Holidays, lost business in Brazil WCup's lazy days

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Holidays, lost business in Brazil WCup's lazy days
A Brazilian soccer fan celebrates after Brazil scored against Cameroon, while watching the match on a giant television screen in Bixiga neighborhood in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Monday, June 23, 2014. Brazil's Neymar scored twice in the first half to lead Brazil to a 4-1 win over Cameroon on Monday, helping the hosts secure a spot in the second round of the soccer World Cup. (AP Photo/Nelson Antoine)
Brazilian soccer fan Graca, celebrates a Brazilian goal against Cameroon during the 2014 soccer World Cup at the Cantagalo favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Monday, June 23, 2014. Brazil's Neymar scored twice in the first half to lead Brazil to a 4-1 win over Cameroon on Monday, helping the hosts secure a spot in the second round of the World Cup. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
Soccer fans celebrate on the patio of a private residence as they watch a live broadcast of the goal scored by Brazilian midfielder Oscar in the World Cup opening match against Croatia, in Manaus, Brazil, Thursday, June 12, 2014. After taking the early lead in the opening match of the international soccer tournament, Croatia fell 3-1 to the five-time champion Brazil. (AP Photo/Martin Mejia)
A Brazilian fan celebrates as he watches the 2014 soccer World Cup opening game between Brazil and Croatia at the Fan Fest complex in Recife, Brazil, Thursday, June 12, 2014. After taking the early lead in the opening match of the international soccer tournament, Croatia fell 3-1 to the five-time champion Brazil. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)
Soccer fans celebrate on the patio of a private residence as they watch on a television, the second goal scored by Brazilian striker Neymar in the World Cup opening match against Croatia, in Manaus, Brazil, Thursday, June 12, 2014.(AP Photo/Martin Mejia)
Mexico soccer fans celebrate after their team won 3-1 against Croatia at a Brazil World Cup soccer match at the Independence Monument in Mexico City, Monday June 23, 2014. Mexico's victory will allow it to play the next phase of the world tournament. (AP Photo/Sean Havey)
CORRECTS FINAL SCORE OF THE GAME - Mexico soccer fans celebrate a goal scored by their team on a street of Copacabana, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Monday, June 23, 2014. Mexico defeated Croatia, by 3-1, and will play the next phase of the world tournament. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
Mexico soccer fans celebrate after their team won 3-1 against Croatia at a Brazil World Cup soccer match at the Independence Monument in Mexico City, Monday June 23, 2014. Mexico's victory will allow it to play the next phase of the world tournament. (AP Photo/Sean Havey)
A Mexico fan cheers prior to the group A World Cup soccer match between Croatia and Mexico at the Arena Pernambuco in Recife, Brazil, Monday, June 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)
ROYAL OAK, MI - JUNE 30: Daniel Muecke ( 2nd L), orginally of Duesseldorf, Germany and Thilo Dappers (R) orginally of Saarbruecken, Germany celebrate while watching the Germany vs. Algeria World Cup match at the Red Fox English Pub in Royal Oak, MI after Mesut Ozil scored in the second period of extra time to seal a 2-0 win for Germany on June 30, 2014 in Royal Oak, Michigan. (Photo by Paul Warner/Getty Images)
Germany's supporters celebrate at the end of a Round of 16 football match between Germany and Algeria they watched on a giant screen in Rio de Janeiro, during the 2014 FIFA World Cup on June 30, 2014. Germany won 2 to 1. AFP PHOTO / YASUYOSHI CHIBA (Photo credit should read YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP/Getty Images)
Germany soccer fans celebrate their team's victory over Algeria after watching the World Cup round of 16 match on a live telecast inside the FIFA Fan Fest area on Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Monday, June 30, 2014. Germany won 2-1 in extra time. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
Costa Rica soccer fans celebrate their team's victory over Greece at a Brazil World Cup round of 16 game in San Jose, Costa Rica, Sunday, June 29, 2014. Costa Rica won a penalty shootout 5-3 after the match ended 1-1 following extra time. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)
France soccer fans celebrate the first goal scored by their team as they watch their team's World Cup round of 16 match against Nigeria on a live telecast inside the FIFA Fan Fest area on Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Monday, June 30, 2014. France's Paul Pogba scored with a late header to finally break Nigeria’s stubborn resistance and Joseph Yobo scored an own-goal as France won 2-0 to reach the World Cup quarterfinals on Monday. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
In this picture made available July 1, 2014 German soccer fans celebrate after Germany beat Algeria at the World Cup in Heilbronn, Germany, Monday, June 30, 2014. (AP Photo/Sebastian Kahnert)
Brazil fans celebrate after their team scored a goal during a penalty shootout after regulation time during the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Brazil and Chile at the FIFA Fan Fest in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Saturday, June 28, 2014.(AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
Dutch soccer fans celebrate their team's victory after they watched the World Cup round of 16 match against Mexico on a live telecast inside the FIFA Fan Fest area on Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, June 29, 2014. The Netherlands staged a dramatic late comeback, scoring two goals in the dying minutes to beat Mexico 2-1 and advance to the World Cup quarterfinals. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
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By Jenny Barchfield

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) - Lucky students in Chile went home early, many Brazilian offices and stores went dark, and across the megalopolis of Mexico City traffic was as calm as midnight. With three Latin American countries playing for their World Cup futures Monday, fans across the region succumbed to soccer fever, slowing regular business to a crawl.

Brazilians, who already are used to generous time off for Carnival celebrations and Catholic observances, have enjoyed even more holidays during the monthlong soccer tournament.

When Brazil's national team plays, many workplaces across the country shut down. In host cities such as Rio de Janeiro, the government declared half- or full-day holidays on game days to clear the streets of commuters and enable soccer fans to move about with greater ease.

Last week, there were only two regular work days in Rio, a city of 12 million people. This week will be much the same.

On Monday, before Brazil defeated Cameroon 4-1 in Brasilia, Catia Santiago was soaking up the sunshine on the golden sands of Copacabana beach rather than head to work to sell hair products.

"I'm going to take a hit financially," Santiago said. "I'll probably earn about 30 to 50 percent less, but I will have had 200 percent more fun than usual."

Indeed, critics contend all of the time off is bad for business.

Financial newspapers have reported the volume of trade on Sao Paulo's Bovespa stock exchange began to slow even before the June 12-July 13 tournament. Fecomercio, a Sao Paulo-based group representing the goods, services and tourism sectors, warned that those businesses may lose up to $13.5 billion due to lost productivity and the need to pay double salaries to people who work government-declared holidays.

However, Brazil's Tourism Ministry has said the World Cup itself will inject that much money into the nation's economy, offsetting any such losses.

Katia Andrade, a saleswoman for a Rio online data storage company, complained that the extra time off was putting her way behind on her yearly revenue target.

"The World Cup is literally costing me money," Andrade said. "Since the beginning of the year, projects have been lagging behind, with everybody putting things off until after the Cup. And now, with almost every day a public holiday, it's totally impossible to get anything done."

Mexico City started to resemble a ghost town by midday Monday as locals geared up for the afternoon game between Mexico and Croatia in the northeastern Brazilian city of Recife, which Mexico won 3-1.

During the national team's matches, "one can cross Mexico City as if it were the middle of the night, stopping only at a few stoplights," taxi driver Alejandro Ramirez said, adding that traffic Monday morning already was about 20 percent lighter than a regular day.

After the game, thousands of fans wearing the national team's green jersey and waving Mexican flags jammed the traffic circle around the Angel of Independence statue on the capital's main avenue, disrupting traffic in the business zone.

In Chile, some schools and universities suspended classes ahead of the national team's match with the Netherlands in Sao Paulo, while thousands of people congregated on a central square fitted with a giant screen to follow the game. Chile lost 2-0, but still advanced to the tournament's second round.

Schools in Brazil also pushed winter break forward to coincide with the World Cup, as the drop-off and pick-up of school children is a major source of traffic jams.

While students may be rejoicing, a recent column on the website of Veja, a right-leaning newsmagazine, called such school and business holidays a "confession of incompetence" - evidence that authorities' failure to build adequate infrastructure forced them to concoct a fix to Brazil's traffic woes.

"The government has seven years to prepare for the event - seven years! Of course they weren't capable," the column by Rodrigo Constantino said. "And now they adopt a typically Brazilian solution, which is jerry-rigging and cobbling together a way out.

"This is definitely not a serious country," he concluded.

Honduras' president also has been criticized for making an extended visit to Brazil, where his country's national team is playing in the World Cup for only the third time.

President Juan Orlando Hernandez skipped talks in Guatemala with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, sending his chief of staff to discuss a rise in unaccompanied children crossing into the United States while he attended Honduras' debut match against Ecuador.

The Central American country lost the game 2-1, and the U.S. ambassador to Honduras, Lisa Kubiske, remarked, "You have a very important soccer game in Brazil, no one can deny it, but the country has priorities that need the one in command to be present."

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Associated Press writers Alberto Arce in Tegucigalpa, Honduras; Eduardo Castillo and Michael Weissenstein in Mexico City and Eva Vergara in Santiago, Chile, contributed to this report.

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