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Over the past few weeks millions of eyes have been set on Brazil and the World Cup. It is an event of world sport at its finest, with the best players from a diverse range of countries participating for the chance to secure one of the most sought after trophies in sport. It is easy when an event this large and exciting takes place in a country to forget other issues, or to sweep them under the carpet, saying that they shouldn’t be the focus for the duration of the Cup. And yet it is difficult to forget.
Transparency International lists Brazil within the top 100 most corrupt countries in the world as of 2013, and it has slipped slightly since 2012 in the rankings. The table places them high above their neighbours of Paraguay and Venezuela, but the country still clearly has a long way to go. This corruption is generally not at a federal level, with President Dilma Rousseff taking a hard-line approach to any form of corruption, but it is endemic further down the public sector scale, particularly in bureaucratic departments, but also in the police force. In the private sector almost 70% of Brazilian business owners identify corruption as a major problem within the sector. Brazil is, of course, trying to paint a benign picture for the rest of the world, but for being one of the most influential countries in the world now it still faces some very serious human rights issues, especially towards its indigenous peoples. Last year the Coordination of Indigenous Organisations of the Brazilian Amazon (COIAB) stated that “the current government is trying to impose its colonial and dominating style on us… [It] has caused irreversible harm to indigenous peoples using bills and decrees, many of them unconstitutional.” Tellingly President Rousseff is the only president since the end of the dictatorship in the 1980s who has not met with representatives of Brazil’s indigenous community.
A lot of Brazil’s harsh treatment of its indigenous peoples naturally comes down to land. Large landowners want to expand their territories occupied by Brazil’s first people in order to increase production of sugar cane, which is a major part of Brazil’s booming bio-fuels industry. Land activists and community leaders are constantly threatened, attacked and even killed as part of an ongoing intimidation process. In the mineral-rich Amazonian state of Roraima, the Yanomami people’s land is under threat from 654 mining requests, and if Congress decides that these requests are viable (and under a new proposed constitutional amendment giving them the power to do so), there would be very little the Yanomami would be able to do to stop it; as one spokesman said, this will “kill the environment – and kill us.” Much was achieved for indigenous peoples at the end of the dictatorship, with constitutional rights being rolled out for the indigenous communities, but it seems now that these achievements might be under threat.
It appears that this has not gone unnoticed. FIFA is preparing to roll out new regulations in which a prospective host country will be scrutinised on its human rights record as part of its bidding process, perhaps a small step to counter endemic corruption within the organisation itself. This move comes in particular as a response to the international outcry about the treatment of migrant workers in Qatar, the hosts of the 2022 World Cup. Yet it is not only eight years in the future we must look: human rights crimes are happening in Brazil right now and it can only be hoped that one side effect of the World Cup might be increased scrutiny, rather than the issues being buried in a display of pomp and carnival.