Fear and loathing in Brazil as World Cup beckons

Jan. 16, 2014 at 10:51 AM
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SAO PAULO, Jan. 16 (UPI) -- As the 2014 FIFA World Cup approaches, host nation Brazil is dealing with unresolved problems that sent more than 1 million protesters into the streets last year.

Brazilians angry about government corruption and waste marched in the streets for a fair distribution of state funding to alleviate poverty, combat crime and spare Brazil global ridicule related to uncontrolled gouging of World Cup tourists. Some airfares went up ten-fold for flights before and during the June-July games, the Folha de S.Paulo newspaper said.

Critics urge Brazil to set a good example of welcoming visitors before it plays host to the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Brazilian media and regional officials have been urging tourism, transport and leisure industries to go easy on overcharging visitors, including FIFA officials, advance training teams and international media already in the country. Critics described the profiteers attitude as ruthless and insensitive to the lasting impression that would leave on visitors.

Fear of street crime is another concern law enforcement agencies have addressed with mercurial, sometimes potentially explosive, responses beyond the scope of good practice, critics said.

Rogue groups in the military police were blamed for a wave of violence in Sao Paolo state where the month-long World Cup matches open June 12.

The U.S. soccer team, led by Coach Jurgen Klinsmann, kicked off a 12-day training session in Sao Paulo this week as part of its "dry run" for the FIFA World Cup.

Brazilian security authorities say they're keeping armed gangs, drug traffickers, prostitution rings and other organized crime franchises under close watch but there already have been incidents in major World Cup venues. Critics accused police of heavy-handed treatment of potential troublemakers.

Tensions in Brazil's notorious favelas [urban slums] remain palpable and the number of people in detention is said to run into the hundreds.

A U.N. fact-finding mission that visited Brazil last year cited a rising number of arbitrary arrests as the country prepared for this year's World Cup and the Olympics in two years.

The group's visit was in response to reports of 550,000 arrests, but the mission members who addressed a news conference could not say how many had been arrested arbitrarily. More than 200,000 of those detained were still awaiting trial last year, reports said.

"Our concern is that Brazil will try to put its best face forward ahead of these two events and implement a kind of cleanup campaign that could increase the number of detentions of people who may commit crimes," mission member Roberto Garreton told reporters.

Meanwhile, officials are battling to control profiteering. After many exhortations, Avianca Brasil joined Azul in becoming only the second Brazilian airline to promise to cap fares.

Organizers expect up to 600,000 foreign visitors and about 3 million domestic fans to attend the World Cup. Despite government warnings of sanctions, hotels and restaurants that raised prices five-fold have yet to cut prices.

With local demand expected to add millions of visitors to the games' destinations, few, if any, of the airlines and hospitality industry businesses seem willing to hold back on price gouging, critics said.

Four Brazilian airlines want to add 1,523 extra flights during the World Cup, but neither airports nor roads and related infrastructure are equipped to deal with that volume. The government last year transferred the running of several major airports to private companies.

Only six of the 12 World Cup venues are complete, but officials say most will be ready before June.

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