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Opinion: A 'political powder keg' ahead of the World Cup

The upcoming World Cup is turning a country marked by social contrasts into a political powder keg. Many Brazilians now recognize that more income doesn't always mean more civil rights, says DW's Astrid Prange.

It's a success story that's too good to be true: Not a single shot fell when troops and police occupied the first slum in Rio de Janeiro in December 2008. Meanwhile, almost 40 of the roughly 300 favelas at the city's Sugarloaf Mountain have been "pacified" and drug dealers forced to leave and find new sales points.

But just 50 days ahead of the kick-off in Brazil, reality appears to be catching up with the miracle of Rio. Like a fire accelerant, the World Cup seems to heighten conflicts that have long been smouldering in Brazilian society. The most recent outbreak of violence in the Copacabana beach district shows that the days are gone when social issues in Brazil can simply be "solved" with brute police force.

Disappointed hopes

There's a certain tragedy to the fact that people are taking to the streets to protest the government and the ruling PT Workers' Party whose social programs have freed millions of people from poverty over the past 10 years. But meanwhile, many Brazilians have recognized that growing income doesn't automatically mean more civil rights. Ironically, the PT's revolution of social justice has turned on its fathers.

The gap between theory and reality is huge. While luxury hotels may have opened in select favelas with a view of the sea, the contrast between neglected slums and privileged parts of the city - which has shaped the city for centuries - has yet to be overcome. Residents of the favelas must still settle for less adequate schools and jobs as well as poor health care. Progress often lags behind expectations.

Torture in the name of peace

And that's not all: People in the favelas are still regarded as potential drug dealers or muggers. Amarildo de Souza is the most recent victim of such merciless prejudices. Last year, police arrested the construction worker in the Rocinha slum in Rio "by mistake," because they thought he was a drug dealer. Months later, it was discovered he was tortured to death by the "Pacifying Police."

The torture scandal in Rocinha finally shattered all hope of a new, peaceful citizens' police. The initial hope favela residents harbored - namely, to be finally treated with respect by the police – turned into an overall rejection of the security concept presented by the pacifying police. They came to realize that Brazil's police force still resorts to torture almost 30 years after the end of the military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985.

It's not yet clear whether Douglas Rafael da Silva Pereira, the dancer found dead on Tuesday in Pavao-Pavaozinho favela, is another victim of arbitrary police violence. Suspicion runs deep that this could be a repetition of the tragic events of July 2013. Every day, the hunt for alleged drug dealers can claim new innocent victims like Amarildo de Souza . It will take a miracle to make Brazil's Pacifying Police success story come true.

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