When you stop and think about it, it’s hard to remember another country that has experienced – at least in times of peace – what Brazil has gone through in the last four years. Amid three international events, a hard fought election and the subsequent meltdown of politics, Brazilians have endured a lot in the recent past. Now that it’s all gone, the feeling among us is that no one will ever be the same.
Even though Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world, both in terms of size and population, it hasn’t always been in the news worldwide. Foreign tourism is faint outside of Rio and São Paulo, with the country receiving only slightly more tourists than Cancun alone. The prospect of having three sports competitions roaming the country in general, and Rio de Janeiro in particular, was something very alien to most Brazilians. So we’ve made our best to leave a good impression.
Along with these events – the Confederations Cup in 2013, the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics last August –, Brazilian society as a whole changed a lot. In 2007 and 2009, when Fifa and the IOC chose the country as the venue for the two main sports competition on Earth, Brazil was booming. The economics were on a rise, poverty and hunger were going down and employment rates hit an all-time record of over 92% for seven straight years. While the rest of the world was suffering with an economic crisis that seemed to break down capitalism, Brazilians felt safe and secure, and proud too that the World Cup and Olympics would be hosted in our country.
This was something very unique. Before Rio, only three times had the WC and the Olympics beeen held in sequence at the same country: Mexico and Mexico City hosted the Games and the Cup in 1968 and 1970, followed by Munich and Germany in 1972 and 1974. After the despicable scenes of the attack suffered by Israeli athletes at the bavarian Olympics, however, this combo never truly happened again – the USA hosted the World Cup in 1994 and Atlanta had the Olympics two years later, but the city didn’t host any football matches before and the sport didn’t move the country as such.
So Brazil was the place to be at. Or so we thought. Just months before the Confederation Cup, a competition regarded as a trial for the World Cup, the country’s economy began to suffer. And after protests against the rising prices of bus tickets (usually the only form of public transportation in Brazilian cities) gained traction, the society seemed to be at the verge of breakdown. The protests grew up to be out of control and out of focus, becoming ‘against everything that’s up there’ and despising the established political parties. Rio, Recife, Salvador and Belo Horizonte had tremendous manifestations against all forms of government while hosting international matches, and cities like Porto Alegre and São Paulo had riots and anarchical protesters in daily clashes with the police.
For foreign visitors, it was all very different, and possibly really scary. There was fear that it would happen again at the World Cup, but it’s not what happened. The competition showed huge parties at all host cities, with tourists and Brazilians having a blast. At most places, it was the first time that Brazilians had the chance to mingle with people from other countries, and we showed our best. It went really, really good – apart from that semifinal against Germany. Things seemed to be on the right path again.
But then came the presidential and state elections. Dilma Rousseff, from the Workers’ Party (PT), then current president, was reelected for a second term, the fourth election won by her party. But it was a close call, as she beat Aecio Neves, from the Social Democratic Party (PSDB) only by 51-49% at the second call. And the opposition made it clear that they wouldn’t make her life easy.
In order to try and have an easier time running the country, Dilma and the PT made a broad alliance with a lot of small parties, giving also more power the Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), Brazil’s largest political organization. Even though PMDB had the vice-president in the ticket running along with Dilma, the party is known for its lack of unity. It was also at the opposition front, with some deputies trying as hard as they could to open an impeachment process against the president as soon as her new term began.
One of them succeeded. Eduardo Cunha, Deputy House Speaker, was being accused of having undeclared bank accounts in Switzerland, fueled by a humongous corruption scheme at Petrobras, Brazil’s state owned oil company and the country’s largest corporation. Politicians from all parties were involved at the wrongdoings, and Cunha used that to protect himself whilst going down shooting.
It worked. In April, the House opened the impeachment process against Dilma, to be voted by the Senate, and Brazil had suddenly a new president and a new party in power after 14 years. All of this right as the Olympics was about the start. Michel Temer, the new commander in chief, lacks popularity, and he only made a brief, 10 words long speech, to open the Games in Rio, being booed by the whole Maracanã.
But the games came, happened and, once again, Brazilians made it cool. It wasn’t as smooth as the World Cup – after all, football is a crucial part of Brazilian culture, but other sports, not as much –, but it all went well. History was made at the tracks, pools, fields and arenas. All of this while the Senate confirmed Dilma’s impeachment, taking her out of office for good.
And, suddenly, it was all over. All of it. No more visitors, no more World Cup or Olympics, no more stars. The politics are still going, with demonstrations happening on a weekly basis. But Brazil is, indeed, a different country today than it was in June 2013. For better or worse? Only time will tell.
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