From World Cup to the Specter of Fascism.

Author:Zirin, Dave
Position:EDGE OF SPORTS
 
FREE EXCERPT

There are communities in Brazil living in a state of terror. The country's new president-elect, Jair Bolsonaro, is a proud proto-fascist. Imagine Donald Trump with the volume turned up to eleven, in a country with far weaker democratic guardrails against authoritarian tendencies.

Bolsonaro traffics regularly and proudly in openly racist comments, calling black activists "animals" who should "go back to the zoo." He once bleated that a female political rival wasn't "worth raping." He vowed as a candidate that political opponents faced either exile or jail, and said he would "put an end to all types of activism in Brazil."

Already, political repression has reared its head in Brazils universities, with reports of classes being invaded by troops, books on fascism being seized, and banners being torn down. This is a president who aspires to be a military dictator in a country that has been a political democracy only for three decades. (Trump's National Security Adviser, John Bolton, has chillingly called this "a welcome development in the region.")

How did this happen? This question has many complicated answers rooted in Brazil's history and politics.

But one aspect is the nation's hosting the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016. Both mega-events were ushered in by the social democratic PT (Partido dos Trabalhadores, or Workers' Party) under the leadership of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Both cost billions of dollars to stage. Both arrived with a remarkable amount of promise, as the economy was on a historic hot streak.

When securing the Olympics, Lula boasted that "Brazil has left behind the level of second-class countries and entered the rank of first-class countries. Today we earned respect."

But the World Cup and Olympics did not bring glory and monetary largesse. Rather they brought, as they invariably do, corruption, displacement, and hypermilitarization. And they helped lay the groundwork for the rise of Bolsonaro, once a fringe figure.

As Brazil's economy stalled, the glittering new stadiums became a highly visible symbol of corruption. As big corporations landed sweetheart contracts and the rich looted the public coffers, promised social programs were neglected and ordinary Brazilians took to the streets in mass protests. Some of these protests were led by rightwing forces, others by political groups to the left of the PT.

As Chris Gaffney, a former...

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