Recife May Need to Watch the Cup from Afar

Urban demolition works in the streets of Recife paving the ground for the construction of a new stadium and a real estate mega-project "World Cup Village"

At Boa Viagem beach, the beach with the most tourists in Recife, signs warn the swimmers about the danger of shark attacks. This is a recent problem. The coastal ecosystem's degradation since the 1990s and other environmental damage from the construction of Suape Port has claimed more than 59 victims since 1992.

Pernambuco has seen development investments intensify recently. Legislation is made flexible to accommodate different financial interests, but it is not unusual to find cases where serious social and environmental issues have not been accounted for. Recife is the state capital, but it may have a minor role in the World Cup. It will, however, be affected by it.

Sharks, high-rises, and Recife from the inside out

As a rural community in Recife Metropolitan Area, São Lourenço was chosen as the place for the construction of the stadium and the real estate mega-project named World Cup Village. The 20 kilometers that separate Ground Zero – a tourist area in Recife where the fan fest would be held – and Arena Pernambuco are where the protests occurred during the Confederations Cup, far from the football team and from all the World Cup activities. Maybe to avoid the conflicts that show the problems with the infrastructure work headed by the governor, Eduardo Campos, the fan fest can be transferred to João Pessoa, which is 120 kilometers away from Recife.

World Cup Village is still only on paper. The state government and its private venture partners postponed the announcement of the deadline for the start of the project until after the 2014 World Cup. Up to now, incidentally, the attendance for local games has been below expectations.

Arena Pernambuco was planned as part of the urban expansion project, with a cost of about R$650 million. The initial expected cost of R$532 million was surpassed, especially since it was built in a hurry for the Confederations Cup, but an updated amount has not been officially disclosed. Considered the 14th most expensive stadium in the world, it was built with money from public funds. The three loans add up to R$890 million. Two of the loans were transferred for the stadium construction and a third loan was for the state government to guarantee the construction work payments (the stadium maintenance and the investors' profits) for the next 30 years.

No Fan Fest in Recife?

In the first test, performed during the Confederations Cup, the public had serious problems when traveling to the stadium. At the new metro station Cosme e Damião (a Recife neighborhood close to the stadium where tens of families were dispossessed of their homes), the lines were long. For those who decided to go by car, it was necessary to adapt to the long traffic jams on the way to the stadium, leave the vehicles at parking sites created for the event, and then take buses. The population also complained about the disruption caused by the roadblocks put in place for the sake of the buses with the teams. But during the World Cup there is an expectation that the parking system will be more efficient than during the qualifying games, and that the people do not need more than two hours of travel time, as in 2013.

At the end of March, City Hall was still waiting to get the sponsors to pay for the FIFA Fan Fest, the main attraction, since the stadium is located in the neighborhood of São Lourenço and the teams will not be hosted in Pernambuco. The Secretary of Sports and of the World Cup in Recife, George Braga, explains that initially the investment would be R$20 million for 27 days of the event. The city government even proposed to reduce the activities to 14 days, which would decrease the costs to R$11 million, but now the most probable scenario is that the Fest will not happen in Recife.

One of the main traditions of the area, the "Festas Juninas" (June celebrations), happens during the World Cup period. The celebrations are an opportunity for the tourist to learn a little about the Nordeste culture. During the Confederations Cup, there were also large TV screens, but the viewing public was so small that the city government ended up canceling some games.

Evictions of Hundreds of People for the Construction of the "Cidade da Copa"

The construction of Arena Pernambuco displaced many business people in the regional food business in the quiet rural area of São Lourenço without giving them any alternatives. However, it is possible to find five restaurants that are very close to the stadium and have a very traditional menu. Some of the businesses displaced are from where the stadium was built or where World Cup Village stands, such as the Bode do Mundinho, whose proprietor used the compensation money to resettle close to the bypass that is located in front of the arena.

To the World Cup organizing director, Ricardo Leitão, this was an economic opportunity. It was the government's idea to locate World Cup Village in this area to attract metropolitan development. "It was a decision taken from urbanist criteria and certainly will represent an important legacy in the urbanist reorganization of the [Recife Metropolitan Area]."

The lack of consideration given to the area businesspeople is apparent from the official speech. To Leitão, the fact that this project is located in that area will create growth in the Recife Metropolitan Area. Downtown constitutes the original hub of the city. There is also a hub in the metropolitan south, which in the last 10 years has developed around the port, and more recently an oil refinery, a petrochemical hub, and shipyards. Currently, Suape already has one hundred companies, and another hundred are being set up. In the north a new economic hub is developing around the auto industry with Fiat and also Hemobrás (a Brazilian company focused on Hemoderivatives and Biotechnology).

However, to create World Cup Village, hundreds of families that lived in the area were transferred from their residences without any alternatives and financial compensation, which was almost always insufficient to acquire a residence similar to the old one. The investments in mobility, which promise to offer alternatives to the chaotic road system in Recife, are being changed with no planning and at the last minute, as with the alterations of the East-West BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) project, which runs from Recife all the way to the Camaragibe Integrated Terminal.

In order to be ready in time for the World Cup, four BRT stations will not be built in Camaragibe, which is an important road to the stadium. The project will also not have the elevated stations, and the construction work will only end after the World Cup. But it is still uncertain, and even the construction of World Cup Village is being questioned.

The end of for the community of São Fransisco

A few days before the 2014 Carnival, while the festive atmosphere was taking over the streets of the main cities in Pernambuco, the Loteamento São Francisco community was practically disappearing. More than 100 families were dispossessed of their homes and forced to leave behind decades of their lives. The people lost the ties that united them and took significant problems with them that were created by the violent ways in which they were transferred.

Six kilometers from the World Cup headquarters in Pernambuco, where four football teams will play in the World Cup, including the German team, the São Francisco community had many blocks of housing removed to open up space to integrate roadwork and bus terminals considered important by the state government for transport during the World Cup. Many of the Loteamento São Lourenço residents were forced to leave their houses without receiving compensation. Others sued the state, and the withheld compensation contributed to health problems for others: According to the residents, at least six people died from stress.

”My husband was very worried. I will not say that he died because of this, because he already had suffered a stroke in 2006. The doctor asked him to stop smoking and drinking, but he did not stop. Then came the news that we had to leave our home and he was very nervous. The emotional component weighs,” says the telemarketing operator Edjane Ribeiro da Silva, one of the last residents to be transferred from the Loteamento São Francisco community. Edjane went to Camaragibe Court every day to try to resolve the legal issues of her process. Due to this, she also lost her job.

The Camaragibe Court director and First Instance Judge, Ana Paula Costa de Almeida Salazar, responsible for about 40 forced removal processes related to the World Cup infrastructure work, believes that both the Public Defender and the residents' attorneys guided them to accept the proposed compensations, since the process of receiving the money would be easier. "This is accurate because when there is contention the process is more complicated, takes more time," she asserts. "In addition, the leftover money certainly goes toward debt."

The case of Elias Melquiades da Silva is another serious one. With 10 heirs, it became difficult for him and his sister Denize to receive the payment for the two houses they inherited from his parents. They gave up the houses and moved, but the mechanic tried to maintain his business until a few days before Carnival. Without the prospect for change, he lost his clients, dismissed his employees, and ended up giving in to the pressure from the justice agent, the Cities Secretariat, and the Office of the State Attorney General. "They came here every day between 12 and 1 p.m.," explains the devastated professional while he loaded cut wood into the truck that would take his belongings.

The Justice Officer, Leonardo Figueiredo, says he only carries out orders handed down. Together with two employees of the state government, he says that there was only one instance where they could not convince a resident to leave the property voluntarily.

"Insignificant amounts"

"The amount is insignificant, I agree, but this happened due to the illegal aspect, due to this lack of regularization. Camaragibe is a very poor city, in the outskirts, and the people are very uneducated, very unaware, and this made the dispossession very difficult," says judge Salazar about the compensations, which were a maximum of R$4,000 (€1,334). Only in April, after many community residents protested, the state government gave in and decided to implement three work groups to start psychological and sociological support for the families.

The Loteamento São Francisco population was comprised only of seniors, since it was developed during the 1960s, and they did not know how to protect themselves when they needed to confront the state machinery, which was prepared to “clean the land” for the World Cup. Compared to other regions in Brazil, the protests during the Confederations Cup were far from the stadium, since the distance between Recife and Arena Pernambuco made it difficult for people to gather. The dispossessed residents' stories only became known after the tournament, especially after the Pernambuco Popular World Cup Committee began to organize some protests to denounce the situation.

World Cup organizing director Leitão has made it clear that the roadwork for the BRTs and World Cup Beltway are fundamental to the World Cup in Pernambuco. However, he is not worried anymore about the transfers but about the rain and the amount of dirt to be moved so that the connection between Camaragibe and Arena Pernambuco will be ready on time for the World Cup.

The Office of the State Attorney General has been questioned about the difficulties faced by the residents of the Loteamento São Francisco community. Because of that, the state government approved on December 12, 2013, Law number 15,178, which authorizes the concession of housing benefits to the expropriated families of the Loteamento São Francisco community.

No property documentation, no compensation

Only at the end of March 2014 did it become known that the residents could choose the housing benefits and be transferred later to a property allocated for this purpose, or receive the offered compensation. Considering that some compensation amounts were low, the families could opt to give up the compensation and keep the monthly benefit of R$200, which is not sufficient to pay the rent of an average-sized house in Recife Metropolitan Area. The "My Life, My House" Program, from the federal government, has a housing complex with 1,200 houses that will be built in São Lourenço da Mata. It could be the alternative for the Camaragibe families, according to the president of the Housing State Company, Flávio Figueiredo, who did not offer details about the start time for the infrastructure work or the end date of the project.

The Office of the State Attorney General asserts that “more than 80 percent of the legal deposits have already been withdrawn by the expropriated residents.” However, it is common to have cases where the expropriated residents received only a percentage of the compensation because they do not have documentation for their properties. The vast majority, for example, received only the value of the housing, since the large compensation amounts are for the value of the land, and very few residents could obtain all the necessary documents to receive this money.

The Office of the State  Attorney General also highlights that the amounts are not low. But it is necessary to emphasize that many of the processes refer to more than one house, built on the same land. See the table:


Infrastructure Type of Housing Unit Expropriation
Average  Value 
Camaragibe Integrated Terminal - Lotamento São Francisco do Timbi Properties built on owned land R$463,878.97
Properties built on public land R$107,000.00
World Cup Village Beltway - Expropriation Loteamento São Francisco do Timbi Properties built on owned land R$297,133.17
Properties built on public land R$62,133.22


Until now, the World Cup Popular Committee – one of the NGO organizations – as well as popular movements and civil society groups that have denounced the rights violations in connection with the World Cup have had difficulties accounting for the number of people affected by the infrastructure work for the World Cup in Pernambuco. The official figures show 442 expropriations due to the infrastructure work in relation to the urban mobility projects of the state government: 297 in the capital Recife; 38 in Olinda; and 107 in Camaragibe, the neighboring cities.

It is important to highlight that the official numbers are limited to those who owned the land. Judge Salazar, for example, explains that for the city expropriations, 320 families were compensated administratively and another 80 were compensated legally. This difference in the number of families and properties is due to the community being developed in the early 1960s. Many of the early residents just divided their properties, without proper legal documentation, in order to create housing for their children, relatives, or even to rent.