Is Brazil Ready To Step On The World Stage?

Sep 13, 2013
Originally published on September 13, 2013 6:04 pm

As Brazil readies to host next year's World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics, All Things Considered host Melissa Block is in the country reporting on how it's all coming together.

Although soccer is a major enterprise in Brazil, it hasn't hosted the World Cup since 1950, when it suffered a major defeat to Uruguay. It's become known as the "fateful final" and left a painful, embarrassing legacy. Hosting the world's biggest soccer event should be a huge moment for the country, but not everyone is sold on the cost associated with hosting the World Cup and Olympics. Block says many in Brazil's rapidly expanding middle class are angry at the billions of dollars being spent on stadiums and related infrastructure.

In addition to soccer, Block will also be looking at stories on racial inequality and the struggle to save endangered golden lion tamarins on her reporting trip. You can listen to her stories all next week on All Things Considered and follow along with her adventures on the Tumblr Considering Brazil.

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Our co-host Melissa Block is on a reporting trip to Brazil, in advance of next year's World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. We'll be hearing her stories next week, and she's joining us now for a preview. Hey there, Melissa.


Hey, Audie.

CORNISH: So right now, I understand you're actually on the Atlantic Coast of Brazil.

BLOCK: That's right. We're in the city of Recife. It's about three and a half million people in the northeast of the country. Right now I'm standing on the beach looking out at the Atlantic Ocean. This part of the country, Audie, has traditionally been much poorer than the industrial south. Well, think about Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro. They're all in the south and that's where the economy is based.

But now, even though the overall economy for the country has stalled, here in the northeast, around Recife, where I am now, they've been experiencing a lot of growth, an industrial boom. So we came here because we wanted to see what's been fueling that.

CORNISH: And as we said, also next year Brazil hosts the World Cup, two years later the Olympics, which are being held for the first time in South America. I mean, Brazil is synonymous with soccer. This must be a big deal.

BLOCK: It's a huge deal. I mean, Brazil is a soccer-mad country, as you say. It hasn't hosted the World Cup since 1950, and that was the year when Brazil suffered a horrible defeat to Uruguay. It's become known as the fateful final. It's left this legacy of just devastating pain and humiliation for Brazil. So you would think this would be a huge, proud moment for the country to be hosting the World Cup again and then the Olympics two years later. You do hear some of that, but here's what else you hear, Audie. You hear a lot of popular discontent, enormous anger at the billions that are being spent on stadiums and infrastructure around these games.

We saw that anger fueling the protests that swept through Brazil a few months ago. This was during the Confederations Cup games here in Brazil. And we saw it last weekend. It was Brazil's Independence Day. And let me give you a taste of what the protests sounded like in Rio last Saturday.


CORNISH: So Melissa, translate for us. What are the protesters singing?

BLOCK: Oh yeah, they're saying Cabral is a dictator. They're talking about Sergio Cabral, he's the governor of the state of Rio de Janeiro. And he has been the particular target of a lot of protests, a lot of accusations of corruption, people saying he orchestrated kickbacks, used the state helicopter to fly six miles to work and to fly to his beach house, all of it at taxpayer expense. This is the kind of thing you hear all the time here, the notion that all the money that's going into these games and all of it that's getting siphoned off through corruption, that that's really bad for Brazil.

You hear people say what we need is better schools, we need hospitals, we need public services, we don't need big stadiums. And in a lot of ways, Audie, these are the demands of a growing middle class in Brazil. There are now tens of millions of people here who've been lifted out of poverty. They've joined the lower ranks of the middle class and now they have expectations, they demands on their government. So we're going to be reporting on that, too, just what it means to be part of Brazil's new middle class.

CORNISH: So what are some of the other stories that you're finding on your trip?

BLOCK: I'm going to be in Rio with our South America correspondent, Lourdes Garcia Navarro. We're going to have some stories on race in Brazil. Also have to talk about soccer and what it means to the culture of Brazil. And we're going to talk about deforestation and what that's meant for the endangered golden lion tamarin. That's a tiny, beautiful, copper-colored monkey, and here's what it sounds like.


CORNISH: Melissa, they almost sound like birds.

BLOCK: They are just ridiculously crazy cute, Audie. And the Atlantic Forest in Brazil is the only place on the planet where golden lion tamarins live. They've lost a ton of their habitat. So we're going to talk about that plus lots more, lots of surprises.

CORNISH: Sounds good. Melissa, thanks so much for checking in.

BLOCK: Thanks, Audie.

CORNISH: That's our co-host Melissa Block. We'll hear her stories from Brazil next week. In the meantime, she's posting all kinds of cool photos of her adventure on Tumblr. See them at Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.