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RECIFE, Brazil — An empty expanse of clay and weeds sits next to the bus and metro terminal in Camaragibe, a suburb of Recife. Six months ago the spot was filled with single-family homes, each with a wall and many with a small garden space.
The residences in the Brazilian city were demolished to make way for an expansion to a transit hub, but construction has barely begun. City officials say the work will be done in time for the start of the World Cup on June 12, but people here don't believe it.
“Beyond [this assertion] being unbelievable, it shows a lack of respect for the citizens,” said Rodrigo Souza, a social worker who has been supporting residents as they try to earn promised compensation. He dismissed the city's claim that the transit works planned for the World Cup would be ready, arguing: “If they are ready, it'll be within a logic of improvisation.”
The budget for the Arena de Pernambuco in Recife was supposed to be 532 million reals ($237 million). Since the construction was sped up so the stadium would be ready for the Confederations Cup last year, the final sum has not yet been calculated. The unknown price tag has caused consternation among some Recife residents, and has contributed to a sense of frustration with the lack of government transparency. Many ordinary residents are also indignant that they will be prohibited from using the new transit system on game days. The city of Recife did not respond to repeated requests for information about the design of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, construction expenditures, work contracts or accountability measures.
Recife, a northeastern capital, is not the only city to suffer from the complications of incomplete projects. An article on the website GloboEsporte from early May described a maze of unfinished public works across the country — improvements and expansions to port and airport facilities, last-minute fixes for some of the World Cup stadiums. Arena Corinthians in São Paulo, which hosts the opening game, will not be complete, and some of the unfinished areas will reportedly be hidden with temporary decorations. Even Jérôme Valcke, secretary-general of FIFA, which organizes the World Cup, tweeted on May 28: "... Race against the clock. Still lots to be done for #WorldCup fans & media.”
Addressing the unfinished construction outside the stadiums, Sports Minister Luis Fernandes told the audience of Redação SporTV in early May that the infrastructure work is not essential to the World Cup. “FIFA didn't have any requirements in relation to these works for the Cup,” he said. “What happened was the three levels of government recognized that this would be a historic opportunity to take advantage of to accelerate infrastructure investment.”
Such an attitude might be cold comfort for those affected for months by the construction. In host cities from Recife to Belo Horizonte, traffic has worsened markedly because of the massive projects aimed at improving public transit. And in Porto Alegre, only one of 10 transportation-related projects will be completed in time for the Cup, according to the Globo article.
On the World Cup portal, Brazilian authorities present a “matrix of responsibility” defining fiscal obligations and deadlines for the city, state and federal levels of government during tournament preparation. The matrix cites a total national expenditure of $3.5 billion on stadiums, $2.8 billion on airports and $80 million on tourism infrastructure. All work was supposed to be completed by last December, but as of mid-May, three stadiums were still under construction in São Paulo, Cuiaba and Curitiba. Brazil's Ministry of Sport denied this via email, saying: “All of the 12 arenas designated for the World Cup will be ready to receive the fans who are anxiously awaiting the tournament.”
In Belo Horizonte, residents have had to cope with the renovation and construction of 10 overpasses, as well as the creation of a new BRT system. Crossing the city there can take hours. This adds to residents' tensions — and to dissatisfaction with the World Cup. A poll by DataFolha published on May 23 found that only 45 percent of Brazilians now support the Cup. The same poll also found that 90 percent of São Paulo residents polled felt the World Cup process was corrupt. However, an important shift the poll uncovered was that a majority of Brazilians now look unfavorably on the large protests that have also marked the run-up to the tournament — a sea change in public opinion since last June.
Ezequiel Perreira works as an electrical engineer in Belo Horizonte. He is one of many who are disillusioned with the World Cup preparations. “I imagined it would be an opportunity to realize ourselves, with public works, and that it would be important for the country. Now I see that the majority of the works have been delayed, and many aren't done. Only the work on and around the stadium, like parking lots, is done.”
City officials in Belo Horizonte said that two out of three BRT routes were ready, and that the third would be operational by June. Officials also said that of the 10 overpasses slated for construction or repair in the city, eight had been completed by late May. The total cost for World Cup–related infrastructure in Belo Horizonte has totaled roughly $624 million, according to an emailed statement.
I see that the majority of the works have been delayed, and many aren't done. Only the work on and around the stadium, like parking lots, is done.
Asked what tools the city had to hold its contractors responsible for delays and other issues, the Belo Horizonte press office replied via email: “All contracts have clauses to guarantee penalties [e.g., fines] in case the services are not executed in accordance with the contract.”
Officials also explained that the costs for remodeling the city's stadium, the Minerão, are separate and were borne by the Minas Gerais state government. A local newspaper, O Tempo, also published a report in late May in which residents complained that their commute with the new transit line is longer than it was before. Adding to the sense of frustration and waste, last year residents saw road work done twice, as a BRT road section was torn up and repaved.
Rosana Maria Souza lives in Ribeirão das Neves, a community on the edge of Belo Horizonte. “There's no basic sanitation; there's no sewer system,” she said. “The sewer is open to the sky, and the road is dirt, so when it rains, it overflows.” Souza is a single parent of two young children who attend public school, ages 8 and 9, and she supports them by cleaning houses.
She said World Cup preparations showed a lack of regard for low-income Brazilians, who she said need a better education system. “The construction [for the Cup] cost millions. So the money is there, but I don't know that there is the will.” Although she says her family responsibilities will keep her away from protests, Souza said, “I think it's important that people stand up now and take advantage of all eyes being on Brazil.”