HUNTING WHITE ELEPHANTS / CAÇANDO ELEFANTES BRANCOS

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22 November 2011

Checking in. Tudo bem? Key-toe'chimo, bri'gado.

Checking back into the craziness of Rio and not too much has changed. The new Minister of Sport, Aldo Rebelo, has been given extraordinary powers and handed the circus over to his cronies and family. Not only did he appoint his personal “people of confidence” , Dilma transferred the APO to the MdoE. That’s a Brazilian acronym to describe the Ministry of Sport, though it could also be MdoE/MoS, just to clarify things and ensure employment for stamp makers. The APO is the acronym for the Autoridade Público Olímpico. This is the body that is ostensibly in control of the R$30 billion budget and the agency that will direct all Olympic-related building projects. All of a sudden, it’s under the new minister. Here we go again, de novo.

FIFA goes along its way, keeping the idiots in charge as long as possible. Can someone please offer Sepp Blatter another job? How about washing dishes in a Brazilian prison? If you haven’t seen Andrew Jenning’s recent stuff, check out www.transparencyinsport.org.  This part might anger Eike Batista, Brazil’s richest, though not most-flatulent man: Ol ‘ Sepp gave the 2014 ticketing contract to his nephew on a no-bid basis. This might rankle the Eikster who said not long ago that if we wanted to get a ticket to the World Cup we would “have to talk to him”.  Let confusion reign.

Where does one begin to explain the differences between Rio de Janeiro and Vancouver? Winter and Summer? Canada and Brazil? South East Atlantic and North West Pacific? Sun People and Cloud People?  How about the airports? Jumpin’ Jaysus. The 40 step escalators at Galeão don’t work. Walking into Vancouver, you passed through a Disney-landesque version of a Rain Forest, which was, despite and because of the Disney factor, impressive and well executed. I thought it was cool, and gave a sense of the natural world one is entering beyond the airport. At Galeão, one also gets an sense of the external, without having to leave the airport.

Vancouver

Rio de Janeiro
It is hard to say which city has a more or less spectacular setting. It’s staggeringly beautiful  In either case, though one could argue that Vancouver has much better access to its environmental amenities. But please, Brazil’s beaches. The one beach I visited was clothing optional, very rocky, and with very cold water. Vancouver, where only the confident wade.

As pequenas barcas de Vancouver. Por que não na Lagoa ou Praca XV - SDU - Urca?
For public transport, is there a better central city area than Vancouver for bus and bike? Water Taxis? They’re as expensive and fancy as a gold tooth, but a great, efficient ride. Very nice, and even in wet, cold weather a good means to get about central Vancouver. I didn’t get to test the inter and intra city ferry system, nor the ferries out to Vancouver Island, but I have a sneaking suspicion that their bike policy compares favorably with that of Barcas S.A.

So, Rio has some serious work to do if it is going to make 50 years progress in 5, again. During my time in Vancouver, Rocinha was occupied by BOPE and MPERJ, OGlobo and Sky TV. Though of course too complex to completely wrap one’s head around, the occupation of Rocinha caused a jump in real-estate prices there and in neighboring São Conrado, an already wealthy enclave. It was widely reported that the marketing bobbleheads that pass for democratically elected leaders were well pleased with the international media attention. There’s no such thing as bad press, right? Not when OGlobo is on your team.

Things are too busy to do more than one or two more posts before the end of the year. One must feed the academic beast some tasty bits from time to time. If you’re just testing the cool waters of geostadia.com for the first time, starting from September 2009 you can find articles related to the Rio Olympics. I enjoy highlighting life’s absurdities and contradictions.  Rio de Janeiro is a seemingly inexhaustible font of inspiration. I enjoy a good circus but don’t want to be a clown. For those who are interested in a sample of my soccer coverage from North Carolina,  click here.  

One question that I would like to pose to those who see (or saw) the Brazilian mega-events through the rose-tinted lenses of dispassionate reason: Why did anyone expect that the negative elements of the Olympics were going to be mitigated in a country and city known for huge socio-economic inequalities, weak democratic institutions, oligarchic business practices, and newly deep pockets?

04 November 2011

Finados

Orlando Silva is out of the Ministry of Sport and is under federal investigataion for shuffling cards under the table. Nothing surprising, but the top communist post in Dilma’s government appears to have been less than equitable in his redistribution of state funds. Silva has been replaced by Aldo Rebelo who was involved in some small scandals in the Lula government. Far from squeaky clean, Rebelo’s brother was named in the scandal that brought down Silva. It is unclear if Rebelo has ever kicked or thrown a ball in anger or what his qualifications are to head the government’s primary ministry that will deal with the World Cup and Olympics. More of the same, de novo.

After saying he was going to radically reduce the taxi fleet by some thousands of taxis (and had this put into the Master Plan) the Glorious Crown Prince of Rio has decided to increase it by six thousand. How does he do this? Executive decree. What is an executive decree? A handy tool taken from the box of authoritarianism. What is authoritarianism? The dominant regime in Rio.

Has there ever been a city preparing for mega-events, trying to sell itself to the world as a place of business and leisure that has an much violence and open gunfire in the streets as Rio? Yesterday, in Santa Teresa, there was a gun battle between traficantes and the Military Police after the latter arrested some of the former. The attack on Santa’s UPP is the latest in a series of battles between insurgents and the coalition forces and was probably related to the monthly payment scheme that the two sides had worked out (where the UPP bosses received R$50,000 a month from the traficantes). Last week in Maré, one of Rio’s biggest drug bosses was gunned down in an intense firefight. BOPE has been occupying a part of Maré for a couple of weeks as they prepare to install their headquarters in the region.

The state government appears to be massaging their homicide statistics to show that their public policies are working, but there has been a commensurate increase in “deaths by other causes” as well as disappearances. Between 2007 and April of 2011, 22.533 people disappeared in Rio de Janeiro.

One of the people who should not have disappeared from Rio is State Deputy Marcelo Freixo. Freixo has been under death threat by milicias for years, but recently those threats have escalated and he gone to London at the invitation of Amnesty International to give a series of lectures. Ever sympathetic to the allies of the Crown Prince, who had a sit-down meeting with the milicias about van transport last week, OGlobo mocked Freixo in today’s paper saying that Freixo really isn’t under threat but that his departure was “already scheduled”. From Freixo’s twitter page:
Não recebi qualquer contato de autoridade do gov do Rio para falar sobre as ameaças que recebi. Tratavam como se o problema fosse meu.
I have not received any contact from the Rio government to talk about the threats I have received. They are treating the problem as if it were mine alone.

Naked and repeated death threats to state representatives, open gun battles in some streets, a mayor that governs through executive order, insane traffic problems, rampant real-estate speculation… all made better by the announcement that FIFA is going to offer tickets for the first round of World Cup games between US$20 and US$30. The above link is an interview with FIFA VP Valcke, who is honest in his answers but after reading the interview I’m pretty sure that this is going to be a disaster of a World Cup in terms of mobility. His response to the reporter’s question about a Brazilian fan having to travel more than 10,000km to see the team play was “At least he will be able to say that he traveled.” As I described in an earlier post, the sheer number of air miles is going to overload the Brazilian system completely. My recommendation: stay in the north-east (Recife, Natal, Fortaleza) and paddleboard between the cities.

The Campeonato Brasileiro is headed to a dramatic conclusion. This is the most disputed title in some time with as many as 6 teams with a chance to win it. Happliy, Vasco da Gama is level on points at the top of the table (with Corinthians) four games to play. For the first time in recent memory all four of Rio’s big teams have a chance to win. Vasco’s path is the most difficult with games against Santos, Botafogo, Fluminense, and Flamengo.

Oh the Maracanã.  The contract process for the area surrounding the stadium was just suspended. There are plans to privatize it before 2013 and Eike Batista wants to use his toupee to cover the stands. The final supporting beam of the old roof has been removed and with the implementation of the UPP in Mangueira, the stadium is completely surrounded, as if it had just robbed a  case of beer and was running down the street into a BOPE nest. Hopefully the Policía Federal will have the courage to surround the band of crooks at the CBFdp, but they apparently weren’t able to get much out of Dr. Jowls when he talked to them the other day.
This is the last post for awhile as I will be attending Think Tank 2: Sport Mega-event Impact, Leveraging, and Legacies in Vancouver. The title of my paper for the think tank is The Mega-event city as neo-liberal laboratory. Here’s the abstract:

The production of sports mega-events in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil is occurring within the context of profound political, economic, and social change. As Brazil’s economy and political structures have stabilized over the past quarter century, the country has assumed an increasingly important role in global affairs. The dominant trends towards neo-liberalism in the global political-economy are being reproduced within the context of a state structure that has traditionally occupied a central role in the national economy. While transitions to neo-liberalism at the national scale will take time to implement, it is within the urban context that agents of global capital are able to shape most effectively space and social relations to maximize accumulation strategies. In this sense, sports mega-events function as mechanisms for the implementation of neo-liberal modes of governance within urban contexts. This paper will examine the processes through which mega-events in Rio de Janeiro are using the city as an active laboratory for new models of neo-liberal governance that are accelerating the transformation of Brazilian society.

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