Category Archives: Rio de Janeiro

Six reasons Neymar represents everything that’s wrong with Brazil and its wealthy elite

Although the advertising machine around Neymar works hard to make him appear a pretty nice guy, here’s six reasons why the footballer – rightly or wrongly – represents everything wrong with Brazil’s wealthy, corrupt elite and the crushing inequality these powerful figures create.

1) He, or the people around him, are corrupt: When Neymar signed for Barcelona its vice president Josep Maria Bartomeu said Neymar’s transfer fee was €87.2 million. They then declared the  official transfer fee on documents as €57 million, as €40 million “supposedly… flowed to a company which is close to Neymar’s family.”

Brazilian politicians are famously corrupt. One politician was elected to Brazil’s Congress while under investigation for murder after having an adversary killed with a chain saw. Another is wanted by Interpol after being found guilty of diverting more than $10 million from a public road project to offshore bank accounts. I can’t find the source but I read recently that 60 per cent of Brazilian politicians are currently under police investigation.

2) He’s rich: Neymar was making 1.5 million reais a year at just 16 years old. He makes 9 million euros a year now playing for Barcelona.

Similarly, Brazilian politicians are among the highest paid and least productive in the world.

And in the world of business the 15 Richest Families In Brazil are worth an estimated $122 billion — or about 5% of the country’s total GDP. Out of 65 Brazilian billionaires listed by FORBES in its World’s Billionaires list, 25 are blood relatives.

3) He’ll sell himself to the highest bidder: Neymar has sponsorship deals with Castrol, Red Bull, Volkswagen and Panasonic and an 11 year boot deal with Nike worth at least $1 million per year. There’s nothing wrong with footballers making hay while the sun shines, though.

Brazilian politicians see nothing wrong using the same “sponsorship” tactics, however. Municipal and state officials are close to the mega-corporations that run Brazil’s construction, beverage, transport, energy and food industries. The cost of building Brasilia’s World Cup stadium nearly tripled to $900m in public funds, for example, largely due to allegedly fraudulent billing.

This after the construction company for Brasilia’s stadium increased its political donations 500-fold in the most recent election.

4) He’s light-skinned: Neymar’s dying his hair blonde might seem insignificant, but it takes on huge cultural significance in a country that has a legacy of slavery and inequality. It’s known as “Branqueamento”, (“Whitening”) and can lead to a prosperous shift from the darker-skinned underclass to the lighter-skinned Brazilian elite.

Neymar a few days ago: tall and tanned and young and blonde?
Neymar before the Brazil-Mexico game: tall and tanned and young and blonde.

Over 70 per cent of Brazilian politicians are light-skinned.

The Berkeley Review suggests this is because white Brazilians have more money on average than non-whites. Brazilian politicians elected to office had significantly higher mean total assets, at 432,000 Brazilian reais (R$), than those who were not elected, whose average assets totaled only R$188,000. White Brazilians have an average net worth of R$440,000, compared to R$247,000 for non-whites, indicating that on average white politicians simply have more cash to spend on campaigns than non-whites, and therefore gain power more easily.

5) He left Brazil: In 2010 Neymar’s agent said Neymar “wants to become the best player in the world. The chances of him doing that while playing in Brazil are zero.” Neymar added that  it was a “dream” of his “to play in Europe”.

There’s nothing against a football player wanting to play for one of the biggest teams in the world, and those teams are in Europe. But it is a familiar desire amongst the wealthy Brazilian elite to leave the country (they have the power to change, rather than rob from) and in which they have made their fortune to hide their money in Cayman Islands bank accounts or spend it on handbags, iPhones and suits in New York and Europe.

In 2005 a senior politician in Lula’s government was seized at an airport with $100,000 in his underwear as part of the Mensalão corruption saga.

6) He’s not afraid of backing out on a promise: Neymar promised his youth club Santos he wouldn’t leave them until after the 2014 World Cup. Santos consequently doubled his wages to raise him to European footballer salary levels.

…And in 2013 Neymar signed for Barcelona, anyway.

Politicians are familiar with breaking promises. A trainline between Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro promised for the 2014 World Cup has, as of today, never even started. A huge number of World Cup projects remain unfinished or were never started. Belo Horizonte’s metro system was supposed to be extended for the World Cup. As of today it has one line.

Dilma, Cade o Metro? ("Where is the Metro?")
Dilma, Cade o Metro? (“Where is the Metro?”)

So there you have it; six reasons why Neymar represents everything that wrong with Brazil and its wealthy elite.


Child sex-trafficking in Brazil a problem foreign journalists could report. Prostitution, a legal, trade union-certified profession involving consenting adults , is not.

If there were really one million prostitutes in Brazil, as this Independent article suggests, that would mean one in every 200 Brazilians was a prostitute.

More than that, considering half of that 200 are men, and  assuming most prostitutes are women, it would mean one in every hundred women in Brazil was a prostitute.

Thousands of journalists are set to arrive in Brazil to cover the 2014 World Cup. Hopefully these journalists will dig deep into the country and leave aside the antiquated, colonial image of Brazil as a hyper-sexualised third-world country where everyone lives in a favela and sells drugs in between Samba and Carnaval.

What journalists and visiting tourists will actually find is that Brazil is a modern, technologically-advanced country full of entrepreneurs, lawyers, doctors and hard-working Brazilians working 14-hour-days to provide for their families and loved ones.

Brazil has its own Silicon Valley, super-fast broadband, some of the best (free) universities in the world and more progressive social policies than most western nations on issues such as obesity (a wave of public health education and stringent controls on fast-food and candy companies), workers’ rights (successfully lobbying corporate giant McDonalds to provide better working standards) and advertising (food and drink adverts aimed at kids labelled an “abusive practise”, and all outdoor advertising billboards banned).

Brazilian prostitutes  on Avenida Alfonso Pena, Belo Horizonte, Brazil.
Brazilian prostitutes on Avenida Alfonso Pena, Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

So no, there probably aren’t a million prostitutes in Brazil. Prostitution is, however, legal, and always has been in Brazil, which protects sex-workers and allows them access to trade unions as well as mental and sexual health services. Pimping is – quite rightly – illegal in Brazil. It is hugely progressive to see a country take such a progressive approach to one of the “oldest professions” rather than hiding behind phony puritanism and snobbery.

If we’re talking about real problems in Brazil, let’s take a look at child prostitution.

Agencies such as Meninadanca operate in the poorer northern areas of the country where poverty is high and families sell their children to passing truckers and sex-tourists. The Sun wrote a story about a 15-year-old selling herself to tourists in Rio de Janeiro for £26 a time. She was rescued a few weeks before the World Cup starts. Thousands of children won’t be.

This photo was taken outside the World Cup stadium at Fortaleza a few weeks ago:

Child prostitution in the shadow of the Castelão World Cup stadium in Fortaleza, Brazil.
Child prostitution in the shadow of the Castelão World Cup stadium in Fortaleza, Brazil. Photo courtesy of Meninadanca.

The sex-trafficking of thousands of Brazilian children is a real problem foreign journalists could be spending their time reporting. A completely-legal, trade union-certified profession involving adults old enough to make their own decisions, is not. 


Brazil 2014 World Cup tourists will spend a billion reais (£278,000,000) in Rio de Janeiro alone

World Cup Tourists will spend up to a billion reais in Rio de Janeiro alone on transport, hotels and attractions
WORLD CUP SPENDING: Tourists will spend R$6.7bn at the World Cup – Spending projection for visitors, in millions.

Brazil’s Ministry of Tourism predicts Brazil 2014 World Cup tourists will spend R$1bn (£280m, US$451m) during their stay in Rio de Janeiro.

Visitors to Sao Paulo are expected to spend R$700m (£190m, US$310m). The cities that will reap the least from tourists are expected to be Curitiba, Cuiaba and Manaus, where visitors can expect to spend around R$300m (£90m, US$130m).

That’s just in-country spending, so only includes money spent on hotels, transport, restaurants, shopping and attractions – flights to get here and World Cup game tickets are extra expenses.

3.7 million foreign and Brazilian tourists are expected to be in transit during the World Cup, and the Ministry of Tourism expects 80 per cent of World Cup tourists will visit at least one other city whilst they’re here.

Altogether it expects R$6.7bn will be spent in Brazil during the World Cup, which gives an average spend of R$1,800 (£485, US$800) for each tourist. You can spend R$1,800 on a night out here in Brazil, easy.

If my maths is wrong, please let me know, because that seems pretty reasonable, doesn’t it? Especially given the talk in foreign and national media of sky-high hotel bills and the incredible prices revealed in the “Surreal – NAO PAGUE” groups for Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte. And those prices are before the price-gouging tactics expected by restaurant-owners and hoteliers.

32 reais (£8.50) for not even a pint of Fuller's in a Brazilian bar.

The photo above shows 32 reais (£8.50, US$15) for not even a pint of Fuller’s in a bar in Belo Horizonte, so I hope the foreign tourists like Brahma…

“Don’t react, don’t shout and don’t argue.” Sao Paulo head’s armed robbery safety tips for World Cup tourists

Sao Paulo’s head of Civil Police has prepared a leaflet for visiting World Cup tourists for whom being mugged in the street by a robber with a gun “is an infrequent event”, and who “may attempt to react in the wrong way” (ie, fight back and get themselves killed).

Armed robberies in Brazil in which a ladrão approaches you with a gun in the street often end badly if the victim tries to fight back (Youtube link). For the ladrão armed robberies are a high-risk strategy, as they know the police will shoot them dead if they’re caught, so they prefer to make a clean getaway and leave no witnesses. This means shooting the victim dead if necessary. 

As such, the advice not to react, shout or argue is good. I’d also add to keep looking down, and to not look the robber in the eyes too long. If they think you’re trying to memorise their face to describe to the police later, they’ll kill you. 

Some more tips:

1) Keep big bills hidden somewhere. If you need to wander around with a few hundred reais on you, put it in your sock. Hand over the 40 reais you kept in your pocket to keep the ladrão happy. 

2) Don’t wear watches and jewellery, and keep that camera in an old backpack, not around your neck. iPhones are like catnip here for ladrãos – don’t be wandering around playing on yours all day, or it will be swiped.

3) Take taxis and don’t walk around at night. Don’t use short-cuts through alleys and always be aware of who’s around you.

4) Be prepared to leave places pretty fast, and that might mean running. 

5) Don’t romanticise the poverty here. Yes, there are newly-pacified favelas with colourful grafitti, guided tours and cute hostels, but when you arrive you’ll see how ugly the majority of the vast urban sprawl is around the big cities. Guided tours through historically-safe favelas are one thing, entering random favelas without permission is another. Favelas are mini-fiefdoms at the mercy of drug-dealing gangs, and they don’t like strangers. 

Five things about Brazil tourists should know before visiting for the 2014 World Cup

Five not-so-well-known facts about Brazil every tourist visiting the country for the 2014 World Cup needs to know.

1) Napkin rollies: You’re going to eat in a restaurant or bar, you’re going to reach for a napkin from a little dispenser and you’re going to grab a piece of wax-paper.

Napkins in Brazil feel as if they’ve been coated in some kind of non-stick formula to stop any liquid adhering to them. They absorb nothing, they’re crunchy, and you need twenty to clean up the tiniest blob of grease, so good luck with that cheesy dribble of pizza hanging off your chin. You may as well use your hands.

So what are these napkins good for? Well, making spliffs, actually:

For educational purposes only.
For educational purposes only.

2) TP Backlog: I need to talk toilets. Brazil has a terrible plumbing system, and toilet-paper is not allowed to go down the drain. Next to almost every toilet in Brazil is a little plastic bin for your used toilet paper.

Note there is no toilet seat and a waste-paper bin for used toilet-paper
Note there is no toilet seat. This is fairly common.

The cumulative effect of hundreds of thousands of visiting World Cup tourists throwing their toilet-paper down the drains could result in raw sewage pouring out onto Rio’s beautiful tiled streets.

Don’t do it.

3) Income disparity: On a more serious note, tourists should be aware that Brazil’s minimum wage is around 700 reais a month.

That’s about £185, or $314 in the US. A month.

In a country where a McDonald’s Happy Meal costs 20 reais and Brazil’s cheapest car costs 35,000 reais (£9,400 or US$16,000), that’s not very much.

Sexy, though, isn't it?
Sexy, though, isn’t it?

The price for a Fiat Palio Fire includes rear-seatbelts, AC and electric-windows. Wow. That’s the “buy-now” price, too. You’ll pay 50,000 reais if you want to pay installments.

So here’s the reality: street-sweepers, cleaners, McDonald’s workers, sales-assistants, porters, bus-drivers and even police-officers in Rio are making just 700 to 1000 reais a month.

That’s especially hard to imagine when you consider a couple of World Cup tourists could easily blow 300 reais on lunch and a few glasses of wine in a restaurant in Rio de Janeiro.

A visit to a night-club might cost 300 reais each for entry and a few cocktails (See “Fifteen things foreigners should know about Brazilian night-clubs“). A night out can cost thousands of reais if you order table-service and a couple of bottles of Absolut.

And remember, 700 reais is the official minimum wage. Consider the street-sellers, the Giras (trash-collectors) and the homeless, scraping by on a few reais a day, surrounded by wealthy tourists and locals thinking nothing of spending 10 reais on a Coca-cola.

It’s important visiting tourists keep in mind the huge disparity between the rich and poor in Brazil. It leaks into everything; crime, education, health, transport, housing, entertainment, safety and culture.

4) Gridlock: What time should you leave your hotel to attend your World Cup game? An hour before kick-off? A few hours?

How about the day before?

Traffic in Brazil’s big cities is monstrous, and it’s only going to get worse for the World Cup. Dilapidated and neglected roads can’t take the amount of cars and trucks packed into them, in what is a modernising, industrialised country. Despite the ridiculous price-tag of the Fiat Palio Fire, it is a best-seller. And remember, Brazil has its fair share of incredibly wealthy people driving SUVs and sports-cars, too.

Bring a book...
Bring a book…

Driving is a source of independence and pride for modern Brazilians, even if you do just end up rolling off the forecourt and into two hours of gridlocked traffic.

If you can, tourists should just walk to the game. You’ll get there so much faster.

5) Fala ingles? Outside of the metropolitan tourist cities of Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Salvador you’ll struggle to find many Brazilians that can speak a whole lot of English.

Sunset in deepest Minas Gerais
A little bar in the Brazilian sticks

If you’re visiting Belo Horizonte, Manaus, Cuiaba or any of the other host cities, you’ll need to brush up on your Portuguese, as even in some of the big hotels the management don’t really prioritise teaching their staff English. It’s a case of time, money and the jeitinho brasiliero (“Brazilian Way”).

In any case Brazilians are very friendly people, and they’ll try their best to help you, even if the conversation consists almost entirely of Beatles’ song lyrics.

I’ll be writing five more things you need to know about Brazil, talking about winter, power and protests , very soon. Please comment or like if you want to hear more!

Protests after 72-year-old woman shot dead in Rio favela Alemão

A 72-year-old woman was shot dead during a gun-battle between police and drug-traffickers last night in Favela Nova Brasília, part of the Complexo do Alemão in Rio de Janeiro, sparking a protest amongst residents that ran through the night. Three cars were set alight near the main coordination center of the city’s Police Pacification Units, permanent police stations set up in the middle of “pacified” favelas. 

Both Maré and the Complexo do Alemão complexes are located close to the city’s main international airport and major central thoroughfares and public transport transit links, infrastructure critical to the World Cup.

The Maré favela was occupied by federal troops at the beginning of April in a bid to quell violence in the strategically-located shantytown ahead of the soccer tournament

According to police, a group of officers were patrolling at 18h30 when drug-traffickers shot at them. They returned fire and the elderly Arlinda Bezerra de Assis was shot during the exchange.

The Complexo do Alemão is one of the recently “pacified” favelas (“Pacificação”) in anticipation for the 2014  World Cup.

On the same day police arrested a man suspected of killing a police-officer earlier in the year. 21-year-old Ramires Roberto da Silva was found in an abandoned house in Alemão, and he reportedly tried to bribe the police with R$100,000 (about US$45,000 or £25k) if they let him go. 

21-year-old Ramires Roberto da Silva was found in an abandoned house in Alemão, tried to bribe police with R$100,000
21-year-old Ramires Roberto da Silva was found in an abandoned house in Alemão, tried to bribe police with R$100,000