Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : May 29th 2014 Contents BG12 NEWS
BUSINESS GUARDIAN www.guardian.co.tt MAY 2014 • WEEK FIVE
to host the
beach destination was exactly the type
of city it wanted to show off.
A nationwide economic boom was
transforming the once-sleepy backwater
into a fast-growing city typical of the
new Brazil, a country at last poised to
make its long-promised leap into the
Who cares that Natal, in the histor-
ically poor northeast, lies far from the
nerve centres of Rio de Janeiro and São
Paulo? Or that its stadium, home to
middling regional teams, was hardly a
venue for big-league soccer, let alone
the world s most popular tournament?
Natal would build a state-of-the-art
new arena, authorities said, and all
manner of additional infrastructure,
too. They promised a light rail network,
a new hospital, a beachfront facelift
and wheelchair-friendly sidewalks.
Five years later, and four weeks before
kickoff, little besides the arena and a
remote, untested airport are complete.
Almost half the more than US$1.3
billion in promised developments never
began. What did has languished, includ-
ing ongoing road work that has rendered
the stadium s outskirts a raw sprawl of
rebar, dust and concrete.
"This is a missed opportunity," says
Fernando Mineiro, a state assemblyman
for the leftist Workers Party, now in
its 12th year in national power. "Natal
failed to deliver."
Cities go after the World Cup, the
Olympics and other events because the
tourism, broadcast exposure and other
revenues can justify infrastructure
investments and other "legacy" benefits
like those that famously remade
Barcelona for the 1992 Olympics.
But waste is also common, often
leaving idle infrastructure, like useless
South African stadiums after the 2010
Cup, as legacies of little but vanity.
Across Brazil, especially its 12 Cup
venues, locals are lamenting high costs,
delays and stillborn investments.
Bureaucracy, corruption and political
squabbling, they say, has led to the
usual lack of follow-through that has
often hobbled development in
Latin America s biggest country.
A US$16 billion bullet train
between Rio and São Paulo never
got off the drawing board. Instead
of a new airport terminal, passen-
gers in Fortaleza will pass through
a huge tent. A $700 million rail
line in the farm-belt capital of
Cuiabá won t be ready until well
after the Cup.
Nationwide, only 36 of 93 major
projects are complete, according
to Sinaenco, a trade group of engi-
neers and architects.
The shortfalls compound already
widespread discontent over the
roughly US$11 billion spent on the
event. The cost is particularly vex-
ing now that Brazil s economy,
after a near-decade of average
annual growth over four per cent,
has lumbered to half that rate.
Mass protests erupted across
Brazil last June during a tourna-
ment considered a World Cup
warm-up, and smaller demonstra-
tions have continued. The Cup,
many Brazilians say, reveals still-
glaring divides in a country big on
spectacle, but weak on health care,
infrastructure, education and other
"It will be a beautiful tourna-
ment," says Maria Santos, a 29-
year-old Natal nurse in line for a
bus to a hospital where she and
colleagues often work without latex
gloves and syringes. "But whatever
they spend on it would be better
Like other host cities where
ambition outpaced reality, and
Brazil s economy itself, Natal fell
far short of developed-world aspi-
The city of just under one mil-
lion residents is beset by soaring
crime, crippling traffic, erratic pub-
lic finances and local politics so
baroque, and allegedly corrupt,
that a mayor was recently ousted
and the current state governor faces
"Things haven t gone quite as
predicted," says José Aldemir Freire,
an economist at the local office of
Brazil s national statistics agency.
"There were some investments,
yes, but not on the scale expect-
FIFA, soccer s global authority,
at first expected only eight host
But Brazil s government and
national soccer kingpins wanted
to show off more, scoring regional
political points in the process.
Brazil, they told FIFA, would pre-
pare 12 venues, unleashing a
scramble among second-tier cities.
"We were an ugly duckling,"
recalls Fernando Fernandes, a for-
mer state secretary for the event.
But Natal had advantages.
At the elbow of South America,
it is closer to Europe than any other
destination in Brazil. Natal s shore-
line, along towering dunes that
shape its landscape, boasts more
hotel rooms than any host besides
Rio, São Paulo and Salvador.
When FIFA announced Natal s
name at a ceremony in May 2009,
residents gathered beachside to
watch live on a giant screen. Fire-
works flared overhead and local
officials promptly began making
Their first challenge was the new
FIFA required an arena for at
least 42,000 spectators; ten times
the average for routine Natal
games. Local officials decided to
demolish the existing stadium and
They hired architects and cal-
culated a cost of US$180 million
for the new arena. When they
sought bids for the job in 2010,
though, contractors said it couldn t
be built for that price.
Organisers scaled back the blue-
print, reducing the size of a wavy
canopy around the top that is a
Brazilians left wanting
by flawed World Cup
Continued on Page 13
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