HUNTING WHITE ELEPHANTS / CAÇANDO ELEFANTES BRANCOS

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18 April 2014

Countdown to crazy

The World Cup is approaching like a meteorite that we cannot shoot out of the sky. Everyone is in panic mode and there are palpable tensions in all of the World Cup host cities. No one knows how this tournament is going to work, if the airports will be able to handle the increased volume, if foreigners will be able to buy flights with foreign credit cards, if there are enough seats in the stadiums (because not even FIFA knows which seats it has sold), if the police are going to go on strike.


A secure off-world in the midst of Salvador
This week in Salvador the Bahia state military police went on strike and chaos ensued. More than 40 people in the metropolitan region were killed over 48 hours and there was widespread sacking of shops and grocery stores. This speaks to the precariousness of civility in Brazil. The governor had to call in federal troops to restore order. If after a decade of economic growth and full employment the only thing standing between generalized homicide and mad dashes for food and consumer goods is the military police, then the social project of Brazil is on the brink of collapse. But have you seen Salvador´s shiny new World Cup stadium?

The more that I think and research the 2014 World Cup, the less important the stadiums become. I have come to think of them as bois de piranha. A boi de piranha is a weak cow that is sent across a piranha-infested river ahead of the heard. The piranhas are distracted from the main course by devouring the sacrifice and the heard passes easily. The World Cup stadia account for less than 30% of World Cup spending. The other projects, most of them incomplete, are what are called “legacy” projects.

The Boi de Piranha in Recife

The Recife stadium project is a good example of this. Built more than 20 kilometers outside of the city center in the suburban city of São Lourenço da Mata (forest), the so-called Itaipava Pernambuco Arena is the leading edge of a multi-billion dollar real-estate vector called Cidade da Copa. The government has invested more than R$2 billion in transportation lines to get between the city center and the Cidade da Copa and the stadium itself carries a price tag of R$529,5 million. The publicly financed stadium has been privatized. The Cidade da Copa reproduces the same kind of spatial and social fragmentation that defined the current wave of Brazilian urbanism, one in which upper-middle and upper class residents live in closed condominiums in car-dependent landscapes. The transportation lines are not for the people that will live in the Cidade da Copa but for the lower-class service sector employees that will work as cleaning ladies, janitors, gardeners and security guards.


Back in Rio governor Cabal Cabral resigned his post so that his second in command could take the reigns and increase his chances of election as an incumbent. The federal military´s occupation of Maré has captured the attention of the international media at the same time that the wheels appear to be coming off the UPP model in some key areas such as Rocinha and the Complexo do Alemão. In places without UPP, the same model of counter-insurgency incursion into favelas continues. In the far wild west of Rio a 7-year old was hit in the leg by a PM bullet and a resident killed. Revolted residents attacked a BRT station and burned a bus in protest. The more we are told that things have changed the more they stay the same.



While I agree with my colleague Brian Mier that there have been significant gains in the overall well being of Brazilian society over the last twelve years, the World Cup may be tearing asunder the last remaining shreds of the Brazilian social contract. The recent events in Salvador are an indication of this. The very idea of the Cidade da Copa is further evidence that Brazilian elites are using the World Cup as a mechanism to distance themselves financially, socially and physically from the people and places that make them rich. The ongoing repression, exclusion and expulsion of the poor in Rio de Janeiro, while historically consistent, is evidence that the World Cup is being used to re-configure urban space to ensure the smooth exercise and accumulation of power.

01 April 2014

Everything is going great



The violence that permeates daily life in Brazil is becoming more visible as if the stresses of preparing for the World Cup are making people, infrastructure and institutions crack. In the past few weeks we have had a series of horrors that I refuse to ignore. A woman (Cláudia Ferreira) was shot in the chest while going to get bread for her four kids. The police that shot her, who between them were responsible for scores of deaths, threw her into the back of their SUV and as they drove away the door opened and she was dragged hundreds of meters down the street in front of her friends and neighbors. There may have been more scandal about O Bobo´s terrible coverage of the incident than the incident itself. 

In another act of daily horror a BRT Transoeste feeder bus came too fast around a corner, lost control, jumped the road divider and killed three children and woman that were waiting to cross. The lack of urban planning and the general insanity of the bus system are responsible for this daily violence that people have to face in Rio. These people died because there are no over or underpasses and there had been no intervention by public authorities to reduce the public risk on what locals called “the corner of death” . When the Brazilian media reports on these accidents they are mostly interested in how long it takes for the traffic to start flowing again. 

Today is the anniversary of the 1964 CIA-backed Military Coup. The violence is getting to the point where I have heard numerous people declare that the only way “to bring order back” to society is to have a dictatorship. It would seem that many are getting their wish as the expansion of military counter-insurgencies continues in Rio.  The saudade for the military dictatorship always comes from the very people who benefitted from it the last time around and who are also benefitting the most from Brazil´s spiraling ascension (or decline) into a well-behaved global economic player. There are, of course, millions and millions and millions of Brazilians that have fought long and hard to bring about democratic conditions and the rule of law, but they are fighting an uphill battle against a rising tide of neo-liberalism. This rising tide has all of the delightful aromas and flavors of Rio´s barely functioning sewage system where when we spoon through the fetid stew we find that there are pervasive notions about the rights of individuals that would be more appropriate under the Talban than the PT. 

Haven´t heard about this one? A study by IPEA showed that 65.1% of Brazilian respondents, men and women, agreed partially or in full that women who dressed provocatively “were asking to be raped.” An anti-rape campaign emerged with the hashtag “I don´t deserve to be raped.” This is a necessary, logical and correct response. However, in a machista, violent, and conservative society the reaction was not long in coming: death threats, rape threats and intimidation forced the organizers of the campaign off social media sites. This was the same week in which reports came out about the daily sexual violence that women experience on overcrowded buses and trains in Brazilian cities. To confirm the general acceptance of this in Brazil, advertisements on the metro are promoting a drink called SYN whose mascot is an alien (read: gringo) that “abducts” Rio´s provocatively dressed, tipsy, black and mulata women. The message: rape away boys, most people think it´s ok. 

The World Cup would be a welcome distraction from the daily violence except that yet another worker has died in São Paulo and work on the stadium has again stopped (gasp!). There will probably be a few more deaths as the time pressures grow. No one is to blame as the World Cup functions like an extensive shell game of interests that leaves vacuums of responsibility, exposing the least protected to the greatest risk. Of course, the “real risk” is to the World Cup which is why the government puts on massive security performances to show foreigners that they are getting tough on crime and that critical infrastructures will be protected. The occupation of Maré this week was nothing more than that. The media in Brazil crowed about how the military were able to occupy the whole complex in 15 minutes without firing a shot. Never mind the year´s long notice that the occupation was going to happen. This triumphalist discourse ignores the fact that hundreds of thousands of shots have been fired in and at Maré over the years and that last year during the Confederations Cup, this same “pacifying” force massacred eleven people (some with bayonets). So while the World Cup will have little or no impact on Brazil´s economy (according to Moody´s), in a country where black kids are three times as likely to be shot as all other groups, it is extremely disturbing that we are spending R$1.9 billion on security measures that will increase the likelihood of their deaths. 

Brazil has come a long way since the end of the dictatorship in 1985, but there are many generations of work to be done to make this a more just and democratic society. Facing the legacy of the dictatorship on its 50th anniversary has to be more than just remembering how bad things were. The national leadership has only taken tentative steps towards truth commissions and is repeating some of the same tactics with their pursuit of draconian laws against social movements and protests during mega-events (including new “terrorist” laws). Part of the reason for the continuity of ideologies between the dictatorship and neo-liberal democracy is that the economic and political agents that dictate public policy in Brazil accumulated their wealth and power under the military regime. Granted, the PT has to work within the given structure but they don´t seem keen to change things as long as they can keep their hands on the tiller and in the till. With the World Cup hurtling at us like an unavoidable meteor it is important to remember that “the political use of football by dictatorships, military regimes and authoritarian governments dos not neutralize the spaces and practice of football for acts of resistance.


17 March 2014

Rio Twenty Something

Brazil is desperate for some good news that doesn´t come from its entertainment pages. The economy has been sacked by Dilma and the PT, the “pacification” program in Rio is proving that it does not, in fact, make sense to replace one arbitrary, militarized system of justice with another, the World Cup organizers are entering into full-scale damage control and the Olympic projects are so far behind schedule before they even get started that Rio 2016 might change its name to Rio Twenty Something.

The depressing state of affairs in the run in to the World Cup is making everyone quite anxious for the Cup to actually get going. It will be a huge relief to be able to talk about football for a month, though of course there will be protests and violence and human rights violations, arbitrary arrests, massive confusion at the airports, teams getting lost on the way to their hotels and the trumpeting cacophony of the world´s largest herd of white elephants.

We discovered this week that airplanes will not be adding to this noise. As a “security measure” all airports within a 7 km radius of WC elephants will be closed for up to seven hours before and during matches. Why 7 km? Surely it is not for security reasons as a plane could zip into a stadium as easily from 10 km as it could from 7 and there are not yet plans to have anti-aircraft missiles on rooftops. No, the reason for the cancellation of more than 800 flights is to prevent airplane noise from interfering with game transmission. At least there won´t be long waits to get baggage.

The Lord Mayor Eduardo II of São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro decreed public holidays on all WC game days, cancelled all permits for cultural events between May 22 and July 18, and suspended all public works projects for the same period. That means that there will be no work done on any Olympic related projects, no improvements to city infrastructure, no hammering of any kind for two months. While it will be quieter, what will all of the workers do? Will they be receiving their salaries for staying at home with their kids? The banishment of residents from their own city is what is going to make the World Cup possible – just another form of accumulation by dispossession.

Has everyone fully swallowed the bitter pill of the Sochi Games? Watching the closing ceremonies of the Paralympic Games last night, I could envision the map of Russia that served as the podium growing to
Putin´s message to the West
incorporate Crimea and eastern Ukraine. Sochi 2014 has served as a delightful soft power cover for Putin to pursue his hard power geo-politics. All the while the IOC sits on its pudgy golden ringed fingers, extolling the hackneyed virtuosity of the European aristocracy as a viable model for conflict resolution within the context of a brazenly cynical political economy of global sport.


The latest to add his name to the increasingly long roll of kleptomaniac shysters in Brazilian sport is Ary Graça, ex-president of the Brazilian Volleyball Conferderation and ex-president of the International Volleyball Association. Graça was caught out by ESPN Brasil reporter Lucio de Castro to the tune of R$10,000,000. Graça then renounced his two presidencies but will not likely face any kind of legal action (of course). The person Graça had received his position from, 2016 President Carlos Nuzman, said he was “surprised” just before he took a position on the ethics board of the International Association of Athletics Federations. Asked what more he was surprised about that day, Nuzman revealed his pleasure at seeing the sun rise in the East. 

14 March 2014

Sitting and spinning

The spin masters are out again, trying to say that everything is fine, or that even if things could have gone better, er, if everything had gone better then everything will still be fine. In short, the business model of the World Cup is to assure that the World Cup continues to be a viable business model. To that end, everything half-true and maybe true is taken as absolute truth and the oddities that hang off the press releases like toilet paper on a dignitary´s shoe are simply ignored until the money is counted in Switzerland.
Here are some recent gems from the World Cup organizers and their business insider fakirs:


Valcke: “What FIFA injects in the country is $800m and the cost of the World Cup to FIFA itself is $1.3bn because on top of that sum we have prize money for the teams and additional costs. But FIFA is not asking for any financial support from the Brazilian authorities and whatever is spent by the cities and by the government will remain within the country.”



Aldo Rebelo: “What exists is a campaign against the World Cup by desperate sectors in the media but it won’t be enough. We participated in 19 cups, won five, we’ve given and continue to give great soccer stars to the world. What more do you want from Brazil?” 


Anonymous : And What about Brasil? True: some stadia are still not ready. True: the monorail in Sao Paolo looks more like a piece of abstract art in some places where two tracks fail to meet in mid-air. True: some of the airports promise to offer a serious challenge to the masses of arriving and departing passengers. Also true: there is social unrest in many parts of the country. It is altogether likely that some things will not work the way they should but it is equally likely that most things will. Despite a President who doesn't care about football, and despite the fact that some critics continue to speak of endemic corruption…But will any and all of this really have a devastating impact on the world's favourite game?



Valcke neglects to acknowledge that the tournament and profits are wholly dependent upon Brazilians investing public resources into infrastructures that will make the Cup possible. FIFA and all of its corporate milkmaids have total immunity from taxation in Brazil. That is, we are sinking our limited capital into fixed infrastructures so that money, people, goods and images can flow through them and out into larger circuits of accumulation. What will be left behind are big, fat, greedy elephants that demand ever more resources to maintain. Where will these resources come from once FIFA has changed cachaça for vodka? The very people that were duped into paying for them in the first place by their own aloof elite. If FIFA asks for no financial support from Brazil, why did we need the General Law of the World Cup to exempt them from any financial onus?

Aldo Rebelo once sponsored an investigation into the nefarious relationship between the CBF and Nike. Now, he is parading around in Nike and CBF gear. What the minister fails to recognize is that the media itself  is desperate to promote the World Cup. The investigations into corruption, incompetence, lack of planning, conflicts of interests among members of the LOC like Ronaldo, militarization of public space, violence against protesters and the emergence of a permanent regime of exception are not the work of some radical fringe within the media, but rather a minority of dedicated journalists trying to get to the bottom of the pit. Fortunately for the Minister and unfortunately for Brazilian society, there is no bottom.

The last quote comes from a publication dedicated to the vapid promotion of football business around the world to stuff the pockets of the European football lords. Tellingly, it has no attribution but reflects the perspective of those who never have to live with the consequences of their business practices. Global football is in a pathetic state. Brazilian football is even worse. All four divisions of the national competition are tied up in judicial processes and there is a zombie driving a five star bulldozer through a field of chaffed credibility. The article is basically saying that despite all of the bad news, we should just pay attention to the action on the field and forget about larger issues such as transparency in governance, the horrible things that a World Cup does to places with massive inequalities and insufficient urban infrastructures. People said horrible things about South Africa 2010 and everything as great! Surely the same will be the case in Brazil. This is a delusional perspective that has no role in honest debate, I´m sorry I even brought it up.

If swooshes were arrows, I´d be a genius
The justifications for the World Cup spending and the heavy-handed, authoritarian, violent and non-transparent mechanisms for carrying it off are that the World Cup itself is popular. “Look how many tickets have been sold!!!” “Brazilians love football!!” “We are bringing new hope to a young generation of fans!”  Of course the World Cup is popular in Brazil (though not as much as before) and people really, really want to go to games. I do too. For most in Brazil, this would have been a once in a lifetime opportunity (for those with credit cards, computers at home, and enough money to flop down). Had the Maracanã not been deformed, FIFA could have easily sold 130,000 tickets at $1000 each. If the Maracanã had a capacity of 500,000 they could have sold it out.  However, the limited tickets for Brazilians have excluded even that possibility. So of course Brazilians are not happy to have been forced to build unnecessarily expensive stadiums that they won´t be able to get into unless they are both lucky and wealthy. The so-called legacy projects are not being completed and there is no guarantee that after the World Cup there will be money or political interest to finish them. The vacuums of responsibility ensure that everyone can point the finger somewhere else.

The defensive and offensive reactions to the criticisms are as disingenuous as they are hollow. Valcke tells a half-truth as if we were to believe that FIFA is not benefitting directly from a Brazilian subsidy on their operations. Rebelo wants us to believe that because Brazilians are good at football that should be enough to cover up the fact that they´re terrible at completing large scale infrastructure projects on time and on budget. The international business community wants us to ignore the realities of Brazil so that the world´s favorite game can go on its merry way. 

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