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World Cup Woes Loom For One Brazilian City


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Melissa Block.

The World Cup, soccer's biggest tournament, is just a few months off. It's a massive undertaking for the host country, Brazil, with huge construction projects attached. One of the 12 host cities, the city of Cuiaba, launched a fantastically ambitious infrastructure plan. It features over 30 projects. But it's been plagued by delays and lots of doubts about whether things will be ready. As NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports, people there are more interested in what legacy the Cup will leave after it's over.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: Cuiaba, the state capital of Mato Grosso, sits in the actual geographical center of South America. By bringing the World Cup here, organizers were hoping to get a tourism and business boost. The vast wetlands, known as the Pantanal, are close by, and this is cattle ranching country. A slew of infrastructure projects were announced, starting with what would greet all those guests coming to the city - a new airport terminal.

The city of Cuiaba says it's expecting around 200,000 tourists to come for the World Cup. It's a few months out. And in front of me, at the airport, there is the husk of a building and organizers say it's very unlikely that the additional terminal will be done in time.

Drive out from there and you come across a muddy track crossing potted roads. That track is supposed to be a light railway system that was to connect the new terminal - unfinished - to the new stadium, also behind schedule. The train now won't be done until well after the World Cup is over. And even the projects that are finished, the work is shoddily done, according to a recent damning report by the city engineering committee that was commissioned by the state legislative assembly.

ANDRE SCHURING: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: City engineer Andre Schuring(ph) says they left it to the last hour. They did many works in a short period of time.

SCHURING: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He shows us pictures of all the faulty workmanship detailed in the report. The report shows how structures that are only a few months old are already crumbling - buckling concrete, cracked facades. Some of the works are just terribly designed. One underpass has pipes that spit water directly onto the road's surface. And the bill for all this work is huge. Luciane Bezerra is a state deputy in Mato Grosso.

LUCIANE BEZERRA: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: She says rather than stimulating growth, the World Cup is going to leave Mato Grosso in huge debt. I think Brazil, not just Mato Grosso, she says, was not ready for the World Cup. Mato Grosso will be penalized because of the World Cup due to the bad management of the government, which has no spending priorities, she says. It will leave a legacy of debt.

Multiple investigations have been launched into the infrastructure projects of the Cuiaba World Cup, according to public prosecutors in the city, some of them for fraud and corruption. The railway is a particular concern. According to prosecutors, the ministry responsible for the project had originally suggested a much cheaper bus option but the report was later falsified so that the more expensive railway could be built even though it was unnecessary. Now the government is going to have to subsidize every train ticket far into the future.

Prosecutors also say that because so many bids were fast-tracked, many were riddled with problems. For example, one bid to supply electricity generators was sent back because the company tried to overcharge by some 70 percent.

CLOVIS DE ALMEIDA JUNIOR: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Clovis De Almeida Junior is a state prosecutor. He says this has all to do with incompetence. What is happening with the World Cup works is what we are all used to with all the public works here in Brazil generally. Not one of the things that were promised have been on time, he says. He says Brazil and Mato Grosso in particular should not have taken on the World Cup.

MAURICIO GUIMARAES: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Mauricio Guimaraes is the extraordinary secretary of the World Cup in Mato Grosso. He acknowledges what Mato Grosso took on was a, quote, "very ambitious project." He says, though, that the benefits outweigh the burden.

GUIMARAES: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The people who live here will have a better quality of life, he says, because the city will be transformed because of the infrastructure works.

GUIMARAES: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We also have a great deal to offer in terms of tourism and we will show the globe after the World Cup who we are and what we have. That is our big legacy, he says.

But whether it was on the street or in the car or here at this restaurant, most residents of Mato Grosso complained to us about the traffic due to the endless road works, the shoddy workmanship of what had been built, and what they said is the mismanagement of all the investment that has come into the city.

JOSE: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Jose, who doesn't want his last name used, says I'm a nurse practitioner. How are we going to receive the tourists when in a big city like Cuiaba, the hospital only has eight ambulances? They only change the sheets on the beds every five days. The money is being spent in the wrong way, he says. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.
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