The Criminalization of Poverty in Brazil, a Global Power

In the year of elections and the FIFA World Cup,  the country that aims to be a global military and energy power must face the challenges of popular sectors, who demand inclusion and access to the same goods and rights enjoyed by half of Brazilians.


Source: Americas Program

In the year of elections and the FIFA World Cup,  the country that aims to be a global military and energy power must face the challenges of popular sectors, who demand inclusion and access to the same goods and rights enjoyed by half of Brazilians.

Brazil is experiencing a complex and contradictory period: on one hand, it is becoming  a global oil power since the Petrobras offshore  discoveries, and it also aims to be a military power. On the other, the streets have been on fire since massive demonstrations in June, which could be repeated during the 2014 World Cup.

In just a few days, several things happened that will have a major impact this year. Brazil ruled out purchasing Boeing fighter planes from the United States, choosing to equip its air force with Swedish aircraft. And the state oil company Petrobras announced that it installed nine big oil platforms in 2013, making it the sixth largest oil producer in the world. As a counterpoint, the government announced the creation of a special police force of 10,000 to control  demonstrations during the World Cup. The measure shows the   militarization of social protest–the other face of the football championship.

A petro power

On April 21, 2006 Lula inaugurated the P-50 Petrobras oil platform that increased  production to 1.9 million barrels per day, giving the country oil self-sufficiency (Folha de São Paulo, April 22, 2007). In November 2013, oil production was 2.08 million barrels per day. This was more a setback than a stagnation, as growth in demand caused the country to have to import part of its oil.

In 2007, a series of discoveries, called pre-salt for being under a layer of salt over 1000 meters deep, on the offshore platform began. Thanks to these discoveries, Petrobras will double its production by 2020, positioning itself among the top five global producers. But to achieve these goals, large investments must be made. In the next twelve years–until 2025–investments of a whopping $500 billion will be necessary to extract and refine oil. At the end of the decade, among all fields in operation, 40 maritime oil platforms or stationary production units and four new refineries will have been built, two refineries of which and 800 wells are already under construction (Agencia Brasil, October 3, 2013 will be drilled will have been installed ).

Seventy-five percent of Brazilian oil is in the sea. In 2013, the nation installed nine platforms, at a cost of $4 billion each. A Petrobras communiqué describes and explains features of the P-55 platform, the latest installed in the Campos Basin: it processes 180,000 barrels of oil and four million cubic meters of gas per day, weighs 52,000 tons and is 130 meters high, will be anchored at a depth of 1,800 meters, is linked to 17 wells,  and has a crew of 100 people (Petrobras Agency, January 1, 2014).

In 2014, 11 platforms will be auctioned off. They have heliports, auditoriums, television rooms, gymnasiums, libraries, swimming pools and soccer fields. Building a platform every 40 days requires investments of $50 billion, which puts a strain on company finances. Petrobras carries out 70,000 monthly helicopter flights to transport their employees to the platforms. Extracting oil also entails setting up refineries. There are two under construction. The Petrochemical Complex of Rio de Janeiro involves investments of $13 billion dollars to be able to refine 300,000 barrels per day from 2016 onward,  as well as produce thermoplastic resins like polyethylene and polypropylene. The other refinery, Abreu e Lima in Pernambuco, was going to be built with Venezuelen company PDVSA, but Petrobras withdrew from the alliance because PDVSA never invested a dollar in six years. It will cost $20 billion dollars and will start operating in late 2014, refining 240,000 barrels per day.

In November, the International Energy Agency (IEA) published the “World Energy Outlook” report. The country most highlighted in the report is Brazil, because it is “at the forefront of deepwater exploration” and non-hydrocarbon energy, because of its vast hydropower resources. It anticipates that  Brazil “will become a major oil exporter and global energy producer,” responsible “for a third of the growth in global oil supply.”

According to IEA estimates, consistent with the projects announced by Petrobras, Brazilian oil production will grow from 2.1 million barrels per day today to 4.1 million in 2020 and 6.5 million in 2035. This will make Brazil the sixth largest producer. The energy agency calculates that, by 2035, Petrobras will be a global leader, with 60% of the world’s deepwater oil extraction. The agency adds that by 2035, Brazil will be responsible for 40% of global trade in biofuels, as it has enough land to expand sugar cane cultivation for ethanol, covering one third of the domestic demand for transport fuels. “Brazil is already the world leader in renewable energy and is on track to double its production of renewable fuels by 2035,” the report says, up to the equivalent of one million barrels of oil per day.

A military power

The Dilma Rousseff government’s announcement on December 18th that it had opted for the Swedish Gripen NG fighter planes, dismissing the Boeing F-18s, was a strategic decision. Geopolitical and technical questions carried weight, as did, above all, the possibility of combat aircraft development between Embraer and several Brazilian companies.

In 2001, Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s second government launched a program for the modernization of air defense called (FX) that was abandoned in 2002. In 2006, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s government opened a second phase, called FX-2. The purchase of 36 fighter planes was proposed to replace the twelve Mirage 2000 that were retired on December 31, 2013. The main requirement for the bidding companies (Boeing, Dassault, Saab, Sukhoi, and Eurofighter’s three European manufacturers) was the most comprehensive technology transfer. The air force always aspired for their aircraft to be armed or built on site at Embraer, the third civil aviation company in the world behind only Boeing and Airbus, created in 1969 at the behest of the force itself.

In September 2009, there was a significant event: French President Nicolas Sarkozy visited Brasilia, and the strategic alliance between the two countries was nailed down. Brazil decided to buy 50 EC-725 military transport helicopters from Eurocopter, which had begun to be manufactured in the Brazilian company Helibras (a subsidiary of the European EADS). From the seventeenth unit onward, they will be entirely produced in Brazil. Furthermore, [France and Brazil] agreed on the construction of five submarines  four conventional and one nuclear (with French DCSN technology). These are being manufactured in the Itaguaí submarine base at Rio de Janeiro, in partnership with Brazilian company Odebrecht y la Marina. Technology transfer has allowed Brazil to become one of seven countries capable of manufacturing nuclear submarines (the five members of the UN Security Council plus India).

At that time, only the Dassault purchase of  the Rafales was missing. During Sarkozy’s visit, Lula got ahead of himself, thinking that the decision was made and that the chosen fighter plane would be French. However, he had to back off because the Air Force favored the Gripen, while Russia’s Sukhoi 35 and the Eurofighter trailed behind (Folha de São Paulo, January 5, 2010).The arguments of the military, whose final conclusions filled 30,000 pages, indicated that the price of Gripen was considerably lower than the those of the F-18 and the Rafale ($70 million compared to $100 million and $140 million, respectively) and the cost of flight time is half that of the other aircraft. But the point they stressed was that the Swedish fighter was in the draft/project phase (insomuch as it is a development of earlier Gripen models), which allowed the Air Force to participate directly in its development.

Geopolitical issues also weighed on the matter: the exposure of Edward Snowden’s espionage, disagreements about Iran (Brazil and Turkey had arrived at an agreement with Tehran on May 10th to avoid military intervention, which was questioned by the White House), and the episode of the blockade of Eve Morales’ presidential plane supported by France.

The agreement calls for the purchase of 36 fighter planes for $4.5 billion, but it is estimated that Brazil will need to acquire 120 fighter planes in the next decade. From  the fifth unit onward, all of the fighters will be assembled in Brazil. But what is more interesting, as Air Force commander Juniti Saito noted, is that “we [Brazil] will have 100% of the intellectual property rights to the aircraft” (Valor, December 19, 2013).He also explained how this differed with the other options: “It is one thing to transfer the technology of a finished piece of equipment, where you get explanations of what to do, but it is another to develop the plane” (Estado de São Paulo, December 19, 2013).

Brazil’s participation will be 40% of the total plane, which rises to 80% in the structure of the aircraft, particularly in the  fuselage and win construction. The most controversial aspect is the turbine belonging to  U.S. firm General Motors, but Defense Minister Celso Amorim stated that the issue is not important because, “from the technical point of view, [the turbine] is not the heart of the airplane” (Jornal do Brasil, December 18, 2013).

Lastly, an issue that matters for the entire region: “In the proposal, it was established that the entire markets of South America, Africa, and other countries where Brazil has penetrated with sales will be ours,” Saito said with a smile (Estado São Paulo, December 19, 2013). The Brazilian Air Force can become a supplier of cutting edge combat aircraft throughout the region, under the framework of UNASUR and the South American Defense Council.

The militarization of poverty

In the first days of the year, it was revealed that the National Public Security Force, comprised of 12,000 military police, will be responsible for controlling and repressing the demonstrations that may occur during the World Cup. According to its director, Colonel Alexandre Aragon, the police will be able to proceed simultaneously in the twelve cities where matches will be played. They have been trained in shock techniques and for special missions (O Globo, January 3, 2014).

The militarization of the areas surrounding the football stadiums is the lesson the authorities drew from the massive protests that took place in June 2013 during the Confederations Cup. They were a complete surprise: millions of protesters took to the streets in 340 cities and managed to reverse transit price increases in over 100 cities. From that moment, nothing was ever the same. A new rebellious youth continues in the streets, demanding the right to the city and the democratization of urban life–which can only be achieved by setting limits on speculation and massive constructions events like the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Game in Rio de Janeiro demand.

One of the consequences of the mass demonstrations in June, the work the Free Fare Movement (MPL) has been doing for decades, the various movements of the unhoused, and the committees against the World Cup, is that large sectors of youth have returned to the streets, even poor young people from city peripheries who rarely participate in protests.

December was the month of the “rolezinhos” in São Paulo: tens or hundreds of poor and black young people singing funk ostentación, dancing in malls, kissing, and mocking and scandalizing consumerist middle classes. The guards expelled them, and some go to the police station. If they didn’t steal or use drugs, journalist Eliane Brum asks herself, “Why are black youth from Greater São Paulo’s periphery being criminalized?” (El País, Brazil, December 23, 2013). In the national imagination, she argues, for poor young people to play outside the boundaries of the ‘ghetto’ and desire objects of consumption is something transgressive, because “the malls were built to keep them on the outside.”The middle classes view the funk youth as “criminals,” “prostitutes”, and “black” (in the derogatory sense). Funk de ostentación conjures images of luxury consumption, money and pleasure; its lyrics and music videos portray young semi-nude girls in luxury cars. What bothers [them], Brum says, by occupying malls, poor black youth not only appropriate the symbolic valuess ​​of the middle classes, “but also their physical spaces.”

Political analyst André Singer claimed that the youth movement around local consumption is a clear message to society: “We exist and we want to have the full right to participate in this society, whatever way that may be” (Folha de São Paulo, January 11, 2014). They do not want to be excluded anymore. They say it in a different way from the way the middle classes said it in the large city avenues in June.Alexandre Barbosa Pereira, professor at the Federal University of São Paulo who researches the cultures of São Paulo’s peripheries, says wryly: “If it were a large group of white middle-class youth, as has happened several times, it would be interpreted as a flash mob “(El País -Brazil, December 23, 2013). But the middle classes cannot see the poor youth as anything but thieves, perhaps, he says, “because they are stealing from them the exclusive right to what they consume.”

Asked about the relationship between the rolezinhos and the June demonstrations, Pereira reckons that there is an indirect link based on “the common assertion of the use of public space and the breakdown of the marks of segregation.” Onwards, the use of public space will be strained by the emergence of new subjects that, in practice, question the hegemony of property speculation in cities.

Youth from urban peripheries have begun to mobilize. They do it their way, quite different from the style of the university middle class, unionized workers, and landless peasants. For a time they will be criminalized and slaughtered, as is happening now. But at some point they may coalesce with other social sectors and create a powerful movement against the system.

In the year of elections and the FIFA World Cup,  the country that aims to be a global power in military and oil must face the challenges of popular sectors, who demand inclusion and access to the same goods/rights enjoyed by  half of Brazilians

Raúl Zibechi is an international analyst for Brecha of Montevideo, Uruguay, lecturer and researcher on social movements at the Multiversidad Franciscana de América Latina, and adviser to several social groups. He writes a monthly column for the Americas Program (

Translation: Paige Patchin