In my hometown Magé, fear is the spirit of the World Cup

Em português aqui.

The spirit of the World Cup hit me two days ago in messages and phone calls while I was on a bus trip back to my parents’ place. Friends and relatives desperately asked about my whereabouts. Then they told me to watch out: things were wild in Magé (my hometown) with deadly armed conflicts. Have you ever heard about the “pacification” process to increase security in Rio before the World Cup and Olympics? Well, the “pacification” in the city of Rio has increasingly meant the end of peace for us in Magé.

“Where are you!?”, my sister asked me on WhatsApp. I saw she had sent many other similar messages when I heard my phone ring on the bus to Magé.

The phone rang because my worried cousin called trying to warn me. He had called me more than five times before I finally heard it.

I noticed later he had also messaged: “Things are tense. If you want you can sleep here”, he suggested since he lives in a conflict-free area in our city.

I decided to go home anyway.

My parents’ neighborhood was way too quiet (not often a good sign) for that time in the evening, but I walked home calmly.

The same can’t be said about the people who live across the railroad (less than 500 meters from my parents’ house).

People who live there have been having to deal with the increase of armed conflicts and a crazy rise in murder rates.

Since I arrived from Finland two weeks ago, at least two people were killed (including a police officer two days ago) and several wounded.

The number goes up to a dozen (or more) if I count from last July up to now.

In my conversations, people seem to feel this violence is also a collateral damage of the preparations for the FIFA World Cup and the Olympics.

For most people I talk to, the reason behind the violence is the “Pacifying Police Unit” (UPP) program meant to reduce drug trade violence in the city of Rio.

The idea of the UPP program is both simple and problematic.

In order to “pacify” favelas, the police takes over territories controlled by drug trade organizations. It is a way of reversing the historical governmental neglect of favelas.

But since the program was launched in 2008, the UPPs have mostly forced drug dealers to migrate to peripheral areas that public administrations still neglect.

Like my hometown.

While life in the business center and the touristic quarters of the city of Rio have apparently become more peaceful, places like Magé have seen peace vanish.

The people in Magé I talk to (including police officers) believe the government is only hiding crime from the sight of tourists and for the benefit of better-off populations.

For this reason the World Cup has become one common explanation for the increase of armed conflicts, robberies and murders in my hometown.

While the government and the highly-sponsored media celebrate the World Cup, what I feel in conversations is that perhaps it was not a good thing to win the bid after all.

The spirit of the World Cup in Magé comes as a contradiction: the passion for football remains, but it seems to be overcome by fear.

The World Cup is in Brazil. But for most people in Magé it will be just another televised event. The difference is that now people are dying because of Brazil hosting the Games.

The fear of violence in Magé and other peripheries is a more realistic description of the local mood than the joy for football we see on TV three weeks before the World Cup.