RECIFE, Brazil — All eyes are fixed on Brazil as the 2014 FIFA World Cup progresses. The world is aware of well-publicized Brazilian resentment toward the tournament and the ongoing protests calling out the Brazilian government valuing mega sporting events over the well-being of its citizens.
Yet in the midst of this political turmoil, some protesters are worried that the soccer craze whipping through the expansive South American nation is overshadowing their efforts and outshouting their message.
One group of protesters in Recife, rallying under the slogan #OcupeEstelita, has been camping outside the historical Cais José Estelita wharf to resist a development project that would demolish important elements of local heritage. The project, called Projeto Novo Recife, will involve the leveling of historic warehouses to make room for 12 new 45-story towers that will be used for commercial and residential purposes.
— #OcupeEstelita (@OcupeEstelita) June 17, 2014
Demolition began on May 21 even though approval for construction remained up in the air, which triggered the #OcupeEstelita movement. Citizens joined behind the organization Dereitos Urbanos Recife to set up camp near the wharf. Government officials met with the protesters on May 28 and agreed to suspend demolition activities until the situation could be resolved.
— Vincent Bevins (@Vinncent) June 22, 2014
Yet on June 17, the day of Brazil’s first World Cup match, military police woke protesters at the #OcupeEstelita campsite, warning them to pack up and disperse. Those who did not leave were attacked with pepper spray, tear gas and rubber bullets. Many protesters hold that the government strategically planned to seize the warehouses on a day when international attention would be focused on a soccer stadium 450 miles away.
— The Stream (@AJStream) June 21, 2014
The police forces claim that they were acting within their authority to reclaim the warehouses on the Cais José Estelita wharf, but supporters of the non-violent citizen occupation decried the government’s use of violence. Amnesty International has also denounced Recife police for using excessive force against the peaceful protestors.
Lucas Alves of Dereitos Urbanos, the civic forum responsible for organizing the #OcupeEstelita protest, says that this instance of government repression is characteristic of the overarching climate of undemocratic suppression surrounding the World Cup in Brazil.
“Fifa promotes a city management style that is violent and undemocratic,” Alves says. “Many people were evicted and given little compensation for roads and other World Cup projects. Similarly, the Novo Recife project is a way to [privatize]the city and steal our heritage. We’re fighting that.”
– Kayla Strickland