their hotel, who is Argentine and a soccer fanatic. And they've been speculating - does that mean that they think God is on their side? And the talk of the town here in Sao Paulo, where the American team is based, is the tight security that they are operating under.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Thanks so much, Lourdes.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're welcome.

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