HUNTING WHITE ELEPHANTS / CAÇANDO ELEFANTES BRANCOS

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27 June 2011

Back in Action

After nearly two weeks away, much has changed in Rio but everything continues along the same trajectory.
A new UPP was installed in the Mangueira favela, closing the “security belt” around the Maracanã . Many communities are clamoring for the installation of UPPs, but some places are more critical than others to mega-event security and those receive military occupation first. Even O Globo can be heard to clamor for more rapid investment in urbanization and social programs to accompany the changing of one form of martial law for another.
Did you understand what our world cup symbol means?
 They're going to steal public money?
Eiii! Whose hand is this without a finger?

The Federal Government is trying to hide the real costs of mega-event construction at the same time that the tight relationships between Rio governor Deputy Dog Cabral, Eike Batista (the richest man in Brazil) and Delta Construction (recipient of more than a billion in tate contracts in the last 3 years) were revealed because of a helicopter crash that killed the girlfriend of Cabral’s son on the way to a private party in Bahia state. Batista gave R$750,000 to Cabral’s re-election campaign in 2010.
Delta is part of nearly all public works projects in Rio de Janeiro. These insider relationships and the closing off of mega-event budgets to public scrutiny because they are considered “state secrets” has not done much to improve public opinion about how, where, why, and how the tens of billions of public R$ are being spent.

On the good side, there is an increasingly coordinated public movement against the autocratic turn in Brazilian politics. On Tuesday (tomorrow) there is a rally in front of the Municipal Government to call for a CPI (Parliamentary Inquisition Commission)  to investigate the forced removal of thousands of homes and the destruction of communities and livelihoods that have been the subject of so much national and international media attention. As ever, Eliomar Coelho is at the front of this movement and is struggling to get a few more city council people to get on board. The majority of the city council is in the pocket of El Principe (mayor Eduardo Paes) and are undoubtedly making tons of money.

The international NGO Witness was in Rio a few weeks ago and produced this video about the removals in the Favela do Metrô, which is being destroyed to make way for a parking lot for the Maracanã. There are a series of videos about other communities in Rio that can be linked to from this youtube clip.

12 June 2011

Festa Juninho (Pernambucano)

Here’s a big post to give everyone something to chew on for a couple of weeks.  I will be giving talks at:  Duke University in Durham, NC on June 22 (@ the Haiti Laboratory, Franklin Humanities Institute, Bay 4 Smith Warehouse, noon), The Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism in São Paulo on July 2, and Intel in Santa Clara, CA on July 11. Details forthcoming.

Starting from the top down in classic mega-event style:

Leonardo Martins in Jornal do Brasil wrote,  “As UPPs são, antes de tudo, um projeto de poder, de controle de um espaço tradicionalmente submetido à opressão. Os novos Capitães, que comandam as UPPs são os novos “donos do pedaço”, em substituição aos traficantes que ali se encontravam. Autorizam bailes, mandam baixar o som dos moradores, escolhem as músicas que os moradores podem escutar, determinam horário e condutas pessoais, intimam e intimidam àqueles que tem uma opinião mais crítica acerca da função da polícia, como por exemplo o fechamento da rádio comunitária do Andaraí, pela Polícia Federal, sobre o pretexto de rádio pirata e atrapalhar o tráfego aéreo."

“The UPPs are, above all, a projection of Power, for control of a space that has traditionally been oppressed. The new Captains that command the UPPs are the “owners of the land”, substituting the drug traffickers that were there before. They authorize dances, tell the residents to turn their music down, choose the music that the residents can listen to, determine the coming and going and conduct of people, intimate and intimidate those who have a more critical opinion of the police function, as for example the closing of the closing of the community radio station in Andaraí by the Federal Police on the pretext that it was a pirate radio station and it interfered with air traffic.”

I haven’t been back to visit and UPPeed communities in awhile, so I don’t have much more to contribute to the debate than I had a few weeks ago. I hear adolescents around town say “UPP é o caralho” and have seen that succinct and poignant phrase scribbled on walls.

Mayor alert! EP twisted his ankle in a political minefield, but don’t worry, he’s going to be ok. O Principe’s attempts to manipulate the infrastructure of the Olympic machine didn’t sit too well with people more powerful and experienced than he. In trying to limit the powers of the APO, EP threw a few one-liners into the City’s Olympic act that he then had to beg some legislators to erase and pretend to everyone else that he wasn’t trying to maintain as much power for himself as possible. The story is much longer than that, of course, but takes a doctoral thesis to sort though. Fortunately, those are available.

According to sources buried deep within the international press corps, The IOC has had all of their questions answered in regard to forced removals for Rio’s BRT lines. The Trans-Oeste BRT (Blown Right Through) is moving people out of the way faster than a turd in a hot tub. The results are shit.


Picture of housing demolitions carried
out by Rio's Housing Secretary along the Trans-Oeste BRT line, April 2011.
Nelma Gusmão de Oliveira foto.

Last one standing, Zona Oeste
Rio de Janeiro. Nelma Gusmão de Oliveira foto
Mayor alert! O Principe tried to stick the Olympic golf course in a closed condominium complex where the cheapest condo goes for R$2.1 million. Unfortunately, the land that he wanted to put the course on has been stuck in the judicial system. Apparently the news took the condo residents by surprise.  The is the kind of “planning” is happening on a metropolitan level, not just with the Olympic golf course.

According to the Union of Externally Controlled Federal Auditors (AUDITAR), “the new model of contracting banked by the base of Dilma Rousseff’s government in the house of deputies is going to make the public works for the World Cup and Olympics much more expensive.” This is not at all surprising given that the new laws are designed to “flexibilize” normal contracting processes.

Compounding the problem is that those who frequent stadiums end up paying for them three times. Once for construction. Twice for higher ticket prices. Third for world-class maintenance costs.  Even our illustrious Federal Deputy Romário is calling the stadium budgets into question.

The CBF brought their team back to Brazil for the first time in a long time to prepare for the Copa America in Argentina. The ticket prices were staggering and the games were seen as test venue for the CBF to employ private security guards (as will be the case during the World Cup). The Prossegur rent-a-cops did not take kindly to the unfurling of a banner by the ANT-GO crew and gave them some rough treatment for unfurling this lovely banner. Congrats to these brave formigas!!!
Ricardo Ali Baba Teixeira, OUT! For decades Brazilian football has been in the hands of incompetent and corrupt
officials, we demand the democratization of decisions related to Brazilian football with the participation of fans!
Neither FIFA, or the CBF, or Football is of the People!
National Fans Association
Here are the attendances and financial details from those matches:
Game
Paying Public
Gate Receipts
Average Ticket
Free tickets
BRA (0) x HOL (0)
36.449
R$3.120.625
R$85.81
7.000?
BRA (1) x ROM (0)
30.059
R$4.357.705
R$144.90
9.000?

66.508
R$7.478.330
R$112.44
pqp

It’s impossible to tell how many tickets the CBF gave away to itself and to its sponsors. Interestingly and stupidly, the first match in Goiânia, resulted in Ricardo Teixeira (Mr. Jowls) promising a Copa America 2015 match to that city, even though they are not hosting any World Cup matches.  In Rio, tickets for Copa Libertadores matches in 2010-2011 started at R$75. In three hours of football,  the CBF made off with R$7.5 million and scored one goal. How expensive will tickets to the World Cup be? How expensive will the stadiums be?  This is a link to a professor from the Fundação Getúlio Vargas who is criticizing the Maracanã budgeting process. We have seen a 170% increase in construction costs since 2009. This is without multiple labor shifts, without increased raw material and labor costs, without counting the subsidy for imports, without counting the no-bid conracts, without the time crunch, etc.

But, this will give Brazil (and Rio in particular) the MOST MODERN STADIUMS IN THE WORLD!!!!!!

What does it mean to have the most  “modern “ stadium in the world? The continual search for and production of the modern in Brazil has had very mixed urban, social, and environmental results. When the Maracanã was constructed, it was the most modern stadium in the world, was it not? Will not the host of the 2016 European Championships have the most modern football stadiums in the world? Why bother calling it the most modern stadium in the world?  It’s a stupid and completely relative question.

Modern could mean functional but certainly means secure and comfortable and bougie, but in the context of Brazil’s mega-events “modern” has become more associated with overspending on monumental mistakes that are guaranteed to bring diminishing economic returns in an attempt to appear modern for and to foreigners. The stadium, as such, does not have to be submitted exclusively to economic metrics as a measure of its value. In addition to agreeing to build economic black holes, the cultural costs have not been calculated in the production of the twelve stadiums for the World Cup. The Mané Garrincha Stadium in Brasilia had bleachers so well-made that it took three attempts to demolish them with explosives. They are installing an expensive house of cards in his place.

FIFA has chosen Rio de Janeiro as the host of the International Broadcast Center for the World Cup. It will, of course, be in Barra de Tijuca at the Rio Centro complex. This is interesting (though not surprising) for a couple of reasons. One is that it will develop further Barra’s emergent position as the high-tech and media production center of Rio de Janeiro and Brazil. Why? Because in order to install something as sophisticated and grandiose as an IBC millions if not billions of fiber optic cables need to be stuck into the region, creating an information infrastructure that augments already profound structural inequalities within the city.

Secondly, the increasing and repetitive investment in communications infrastructure in Rio de Janeiro (and São Paulo) is consolidating the position of those cities in the hugely unbalanced urban hierarchy of Brazil. The choice of Rio will guarantee that it grows its media and communications industry at the expense of Belo Horizonte, Salvador, Porto Alegre, etc. Of course, wherever this kind of investment happens there are knock on geographic effects. However, the overwhelming Federal investment in Rio de Janeiro (at least R$100 billion between 2010-2016) is going to have long term consequences for a more balanced urban system. The FIFA media release is worth a read.

The Secretary of the Fazenda of Rio de Janeiro is trying to find ways to raise R$4 billion to finance public works for mega-events. His primary obstacle, according to Oh, Globo is the Law of Fiscal Responsibility (LRF), which prevents cities from emitting bonds while they are in debt. O Principe is still waiting for his R$ 2.5 billion loan to come in from the World Bank and until that happens, Rio is prohibited from borrowing more money. The strategy therefore is to wait until Henrique Mirelles (O Neo-Libertador) finally gets into power and then they’ll talk about how much debt they can saddle Rio with. This quote I found rather touching: Do ponto de vista político é muito delicado (mexer na LRF), mas do ponto de vista econômico, faria sentido", ressaltou a secretária. (From the political point of view it’s very delicate [to mess with the LRF) but from the economic point of view it makes sense). Head, shoulders, knees, and toes! Get flexible people!

Side Embryo Pose in Shoulder Stand
Dilma and the PT get to work on the law
Did you know that trees are as flexible as stadia? Well, the revisions to the Forest Code that are getting crammed though the senate is going to surprise you, or not. The Amazon is being picked apart by agri-business, timber, and mining interests and the Worker’s Party is doing everything it can to hand the country over to capitalists. The passing of the mutilated Forest Code and the mega-event flex-laws are the priority of the new Minister of Institutional Relations. If Dilma’s government were any more flexible they’d call the county Shavasana.

07 June 2011

Tudo bem vs. tudo ruim



Final, Copa do Brasil, ida
It’s now official, Eduardo Paes (EP) and I do not agree on anything but our football team. The following are quotes taken from an interview published yesterday with the around the rings website. Below each of the quotes is a recent quote from geostadia.com or the indicated publications.  

EP: Things are going very well.

Geostadia: I would like to write about all of the good news related to the top-down installation of mega-events but am having trouble finding any. 

EP: Infrastructure-wise, the biggest project for Rio is a transportation overhaul. Paes says everything is “fine” on that front. 

Geostadia: The forced, violent removal of people and homes in preparation for the crashing wave of mega-events has begun.

EP: I think there are no more differences between the IOC vision and the city’s vision. 

Geostadia in Reuters: "This is very authoritarian, top-down, with no public audiences, no democratic participation — and it's going to change the city for ever,"

EP: It’s going to be a tough thing to get on time but I think we’ve got the right schedule. By 2016 everything is going to be ready.

Geostadia: The city government is operating with a heavy, autocratic, and brutal hand as a slew of international media reports have recently shown. Last week the UN commission on housing rights and evictions paid multiple visits to communities that are being brutalized by the city. The tactics are Machiavellian, the results Dickensian. People throughout Rio de Janeiro (and the rest of the World Cup cities) are living in fear and insecurity. When the SMH comes with their spray can, the scarlet letters do not indicate a brighter future but imminent removal at the hands of an authoritarian state whose strings are being pulled by huge white men hidden in small black boxes.

EP:Maracana is going fine. The World Cup is much much easier to do than an Olympic Games, at least from a city point of view…But I mean it’s a fact there are some delays because of different levels of government in different cities. 

Geostadia in the New York Times:  It’s just one reform after another without anyone ever doing any kind of research as to what the people who actually use the stadium want.

EP: In Rio things are fine. I don’t see it as a problem concerning the Olympics. Actually, I think it’s a big asset for the Olympics because the mistakes that were done in the planning of the World Cup are not being repeated in the Olympic Games. And that’s good. It’s going to be perfect.

Geostadia in the Guardian: None of these projects have taken off because all of the money is coming from the public sector; a very, very good indication that they are not financially viable,

EP:  I think the World Cup has a communication problem. We are talking about 12 cities, Rio is on time. We have some problems with the airport but it will be ready on time. The problem with the airport is much more services than infrastructure. I think the problem of services will be okay by ’14.”

Geostadia in the Shin Guardian: Two of the major infrastructure works being planned for the World Cup have been paralyzed for lack of transparency in their contracting process. Rio Metrô has had their Linha 3 project stopped and São Paulo’s Garulhos (international) Airport has been halted. The latter is perhaps the most critical link in the entire World Cup construction process as São Paulo is the main point of entry to Brazil. Will Brazil be able to pull all of this together in time and if they do, what will be the cost, and who will pay? If it results in anything like what happened in South Africa, the outlook for Brazil is not encouraging.

Could we be doppelgangers? Can we both be right? Were we separated at birth? Will we find each other on LinkedIn? So many questions.

Monthly readership is hovering around 3,000. Thanks for all of the positive feedback and connections. If more people start to listen to my answers than to EPs then we can perhaps start to make some progress instead of increase to ingressos.


06 June 2011

The Good News

I would like to write about all of the good news related to the top-down installation of mega-events but am having trouble finding any. It’s pretty clear that one has to look at the micro-level to see anything positive as the recent FIFA embarrassments were given a healthy scrubbing by the IOC. It is a sad day indeed at FIFA house when Jacque Rogge has to come across the country to give the IOC’s five fingered seal of approval. The despicable shenanigans at FIFA are nothing new. On the bright side the swirling corruption claims may have opened up a corner of the black box, potentially ushering in a call for change. On the other hand, 186 of the 208 member associations voted for Herr Blatter in the uncontested election. FIFA runs on a fear-based economy and the national associations act like sniveling sycophants.

In Rio, the installation of mega-event infrastructures is happening at various paces. The Maracanã is dead, and the process of creating the Novo Maracanã has to wait until the roof is taken off the old stadium. There’s no real hurry, as long as the stadium is ready six months before the World Cup, no one will much care. The budget for the stadium has already tripled from the initial projections in 2009. My estimate is that the Novo Maracanã project will cost 2 BILLION REAIS (US$1.25 b).
View of the deceased Maracanã from Parque Nacional da Tijuca, June 5, 2011
The average monthly salary for a fireman (bombeiro) in Rio de Janeiro state is R$950. No surprise then that the Rio Bombeiros took collective action to demand improvements in salary and working conditions. They invaded their own headquarters last week, occupying their place of work in order to negotiate with the government. The governor’s reaction: send in BOPE (the black hooded killing squad that usually invades favelas). The scenes were as lamentable as they were preventable; children getting tear gassed, police forcing public servants to the ground with machine guns, massive arrests, general jack-booted thuggery. The governor has no problem spending billions on a stadium that was already functioning but when essential public services like firemen as for a raise he sends in a death-squad.

The stories coming out of the Zona Portuaria, Jacarepaguá and the Zona Oeste are equally discouraging. The SMH, municipal housing secretary, continues to use the most incredible tactics to remove people from their houses. The stories defy belief. The jist is that the SMH, at the behest of the mayor, is denying communities the right to collectively bargain, arriving in some cases with unmarked bags of cash and handing thousands of R$ to people who may have never seen that much money before. In other cases they force children to sign documents in the name of their parents. In other cases they simply intimidate, in others they deliberately deceive and mis-represent. The asymmetry of information is complete. The very threat of forced removal is a form of terror that violates basic human rights. Even with a very powerful telescope, Jacque Rogge and the IOC couldn’t see these things happening from Mount Olympus.

The Brazilian national team is back in country for the first time in a long time, playing a series of friendlies leading up to the Copa América. There was a poor performance against Holland in Goiânia the other day. However, the Goiânians were so well behaved that the CBF promised them that they would be able to host games for the 2015 Copa America. Hold on. We are constructing 12 new stadiums for the World Cup, none of which are in Goiânia. In fact, the only reason that the seleção played there was because all of the major stadiums in Brazil are under construction. Of course the Copa América won’t be played in Manaus, Curitiba, Natal, or Cuiabá, because no one would go. Why are those cities building World Cup Stadia?

ANT-SP is organizing a protest against the CBF and their absurd and corrupt regime for the seleção’s game against Romania at the Pacaembú in São Paulo. The cheapest ticket is R$140 and for a seat it’s R$800. The game will, naturally, start after the novellas on Tuesday night at 9:50pm. So by the time the game is over the metro will have stopped and the bus service diminished. In Rio, Super Via managed to provide special trains to bring people from the Zona Sul to the Enenhão for the Paul McCartney concert last week, but insist that they can do nothing about the over-crowded, un-air-conditioned cars that sometimes make it to their final destination, much less provide special cars to get people to the Engenhão for a football match.  

As I have mentioned in innumerable posts and interviews, the installation of mega-events in Brazil and Rio de Janeiro allows for the acceleration of the deployment of neo-liberal tactics of governance. States and cities of exception produce highly territorialized and militarized spaces of exclusion where democratic and human rights are available to those who can afford them. As Mirelles (head of the Public Olympic Authority and former Central Bank head) said the other day, “the Olympics are a symbol of the growth of the country”. This is undoubtedly true. But this growth is coming at a tremendous cost and mega-events, with all of their symbolic, cultural, and poltical powers, allow us to crystallize our thinking about the kind of society we want to develop. The good thing is that the Gestapo tactics of the government are showing what Brazilian “development” is really all about. This is helping social movements across the country to articulate in ways that might not have been possible without the events. Thus, the very things that are accelerating the implementation of rapacious regimes of capital accumulation through the deployment of jack-boots and surveillance cameras is also allowing for the contestation of those systems. The bad news is that tens of thousands of people are going to lose their homes, have their communities divided and dispersed, and have their children tear-gassed in the struggle for a living wage. 

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