HUNTING WHITE ELEPHANTS / CAÇANDO ELEFANTES BRANCOS

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22 September 2011

A free, flowing conduit of useful information

While reading the press releases and media reports about the Brazilian mega-event cycle, I have found it useful to keep on hand seminal works by (among others) Kafka, Machiavelli, Joseph Campbell, Sartre, Foucault, Agamben, David Harvey, John Horne, Naomi Klein, Chico Buarque, Fernanda Sánchez, Ruth Levy and Monty Python. The following video clip from The Life of Brian explains all one needs to know about the attempts of Rio 2016 and FeeFã to limit the use of particular words. Substitute “Olympic” for “Jehovah” and batons, shock troops, and Glocks for stones.


In addition to “being about” real-estate speculation as Chris Shaw poignantly demonstrates in Five Ring Circus, megas are also about the international arms trade. In August, the Military Police of Rio signed a contract with the Austrian arms manufacturer Glock to use the 9mm weapon as the “official” gun of mega-event security. This didn’t get much play in the media, but the link can be found here as well as on the LinkedIn Support the Organizing Committee group. Naturally, Glock flew the head honchos of the PM to Austria for a contract signing / head-in-a-bucket-of-vodka-and-red-bull party. Glocks do not have external safety mechanisms. Nice choice. Apparently, on exit, the bullets will leave five rings instead of one large hole. What’s next, a billy club that leaves the Olympic imprint on the skull? Five ring handcuffs? An Olympic drone-flying competition? My money is on the USAmericans there.

I can’t wait for the bloody Pope to get here in 2013 with his horde of young, brainwashed original sinners. The Lordships of Rio have literally taken things to the next level with the signing of a contract with the Vatican to bring the World Youth Day to Rio. This year, his holy-moly-ness extended the “fruits of divine grace” to Spanish youth that had had an abortion. Lovely of him to double down on that Catholic guilt, thanks.  I wonder if there will be speculation about an increase in prostitution surrounding this event. With hundreds of thousands of affluent adolescents running about in a town known for its sexual tourism, there are sure to be some bottled up hormones in loose pockets. And as if to justify the event by connecting it to the already over-justified events that are siphoning off public money into private hands, the Holy See is going to “invest in sport”, whatever the hell that means.

Oh, the Cup. The World Cup. The Copa do Mundo. O Mundial da FeeFã. It’s wrong, all wrong. The wheels are coming off before they’ve been put on, which is a pretty accurate reflection of the way Rio de Janeiro functions, or not. It’s confusing and simple at the same time.

Let’s start with costs. According to the Folha do São Paulo, World Cup related projects have increased by R$ 27 billion in 8 months. It’s hard to convert that figure this week as the Real has jumped from US$1.60 to US$1.90 in two weeks. But if we project this increase forward 1000 days, that will be around a R$100 billion increase. Without question, the Brazilian 2014 World Cup will be more expensive than all of the World Cups combined. This is no joke. We will likely arrive at a number well above R$130 billion and the majority of the projects will still not be ready.

The slowness of the contracting process has been exacerbated by the lack of planning on the part of the organizers. The closer we get to the Cup, the more things will cost to construct. Also, because of higher than expected inflation, the weakening of the Real against the Euro and Dollar which is making imports more expensive, the scarcity of qualified labor, the increase in construction materials because of Brazil’s construction and economic boom, the structural corruption of the big civil construction firms and their friends in government and the lack of interest on the part of the CBFdp and FeeFã to do anything in the realm of transparency…you get the idea.

Not only have the stadium costs increased by 170% in three years but the maintenance costs will also see a commensurate increase. Typically, a stadium requires a 10% investment of the construction costs in yearly maintenance. The Maracanã will cost more than a billion. Thus, in ten years, another billion will be spent just to keep it standing. Remember, at least R$300 million of reforms were undertaken between 2005-2007 to reform the stadium for the Pan American Games. These were, naturally, poorly done as this photo demonstrates.

Add into the mix of confusion the strikes that have been occurring at several of the World Cup stadiums. Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, and Salvador have all had workers strike to improve working conditions. The latest stoppage at the Maracanã lasted nearly three weeks until the courts stepped in and sent the lads back to the job against their will. When Dilma went to Belo Horizonte to mark 1000 days until the 2014 kickoff the workers used the opportunity to strike. That didn’t make it into the press as Dilma and Pelé posed with some of the boys. According to the ever wise, always frightened Minister of Sport Orlando Silva (who certainly must be the least communist member of the Brazilian Communist Party), everything is on schedule. OGlobo is none too happy with the strikes, or the threat of strikes, suggesting that the “shadow” of work stoppages is slowing the country down.

The government presented an official balance of the World Cup projects last week. Notable was the fact that 51 or the 82 public works scheduled for the Copa have yet to begin. While I have always said that the question “Will Brazil be ready for the Cup?” is the wrong question, it is one that is getting plenty of negative answers.

Returning to the confusion that is Rio de Janeiro, it is worth noting that the city government continues to do everything it can to irritate residents in whatever form it can. Recently, an order was sent down to the Guarda Municipal to start cutting the locks of bicycles chained to signs, light posts, fences, and other logical places to lock a bike in the complete absence of bike racks. This has, with good reason, irritated those who try to get around the city by bike. In my visits to the Institute of Brazilian Architects, one of the institutions most involved with the “reworking” of urban space in Rio, there is nowhere to lock a bike. There are no bike racks at the vast majority of Metrô stations, and none at the train station. The city government claims that Rio has 150km of bike paths, but these are concentrated between the center and Leblon and maybe if you count the paths in both directions you could arrive at this number. Many of the city’s bike paths are painted onto sidewalks, end abruptly or are in terrible conditions. One of the headlines from OGlobo today was that the Day Without Cars will reduce by 2,000 the number of cars on Rio’s streets: a drop in the proverbial bucket. Cyclists are rightly upset about all of this and there is a protest getting underway tomorrow afternoon in front of the city council chambers.[editor's note: on Friday 23 Sept., the Mayor signed a decree legalizing the locking of bicycles to posts throughout the city. Well done! We hope that this is an indication of the power of public indignation.]

To magnify what is already a chaotic transportation scenario, work is beginning on the destruction of the elevated highway that runs around the center of downtown. Though a terrible idea to begin with, the elevated highway has become one of the principal arteries that link the Zona Sul, Zona Norte, and Niteroi. Whenever there is the most minor accident, traffic backs up for hours. Now, traffic will be blocked up for years. These are the kinds of costs that are never measured. Ostensibly, the highway is going underground in order to “renovate” the port zone, so that the real-estate speculators can cash in. This new system will in no way reduce traffic in a city that has long dedicated its urban planning practices to the private automobile. Having driven the length and breadth of this city, I can testify to the chaos and frustration that define the experience. As incomes increase, traffic is worsening in the suburbs as residents there buy the used cars from the wealthier regions. Riding past the port, one can see thousands of newly unloaded cars and trucks waiting to clog even further the streets of Rio. This is a global problem, of course, and one that the Day Without a Car will do absolutely nothing to resolve unless the urban planners working for the city recognize the need for alternative forms of transportation.

And finally, the Olympic governance structure continues to amaze and confuse. The Empresa Brasileira de Legado Esportivo Brasil 2016 erected to deal with the Olympic projects in Rio has been eliminated before it even began to function. This latest case of erectile disfunction is particularly troubling as the Empresa has already received around R$109,000 for its non-existent work, with money going to government officials including the above mentioned Orlando Silva. It will take some work to get a working knowledge of how the Olympics are going to be structured and this latest twist in the plot has not helped me wrap my head around it.


Here we go again, de novo

Olympics, Olympics, Olympics. Copa, Copa, Copa. Rio 2016, Brazil 2014, Olimpiada, Brazil 2014, 2014 Brasil, World Cup FIFA,Mundial da FIFA, FIFA, FI-FA-FO-DA, FeeFã, Olympics, Olympics, ParaOlympics. O-limp-ics. Shout it from the rooftops, sing it in a taxi, whisper it while making love because EVERYTHING for now and forever is about the bloody mega-events: economy, politics, city planning [sic], health care, transparency, security[sic], media, and the pqp. But, if you happen to be whispering these sweet nothings into the hairy ears of Carlos Nuzman, Ricardo Teixeira, Jerome Valcke or their lawyers you are subject to criminal proceedings for copyright violation (and bad taste).
The “Law of the Cup” (LdC) emerged from its black box into the light of day this week, irritating everyone except the ruling party panderers. There are a number of items that are particularly noxious:
Chapter 2, Section 1 of the LdC deals with the protection and exploration of commercial rights for the Confederations’ and World Cup. The National Institute of Industrial Property (INPI) is the target of the law as their existing statutes have to be bent over to FeeFã's whispering will.
In Article 5.1.1, the INPI will not require that FeeFã prove that a given item is associated with their events. This will allow just about any visual or textual reference to come under the aegis of copyright protection statutes, thereby eliminating the possibility of non-associated businesses and vendors to make money.  Thus, using the “Brazil 2014” in any context could be considered a violation. Imagine a tourist agency’s ad: “Come to Brazil in 2014”. Illegal. Rio Copa, illegal.  In article 10 of the same section,  FeeFã  will not have to pay any money to INPI regarding the processing of claims they make.
Section 2 dealing with “areas of restricted commerce and access routes” is the shortest and perhaps most worrying. All levels of Brazilian government will assure that FIFA is granted the exclusive right to sell everything in the “official event locations, their immediacies, and in the principal access routes.” Hmm. Let’s suppose that some lefty anarchist wants to take the Metrô instead of driving to the Maracanã to see a World Cup match. That means that every road leading to all of the Metrô stations in the city becomes a principal access route and that FeeFã could tell the city to police all of those routes for non-official commerce.  What would happen to you if you decided to set up a t-shirt stand? Section 4 details your fate: three months to one year in prison or a fine. This is nothing short of the privatization of public space that is intended to maximize profits for FeeFã and their FeeFiliates.
So far, so bad, but nothing terribly surprising.
One of the elements that got Romário, yes Romário of the 1994 world cup winning side and now a federal deputy, up in a huff was the inclusion of a clause that would allow all levels of government to declare holidays during game days. The Rio de Janeiro state government has already altered the school calendar for 2014 to have the winter break occur during the World Cup. Now, any city can claim a holiday because a football game is going to happen. This is to reduce the inevitable traffic problems because the transportation projects are clearly not going to be finished on time,or as Romário said, "this will put makeup on the problems that we are going to have." More on that later. I personally think it’s great and that these special holidays will really generate some serious cross-cultural understanding. For example, the fine, yet perhaps sheltered, citizens of Cuiabá will have a holiday to celebrate the scintillating match between Ukraine and Cameroon, giving everyone a full day to find these places on a map. Jamaica x South Korea in Natal…feriado!  Paraguay x Norway in Salvador…feriado! All of the Brazil games...5 national holidays in one month! Brilliant!
The freebies of the LdC are extensive. We know that the stadiums are all built with public money and that they get handed over to FeeFã for months. But FeeFã will also get free secutiry, health and medical services (read: termas), vigilância sanitaria (whatever that is), and will also slide through customs and immigration.
Article 8 describes in the most minimal details the development of a separate court system to process FIFA’s legal needs. Similar to the military tribunals in Guantanamo or Iraq, these will process and judge cases specifically related to FeeFã’s occupation of the country.
Chapter Three, Article 26, XI gives possible good news for those who decide to leave your conscience at home, overcome the global financial downturn and spend ten thousand dollars on a two week trip: “spectators who posses tickets…and individuals who can demonstrate official involvement with the events…considering a valid passport sufficient for the visa” will “have a visa issued without any restriction to nationality, race or creed.” This could mean that some visa fees will be waved, or not, I’m not sure and neither is anyone else.
Enough about the LdC. It’s more or less what we expected and somewhat less than FeeFã wanted. Next up, the strikes, increases in costs, and organizational nightmares for the Oh-limp-ics.


14 September 2011

Burden of Proof

The burden of proof of benefit for public works related to the World Cup and Olympics should fall on the government, not on civil society. What is happening in Brazil is that the master plans of cities have been altered to attend to the short term demands of Swiss-based NGOs, with the promise that the outpouring of tens of billions in public funds will generate short, medium, and long term benefits. Of course, the opening of public coffers for massive public project will inevitably generate jobs and secondary benefits for a limited range of social actors. However, the justifications (be they technocratic, economic, or geo-political/symbolic) for those projects and the ways in which they (ostensibly) fit into medium and long-term city planning mechanisms that will generate more just and livable cities are not in evidence at all. Herein lies part of the problem: mega-events, almost without exception, are predicated upon short term return on public investment for private industry – economic projections that indicate massive growth for small businesses are conducted by firms contracted to demonstrate just that. There is a farcical absence of independent economic analysis that justifies multi-billion dollar investments before these investments are made. The studies and reports that are coming out now about the World Cup and Olympics in Brazil are mechanism for justifying what is already underway. The inexorable, relentless carrying off of these projects at whatever cost, needs to be justified somehow. Much like the continual selling of various wars in the USA, the continual selling of mega-investment in Brazil is an exercise in public relations based in voodoo economics.

For readers new to this blog, I am attempting to cover the massive changes in Rio de Janeiro and Brazil from a perspective based in critical geography mixed with investigative journalism. That my comments here are almost wholly in opposition to the projects underway in Brazil is based on my decade of research into the ways that sports impact urban and social relations. There is a global tendency to de-politicize sports. No one likes to think of their leisure activity as yet another field of political action. However, everyone surely understands that the marriage of sports and nationalism in international competitions cannot be effectively separated from ideas of citizenship, notions of belonging, human rights, and the foundations of a global political-economy. The complications inherent to sport are multiplied and accelerated with the World Cup and Olympics, especially as they stimulate and accelerate myriad processes already present in the places / spaces in which they occur. Mega-events crystallize the articulations between the local and the national and the global wherever they occur, opening opportunities for the questioning of and resistance to the worrisome trends of social polarization and the implementation of ever more severe tactics of neo-liberal governance.

I changed the sub-heading of the blog to “Black Boxes and Trojan Horses” as an indication of the way I see these events unfolding. That the World Cup and (to a lesser extent) the Olympics operate in secrecy is no secret. We have yet to be presented with the governance structure of the 2014 World Cup. We don’t know how decisions are being made, just that there is little or no democratic input into the ‘system’ that is taking billions and restructuring cities and social relations, especially in relation to the use of public space, the installation of new security mechanisms, and the re-articulation of the right to the city. The Olympics have adopted a new governance mechanism that erects a non-governmental authority to direct the billions into project that are defined by the needs of the Games and not the city itself. That is to say, the city needs to be restructured to suit the Games, and not the other way around. I think there is something fundamentally wrong with this and am attempting to show how and where and when and why this is happening.
My comments are occasionally hyperbolic but always based in archival and field research that I am conducting. My interpretation of media reports and press releases is hopefully providing a different perspective into the euphoric vision of mega-events that dominates popular discourse. My ire and incredulity are not couched in anti-sport or anti-event rhetoric but rather come from my belief that the World Cup and Olympics are being used as opportunities to maximize capital accumulation opportunities in perverse and negative ways. The models currently being employed are simply not capable of bettering cities, making them more livable, more just places. Rather, the autocratic imposition of these events requires a restructuring of “democratic norms” in order to facilitate the transfer of public wealth to private hands. These are lost opportunities to implement projects that would bring lasting and not short term benefits.

These events need a massive restructuring, a dose of humility, and should attend to the demands of the places in which they are held. As it is, they are ever-larger, require ever-more public funds, and re-shape spaces and places to meet the exigencies of international sport federations and their corporate partners while stimulating real-estate speculation and re-enforcing false notions of “progress” and “social development”. Of course, the massive outlay of public money for these events is going to generate benefits, employment opportunities, and improvements in transportation, communication, etc. But shouldn’t these projects have long-term urban and social planning as their foundation? It is likely that without the events that the political consensus necessary for such a massive outlay would never be possible. However, the opportunity costs are extreme and rarely measured, if only because it is difficult to do so. But considering that the Brazilian federal government just cut R$50 billion from the education budget while it is projecting to spend at least R$60 billion on mega-events indicates that these costs are real and worth considering. 

05 September 2011

Mobility, Death, Stadiums, Strikes: Normalcy

GEOSTADIA MILESTONE: 25,000 HITS!!!! 120 Countries!!! Thanks everyone!

Good news first – there is a plan to extend the Metrô across the bay to Niterói and São Gonçalo. The linha 3 project video link is here and is a much, much, much needed improvement in metropolitan mobility. No timeline has been set, but at least the state government has recognized the impossibility of transporting tens of thousands of people across a narrow bridge. There will even be a stop at the Universidade Federal Fluminense. Holding one’s breath for this project to be completed is not recommended.

Bad news. Really bad news. The quaint and picturesque bonde that shuttles people around Santa Teresa has had yet another accident. Remember that last year a bonde collided with a bus, crushing a woman to death. Last month a French tourist fell to his death off the aqueduct in Lapa. Ten days ago, five people died instantly and more than fifty were injured when the bonde brakes failed on its way down the hill. In most places in the world a major transportation line killing a handful of people and critically injuring others would be a major and permanent scandal – especially when the secretary of transportation blames the dead conductor instead accepting any kind of responsibility when only 7% of the maintenance budget had been spent. Apparently, instead of using nuts and bolts to secure the brakes, something else was used as a temporary fix. Rumor has it that instead of replacing the wheels of the trams with the same size, used wheels from the SuperVia trains were put on and these were perhaps too large for the bonde tracks. Who knows? What we do know is that the total disregard for public safety inevitably led to the evitable deaths of five people. There are some criticisms being launched in the proper directions but no real outrage, no one demanding the Governor’s head on a platter. The Transportation Secretary retained his post despite massive evidence of incompetence.

That there was a disaster waiting to happen is evidenced in this video that shows the bonde heading downhill against traffic.

More ridiculous news coming out of the Ministério do Esporte. The MoS, responsible for the governance of all sport in Brazil, paid R$6.2 million to register soccer fans. The money was delivered, the project never was. The problem is not only in that the project was not carried off or that the company hired to do it pocketed the money (at least temporarily) but that it never should have been considered in the first place. The Brazilian government has consistently and incrementally implemented a policy of criminalizing all football fans, but especially those who are members of the torcidas organizadas. The “registration” of torcidas organizadas is another step along the way to the hyper-surveillance of all fans and curiously one that the torcidas of Rio de Janeiro are willing to accept. For those interested in the minutiae of Brazilian football culture, the torcidas of Rio e Janeiro are the only torcidas in Brazil that are not affiliated with the national association. I’ll save the explanation for another post.

Not surprisingly, and as I predicted here, there is a shortage of qualified labor for the 2016 Olympic projects. It is a very good time to be a civil engineer in Brazil. The shortage of labor is being used as a justification by the Olympic Organizing Committee to elevate the salaries of the personnel that they already have under contract. This will also necessitate the imporation of more expensive experts from abroad, so those of you thinking of making the jump to Brazil , come on in, the water’s lovely, although you’re still likely to get your electronic goods stolen on the street (an Italian friend of mine was robbed twice yesterday, the second attempt, obviously, not as fruitful as the first as there was nothing left, coitados).

The general strike at the Maracanã continues! There was a brief resolution last week, but all work has stopped again and the Consorcio Maracanã (Odebrecht, Delta and Carioca) is making no attempt to re-start negotiations with the union. One of the major complaints of the workers is that they were being served rotten food and that even after the last round of negotiations, the food provider was not changed. There are likely two sides to this story, maybe even three, but serving rotten food to one’s workers is certainly not in the best interests of the nation. Come on Dilma, get your petit-bourgeois party back to the left it left ten years ago!


After strikes at the Maracanã and Minerão, threats of striking in Cuiabá, there is now the possibility of a strike at the Fonte Nova in Salvador. Salvage capitalism meets head to head with relatively strong syndicalism! Drama total!

In case you thought that no one in the government was watching what is going on with these insanely inflated budgets, the Tribunal das Contas Da União (TCU) identified some price inflation in the Maracanã project. The official cost is now around R$859 million, or R$11.300 per seat. By contrast, the new privately financed Grêmio stadium in Porto Alegre will only cost R$6.600 per seat and Palmerias’ Palestra Italia stadium in São Paulo will privately finance 45.000 at R$6.670 per seat. Corinthians’ publically financed stadium in São Paulo will cost at least R$12.000 per seat.  Lesson: where public money and post-Cup privatization contracts are happening, the pigs are at the trough. Where the private sector is involved, costs are much lower. Does this mean that all the WC stadiums should be privately financed? No. But it does mean that there is a pervasive culture of getting hands in the till as often and as deeply as possible and that there is little or no control over public spending in the pursuit of mega-event legacies [sic].


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