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If you were in Brazil at the moment, you would feel World Cup football fever beginning to take hold with the Confederations Cup, the dress rehearsal for the main tournament in 2014, due to start next month.
President Dilma Rousseff has been inaugurating one new stadium after another and debate is becoming more heated about how ready Brazil is for both tournaments.
The soya-belt state of Mato Grosso, Brazil’s equivalent of the US Midwest, is no different. Officials there are scrambling to train young people to host the wave of tourists expected to pour into the state’s capital, Cuiabá, which will be one of the 12 host cities for the World Cup. The only problem is the kind of training these people are receiving.
The state government contracted a company, Instituto Concluir, to write a course book about the history of the region for hotel workers and others in the tourism industry.
The idea was that they could then wax lyrical to outsiders about the state’s municipalities and what they have to offer to the traveller keen to see more after the World Cup. After all, Mato Grosso is a “gateway” to the Pantanal, one of the world’s largest wetlands, heaving with jaguars, large fish, anacondas, giant otters and other wildlife.
But instead of extolling the virtues of the state or the Pantanal, the book proceeded to trash its various municipalities and their pioneers in the least courteous terms possible.
The volume, for instance, describes Barão de Melgaço in the state’s south as what might politely be called the backside of the world, claiming it has only 2.5 per cent dry land, in reference to its proximity to the Pantanal. Settled in the 19th century by a farmer of “medicinal leeches”, it says the city was made a municipality because it was too “crap” to be included as a district of nearby Cuiabá. “Currently, it’s just another fetid swamp in Brazil’s west,” the book concludes.
Cáceres, in the middle of the state, is written off as being founded by “Indians and lesbian nuns” among others, the book says. Oh, and a plague supposedly wiped out the region’s mango trees, in turn killing 40 per cent of the population from famine – in 1970. The book singles out Santo Antônio do Leverger for insult, saying its only attraction are the ignorant tourists from Brazil’s richest state, São Paulo, who arrive there by accident while looking for Barão de Melgaço.
Fortunately, the state government discovered the unflattering content of the book early on after it had been distributed to only 40 students. Apparently, a disgruntled employee who was dismissed had managed to insert the errant passages. In the furore that followed, the matter was referred to the police as a case of deliberate “sabotage”. Whatever their ethical lapses, the employee certainly had a talent for satire.
Storm in a raincoat
When you are hosting the World Cup, you cannot be too prepared. That presumably is why the police of Brazil’s federal capital district in Brasília put in a R$5.3m ($2.6m) order for 17,000 raincoats for the event, more than one for each of the 15,000 policemen in the region.
There is one thing they have overlooked, however. It will be dry season in Brasília when the city hosts its games of the Cup. And dry season in Brasília means dry – usually not one drop of rain for three months.
The chief of police countered that these were special raincoats that could be used for all mega-events. But his protests came too late. The order was suspended by a government worried less about the exposure of its police officers to the weather and more about the political storm the raincoats had created.
Investors were disappointed when Nelson Barbosa, a senior finance official seen as more market friendly than his peers, was given his political marching orders this month. Apparently he had differences with rival bureaucrats and Guido Mantega, the finance minister, over policies such as tax reform and the transparency of the government’s fiscal accounts. The only consolation was that he would at least be hanging around for a few weeks to conduct a handover.
But no, not any more. Apparently he has gone on holiday and will not be returning. Perhaps he will at least have time to watch the Confederations Cup and keep an eye on those orders for raincoats or tourist manuals.