Skip to main content

Brazil 2014: Black Blocs to provide black mark?

By Piers Edwards, CNN
updated 8:37 AM EDT, Mon June 2, 2014
In April, demonstrators hit the streets in Sao Paulo to protest against Brazil's hosting of the 2014 World Cup, which begins on June 12.<!-- -->
</br> In April, demonstrators hit the streets in Sao Paulo to protest against Brazil's hosting of the 2014 World Cup, which begins on June 12.
HIDE CAPTION
'You are not going to have the Cup'
Anger and frustration
Belo protests
Fireball
Stop and stare
Eyes in the sky
To the streets
Support not flagging
Fire burns bright
Anonymous
Tear gas
Sparks fly
Run for cover
Cashing in
Let it burn
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Leading professor cautions that protest groups may target buses and hotels of World Cup teams
  • 'Black Bloc' groups have often been blamed when protests have turned violent
  • Coach Luis Felipe Scolari has previously said the protests may harm Brazil's World Cup hopes

(CNN) -- It's not just fans traveling to the World Cup who should be worried about the looming demonstrations -- but the players too, says a leading researcher into one of Brazil's main protest groups.

Even though millions took to the streets to campaign against social injustice during the 2013 Confederations Cup, the protests at this month's finals are expected to be both bigger and more violent.

While the vast majority of demonstrators will do so peacefully, a hard core element will be represented by a group commonly referred to as the 'Black Blocs.'

Read: World Cup protests hit 18 Brazilian cities

Regularly clad in masks, balaclavas or bandannas, their behavior -- which often includes smashing windows, damaging buildings and committing arson -- has become common to Brazilians during the ongoing protests.

Thousands protest in Brazil
Neymar: Protests must be peaceful
Shocking video shows Brazil clashes
World Cup protests turn violent
Brazil star's record breaking career

"The Black Blocs are low middle class youngsters who tend to follow an anarchist ideology, but they are more concerned about the problems of Brazil, such as poor education and public health," Professor Rafael Alcadipani told CNN.

"Their main focus during the World Cup is to make trouble, and they will make strong protests.

"I think they will try to target the buses and hotels of delegations."

A February post on a Facebook page called 'Black Block Brasil' even lists the hotels that each team will use World Cup, which starts on June 12 and ends on July.

Like many Brazilians, the Black Blocs argue that the $11 billion spent on staging football's greatest event could have been spent on improving social areas such as health care, education and housing stock instead.

Although six people died during the Confederations Cup protests, which snowballed from a protest over a transport price rise in Sao Paulo to a nationwide movement against corruption and poor governance, they were seen as largely peaceful.

The expectations for next month are very different.

"For the Black Blocs, the massive demonstrations in June 2013 had no political answers, so the way of non-violent demonstrations is over," says Professor Esther Solano, who works at the Federal University of Sao Paulo.

Read: Can FBI stop Brazil's protestors?

Both Solano and Alcadipani, who works for a higher education institution called the Getulio Vargas Foundation, have been attending demonstrations to talk to Black Blocs members over the last year.

In March, CNN made approaches through Alcadipani to talk to some Black Blocs but our advances were rejected on the grounds that they wanted 'to have surprises for the World Cup' and that they did not want to 'publicize their actions.'

For the Black Blocs, symbolic violence is a legitimate way of political action
Professor Esther Solano

Although Black Bloc members are often referred to as a group, anarchists say the phrase actually refers to a tactic used to protest -- whereupon like-minded individuals come together in a set fashion.

"The flavor of the black bloc changes from action to action, but the main goals are to provide solidarity in the face of a repressive police state and to convey an anarchist critique of whatever is being protested that day," writes infoshop.org, which calls itself an online resource of news, opinion and information on anarchism.

What is being protested now is the same as last year of course -- namely, Brazil's social ills -- which have yet to be addressed, as even FIFA's General Secretary Jerome Valcke has freely admitted.

By contrast, his boss Sepp Blatter has countenanced that the World Cup has the power to silence the protests -- opining in April that "football is stronger than anybody, anybody and any other movement in the world" -- which is bluster at best and naivety at worst.

After all, Brazilian society will never have a better platform to air its grievances.

"The Black Blocs want to attract the attention of the international media because they want to share their sense of indignation, frustration and anger," Solano continued.

Rio de Janeiro's crack cocaine epidemic
Brazilians predict 2014 World Cup winner
Discover the real Rio
Experience Rio like the locals
Rio's stunning ocean views

"They want the world to change its opinion about Brazil. For them, Brazil is not the country of football, samba or carnival, but a country with a lot of problems and social difficulties that need to change.

"What they want is to call for a debate (on the future of Brazil). For them, symbolic violence is a legitimate way of political action.

"The argument they use is this: if the government does not care about the people, nor listen to their indignation and frustration, then the only way to provoke a debate is radicalization or violence."

The Black Blocs attracted widespread outrage after a cameraman died during a February protest in Rio de Janeiro, for which the Black Blocs were blamed -- rightly or wrongly.

"We do not know if the two young men arrested even knew what Black Bloc is or if they just joined the protest with their own idea of violence," said Solano. "But for the public, the Black Bloc as a whole was guilty of the tragedy."

Nor is there any sign of the government reaching out to these disillusioned Brazilians, a move which both professors believe could greatly diminish the threat of violent protests during the World Cup.

"The government should try to engage and negotiate with these people, yet they've just been using repression so far," said Alcadipani. "The difficulty is to try to talk to these youngsters.

"The Black Blocs' ability to provoke serious damage is not really that big but the point is that some of their demonstrations reach very high levels of tension with the Military Police," said Solano.

"If we want to minimize the risk, we have to start with mediation and negotiation, especially since the number of Black Blocs is such a small phenomenon. We are talking about dozens of people in Sao Paulo, which is nothing for a city of that size."

Solano feels part of the problem is that the police are still learning how to deal with such situations while politicians are hiding from the issue, afraid of compromising their chances in October's political elections by speaking out.

'Different Scenario'

Last year's protests caught officials from both FIFA and Brazil by surprise, prompting police in the latter to undergo intense training -- with assistance from the French in Rio and the FBI in Belo Horizonte.

With 57,000 members of the armed forces deployed specifically for the World Cup, Brazil will be better prepared to deal with a variety of protestors, some of whom were previously put off by the Black Blocs' aggressive strategy.

"People were afraid of going onto the streets during the 2013 demonstrations, but 2014 is a different scenario," Solano told CNN.

"Several social movements are preparing to protest against the World Cup and they will be side-by-side with the Black Blocs."

In April, Brazil's national coach Luiz Felipe Scolari was asked by a local television station if the mooted demonstrations might affect his players' chances of winning the World Cup.

"It could -- big time," he replied in typically unequivocal fashion.

That a country seen as football's spiritual home -- having provided some of the world's greatest players and a record number of World Cup wins -- and also as party-loving, friendly and hospitable may be on the verge of scoring a crucial own goal seems deeply ironic.

But then, with issues aplenty, Brazil 2014 may well be a tournament where the action inside the stadiums may be little match for the drama going on outside.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:53 AM EDT, Tue October 28, 2014
How Real Madrid's new stadium will look
They splash the cash on the world's best players, now Real Madrid are giving the Bernabeu the same treatment with a bling makeover.
updated 9:09 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Football world mourns South African captain Senzo Meyiwa who was shot and killed during a botched robbery in a township near Johannesburg.
updated 9:48 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
A man as a Roman centurion and who earn his living by posing with tourists gestures in front of the Colosseum during a protest where some of his colleagues climbed on the monument on April 12, 2012 in Rome. The costumed centurions are asking for the right to work there after they were banned following a decision by local authorities.
From the ancient ruins of Rome, a new empire rises. But the eyes of the city's newest gladiator light up at thoughts of the Colosseum.
updated 12:22 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Once part of Germany's largest Jewish sports club, now he's the first ISIS suspect to stand trial in a country left shocked by his alleged radicalization.
updated 10:11 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
One goal in eight matches for new club Liverpool, and dumped by the Italian national team -- Mario Balotelli has yet to shine on his English return.
updated 2:19 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Ched Evans smiles during the Wales training session ahead of their UEFA EURO 2012 qualifier against England on March 25, 2011 in Cardiff, Wales.
Should a convicted rapist, who has served their time in prison, be allowed to resume their old job? What if that job was as a high-profile football player?
updated 8:47 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
After 10 years of golden glory, it's easy to see how Lionel Messi has taken his place among the football gods.
updated 6:34 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
A football fan wipes a tear after Inter Milan's Argentinian defender Javier Zanetti has greeted fans following the announcement of his retirement before the start of the Italian seria A football match Inter Milan vs Lazio, on May 10, 2014, in San Siro Stadium In Milan
When will the tears stop? A leading Italian football club is pursuing a new direction -- under the guidance of its new Indonesian owner.
updated 6:41 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Norwegian 15-year-old Martin Odegaard is the youngest player ever to feature in a European Championships qualifying match.
updated 9:10 AM EDT, Fri October 10, 2014
After revolutionizing cricket with its glitzy Twenty20 league, India has now thrown large sums of money at a new football venture.
updated 10:53 AM EDT, Thu October 2, 2014
Get ruthless. That is Rio Ferdinand's message to soccer's authorities in the fight to tackle the scourge of racism.
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Wed September 10, 2014
A picture taken on May 16, 2014 shows 15-year-old Norwegian footballer Martin Oedegaard of club Stroemsgodset IF cheering during a match in Drammen, Norway. Oedegaard is set to become Norways youngest player ever in the national football team.
He's just 15 and the world is seemingly already at his feet. Norway's Martin Odegaard is being sought by Europe's top clubs.
ADVERTISEMENT