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The death of another worker tarnishes President Rousseff’s visit to stadium

A day that was carefully planned to boost public opinion turned into a complete shock

Construction site in Arena Amazonas, in Manaus.
Construction site in Arena Amazonas, in Manaus.MARCUS BRANDT (EFE)

A day that was carefully planned to boost public opinion turned into a complete shock for Dilma Rousseff. The chaos unfolded just as the president finds herself in the middle of an electoral campaign and a little over a month before the World Cup. The death of a ninth worker on the construction site of a stadium cast a shadow. Demonstrations for more and better housing and against government expenditures on preparations for the competition marred the optimistic attitude the president brought as she visited Arena Corinthians on Thursday.

Before the president’s arrival, hundreds of people from various activist groups invaded the offices of three large construction companies in charge of building infrastructure to accommodate the games. They demonstrated at Odebrecht, Andrade Gutierrez and OAS. Protesters held up banners and posters in front of the buildings, surrounded by a large deployment of security personnel. Most of the demonstrators were from the Homeless Workers Movement (MTST) and the Landless Workers' Movement (MST). They denounced the excessive costs of hosting the games at the expense of sectors that need the economic assistance. They also demanded more housing for the poor. “A world cup for foot soldiers and contractors,” one sign read.

The events led to a traffic jam in a city that is well-known for its congested roadways. The chaos forced the state governor’s team to squeeze a meeting with five representatives from the demonstration into Rousseff’s agenda. For 20 minutes the president explained to the activists that their demands would be dealt with at the federal level through housing programs. “They made their demands peacefully,” said Fernando Haddad, mayor of Sao Paulo and member of the ruling Workers’ Party (PT).

Pantanal will host four matches in the first round of games

Less than a kilometer from the aforementioned stadium stands the neighborhood of Itaquera, a community where 300 families are living without electricity or sewage systems while waiting for government housing. The road repairs around Arena Corinthians, also known locally as Itaquerão, have effectively created an island of wealth in the middle of one of the poorest areas in the city. The neighborhood is on the eastern side of Sao Paulo where 37 percent of city residents live. There are 300 favelas and the area has the lowest income rate in Sao Paulo.

Rousseff toured the construction sites around Itaquerão but she chose not to speak to the press. She entered the stadium. A while later, she left the stadium with a few workers by her side, under the rapt gaze of Brazilian and foreign journalists who crowded around the building. Meanwhile, Haddad said the president thinks the work in Itaquera will be one of the legacies of the this World Cup.

A death in Cuiabá

Just as things were getting started on Thursday, they suddenly came to a tragic end. Muhammad’Ali Maciel Afonso, a 32-year-old construction worker, became the ninth laborer to die at a World Cup construction site since Brazil was chosen to host the games in 2007. Maciel Afonso worked in the technology and communication hub of Estadio Pantanal in Cuiabá and was electrocuted under circumstances that remain unclear. The police is investigating the case.

Four workers in Manaus, three in Sao Paulo, and one in Brasilia have lost their lives on the sites. This new incident in Cuiabá makes one third of the 12 World Cup stadiums symbols of tragedy. The high death rate has caused some controversy. Meanwhile, officials tried to speed up the work to get ready for the tournament - a fact that many blame for the deaths. Still, the stadiums are far from ready for the event.

Brazil had not completed six of its stadiums by the end of 2013. Corinthians, Pantanal, Baixada in the southern state of Paraná and Beira-Rio in Porto Alegre are still under construction. Corinthians is the most urgent because it will host the opening game between Brazil and Croatia on June 12. Rousseff will visit Baixada on Friday.

The accident in Cuiabá tempered enthusiasm for the World Cup. The day before, Brazilian coach Luiz Felipe Scolari announced the 23-men line up for Brazil. On Thursday, there was hardly a whiff of that exciting news in Itaquerão even as a car painted in the colors of the Brazilian flag honked at journalists leaving the stadium.

Translation: Dyane Jean François

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