So Much More Than the World Cup Happened in Brazil in 2014

The Cantareira System, which supplies 7 million people with water, has reached record lows yesterday with 4,1% of its total capacity. Image by Flickr user Fernando Stankuns.

The Cantareira System, which supplies 7 million people with water in São Paulo, has reached record lows in 2014 — 4.1 percent of its total capacity in October. Image by Flickr user Fernando Stankuns. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

“Brazil is not for amateurs” is a common saying in Brazilian social media and a reference to the country’s great deal of ideological and political mayhem, which makes it hard for even the experts to make sense of (let alone take sides).

While many of the world’s eyes were turned to the largest Latin American country in 2014, football was only a side-kick in this year of elections, protests and “textões de Facebook” — a brand new expression, meaning “Big essay on Facebook”, used by those tired of social media wars and longing for days past of happy photos and cat videos.

The televised gay kiss that felt like a football final

Cena do beijo entre Felix e Niko.

Kissing scene between Felix and Niko in the last episode of the soap opera “Amor à Vida” (Love of Life)

In February, millions gathered at home to watch what was dubbed the first nationally televised gay kiss in a soap opera in Brazil. The kiss was the result of a massive campaign on social networks asking the screenwriter for the gay couple Felix and Niko to finally lock lips on camera on the soap “Amor à Vida” finale.

Soap operas are huge in Brazil, but not exactly known for defying stereotypes and taboos, hence the magnitude of such an innocuous kiss. Among all of the country's contradictions, LGBT rights is one of the biggest: Brazil holds the largest gay pride parade in the world and also tops the list in LGBT killings.

Lynch mobs and racism

O jovem preso ao poste apenas com um pedaço de jornal para cobrir sua nudez após ser humilhado. Foto de uso livre.

The young boy tied to the lamp post with only a piece of newspaper to cover himself.

National outcry followed the beating of a 15-year-old black teenager, who was found naked and tied to a lamppost in an affluent neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro. The youngster said he was beaten up by a group of 30 men – apparently ‘vigilantes’ in the neighborhood with the so-called purpose of stopping thefts. While social movements condemned the attack, regardless whether the teen were stealing or not, a prominent conservative news anchor defended his assailants on national television.

Similar cases were promptly picked up by mainstream media in the weeks that followed, sparkling a debate of whether taking justice into one's own hands has any merit. But the brutal murder of a woman in a poor neighborhood of seaside town of Guarujá by a lynch mob took the country to a state of pure horror. The assault was driven by Facebook rumors that she was kidnapping children for witchery rituals, which were proved false.

Spanish newspaper El País left Brazil with the question: “What if she was proved guilty?” Would the barbaric way in which she was killed, with absolutely no right of defense, still shock us?

#ThereWillNotBeAWorldCup vs. #YesThereWillBeACup

A demonstrator holds a sign that says "There won't be a cup". Image by Flickr user Mídia Ninja. CC BY-2.0

A demonstrator holds a sign that says “There won't be a cup” in a protest in May. Image by Flickr user Ninja Mídia. CC BY-2.0

Demonstrations against the World Cup took over Brazil's streets regularly throughout the year. With chants like “Fifa Go Home” (a refurbishing of the oldie “Yankee go home”), social movements were condemning inequality and the lack of basic rights for most of Brazil’s population, in the face of an event that turned out to be hugely expensive to country’s public reserves – and whose tickets cost more than the Brazil's minimum wages. 

The death of cameraman Santiago Idílio Andrade, hit by a rocket fired by activists while he was covering a demonstration in Rio, prompted legislators to put forward the “Terrorism Bill”, which would harden regulations on protests. The bill was heavily criticized by social movements. 

Weeks before the Cup, another hashtag emerged in social media: #VaiTerCopaSim, or, #YesThereWillBeACup, apparently started by a Facebook page. The hashtag was used mostly to mock the negativity of the demonstrators, embracing Brazil's problems as a part of its own distinctiveness  – some argue it was a political move to keep up the population’s good spirits and turn a blind eye to the protesters.

Brazil was kicked out with a humiliating, unforgettable 7-1 loss against Germany in the quarterfinals, providing enough material for Internet memes for the next 10 generations (and also, prompting a lot of depressing newspaper front pages). Meanwhile, 28 people were arrested in Rio the day before the big final – not for protesting, but for possibly planning to do so.

Memes for the next 10 generations after the unforgettable 7-1 against Germany. Image: unknown author.

Memes for the next 10 generations after the unforgettable 7-1 against Germany. Image: unknown author.

National elections

Following the Cup, Brazil was again swept up in another round of social media battles: national elections, due on October 6. The presidential race was unexpectedly reshuffled by the emergence of Marina Silva, who took the place of candidate Eduardo Campos for the Brazilian Socialist Party after his startling death in a plane crash in August.

The long standing rivalry between Brazil’s two main parties (the center-left Worker’s Party, in power since 2002, and center-right main opposition Brazilian Social-Democratic Party) was suddenly disrupted by Silva, who was leading the polls in mid-September.

On one side, fear of communism. On the other, fear of fascism. Will the two groups ever make peace? Image by flickr users Ninja Mídia and Aécio Neves. CC BY 2.0

On one side, fear of communism. On the other, fear of fascism. Will the two groups ever make peace? Image by Flickr users Ninja Mídia and Aécio Neves. CC BY 2.0

An evangelical Christian and also a prominent environmentalist, Silva presented herself as a “bridge” between conservatives and progressives. But her attempts at dialogue fell short in a series of misguided steps in her campaign – the most significant of all when she stepped back from supporting gay marriage, changing her government program following pressure from religious leaders.

She was eventually shut out of the runoff, which was the most sharply disputed since the transition to democracy in the 1980s. Incumbent Dilma Rouseff was reelected by a tight 51 percent of the votes.

Some argue this is representative of the Worker’s Party dwindling strength and that a significant part of the population is ready for change. Others point out the role that mainstream media, largely anti-government, played in those results. Leftists, on the other hand, still feel unrepresented by both government and the conservative opposition, waiting (perhaps hopelessly) for a “real leftist candidate” to take center stage.

Water crisis

While the post-election healing took place, Latin America’s largest city was running out of water. Authorities spent most of the year taking the problem lightly, solely blaming the current rain shortage in Southeast Brazil for the crisis. As the year ends, São Paulo might have less than 100 days of guaranteed water supply for its 8.5 million residents.

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