HUNTING WHITE ELEPHANTS / CAÇANDO ELEFANTES BRANCOS

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27 November 2012

More Than A Mouthful


As I was debating on Radio Nacional the infinite reasons to maintain the Maracanã  complex in public hands,  there was a march organized by the state government to protest a law that would more evenly divide petroleum royalities among Brazil`s states. The countermarch to protest the authoritarian regime of Sèrgio Cabral was met with pepper spray and violent repression. On the same day, as the FIFA Vice President tried to tour the Maracanã , he was met with protests by indigenous groups and private citizens while at the same time a group of indigenous folk were performing for delegates at Soccerex where Ricardo Trade and Bebeto bored the pants off a room full of people who had drunk deeply from a bottomless cup of kool-aid. They also revealed that the World Cup will generate a R$64.5 billion return on a R$112.8 billion investment.  

In previous weeks dozens of people have been butchered in Sao Paulo and an 18 year old kid was killed in front of his grandmother in Rio by Military Police in an UPP favela who stormed into his room as he slept. The auditor general opened yet another investigation into mega-event fraud, this time dealing with the World Military Games, which blew a hole in the budget for no particular reason other than to keep in good form for the World Cup and Olympics. It`s raining in Rio which means that transportation has come to a standstill, except for the public buses which continue to kill people at an alarming rate. The opposite problem is happening to the ferries which cannot get away from the docks because there is so much trash in the bay that their motors are getting clogged. That, however,  is better than taking a car, because there is always the chance that a roving mob will stop traffic and assault everyone, or if you`re driving on Avenida Brasil where if you are not swerving to avoid the crack addicts pushed out of the newly-occupied favelas, you might find yourself having to go backwards to avoid a gunfight. This generally chaotic situation, we are told, will be solved through technology from the battlefields of Afganestan, as the Federal Police are in the process of buying surveillance balloons which can take photos of faces from a distance of up to 3km. 

In the midst of this chaos, it is no wonder that the CBF with its former president in exile and a current vice-president under investigation by the Federal Police is firing its coaches, shuffling the deck chairs and starting up the orchestra with the icebergs on the horizon. Save us Fuleco!

16 November 2012

Host and Parasite


I would like to have a party at your house. This is a great opportunity for you. I won’t pay you anything, but really, your house is inadequate, unseemly even, so please reform it and beautify the streets. When I get there, no one else can come within two kilometers, a condition you will guarantee by force of arms. You are responsible for the music, drink, getting me and my friends there, telling others about it, and providing everything that I can think of, whether or not I have told you about it. Make sure there is a recycling bin because I am very concerned about sustainability. I would like you to close down all the roads so I can get there more quickly in the limousine that you will provide. If I break everything, too bad. If I decide not to show up, well, that’s up to me. Everything good that happens at this party, I will take credit for. In fact, I’ll sell the video and party favors around the globe to my exclusive profit, and you’ll get nothing in return but the world will see how pretty your house is. In the case that one of my friends urinates on your couch or puts a hole in the roof you can’t ask for compensation. Don’t even think about complaining, it’s not his fault that has a bit of a heavy wrist and loses control. Once you’ve prepared everything and gone into debt to do so, I guarantee, semi-absolutely, that it is going to be an amazing party but remember that we have different interests here. If you do everything I say and give me everything I want at your own expense, then I will tell people what a good host you were. I need to make enough money at this party to tide me over for years and it’s your obligation to make this happen. If things aren’t just right or if I am in any way inconvenienced by what I perceive to be a lack of preparation, or if the path between my five star hotel and your house is not plastered with my image, I will simply cancel without prior warning and leave you holding a very empty bag. Sound good? Sign here.

A federal judge ordered the publication of the host city agreement between São Paulo and FIFA. The documents defines the “opportunities and obligations” of the city. The obligations are onerous, offering very little for the host other than financial risk, liability and the surrendering of urban space for the “good of the game”. The links to the agreement in English and Portuguese are above, but I have compiled a list of gems that will give you some idea of what the contract involves.

“The LOC (Local Organizing Committee, headed by the 80 year old kleptomaniac and president of the CBF, José Marin) and Host City accept that FIFA is entitled to amend, delete or supplement the terms of any guidelines and other directions and to add FIFA requirements at any time at its sole discretion.” 

Section 9.5, regarding World Cup poster and artistic materials: “The Host City irrevocably waives in favor of FIFA, to the fullest extent permitted by any applicable laws, all moral rights and other rights of a similar nature.”

Section 12.6, “…any and all goodwill arising from the use by the Host City of Competition Marks will inure to the benefit of FIFA.”

Section 14, “…Costs related to the infrastructure, management and operation of public viewing events shall be borne by the Host City.” However, within any of the public viewing areas that a city wishes to establish, all FIFA guidelines regarding branding and sale of merchandise, food, etc. 

Section 16 prohibits the Host City from hosting any competing sporting events and during the day before, day of and day after a match, all cultural events that happen in a city have to be approved by FIFA. (Good luck with this in Rio).

Section 18 reminds the host that they have to provide all stadia and training grounds free of charge. One of the brutalities of the privatization schemes is that the public will have invested hundreds of millions in stadia, privatized them, and then will have to lease them back from the new owners in order to give them over to FIFA. If there is an M.B.A. or sport management student out there that would like to explain how this improves the economic prospects of the host, I’m listening.

Sections 21 and 22 deal with transportation and are worrying in the extreme. The host city shall pass “all necessary ordinances and bylaws” (that is, install an extra-legal regime) to provide special access lanes and transportation schemes for FIFA. In case this does not liberate enough space, “The Host City shall, upon FIFA or the LOC’s reasonable request, at any period of the competition, shut down public access to roads within the Host City.” This is a complete surrendering of territorial sovereignty.

In the “exclusion zones” around the stadiums, FIFA can “cover any and all commercial signage and advertising”. Who will do this covering you ask? Your local, state and federal police forces that will be trained by FIFA in “Rights Protection” (at public expense) and then will be put at FIFA’s disposal for six weeks. You did not read incorrectly. Public police forces will be taken off the job, trained to protect FIFA’s interests, then will be relieved from normal duties for six weeks to enforce what FIFA has taught them. This will be made possible by the passing of “laws that enable FIFA agents to act to confiscate ‘ambush’ materials” (Section 28.2).

Section 31 – all city services will be provided free of charge

Section 32 – City Beautification: “The Host City shall not authorize or grant any permits for any private or public construction works to be undertaken for the duration of the World Cup…any construction which is in progress at the start of the Competition shall be temporarily suspended.” Good luck getting those wages back, or in getting those Olympic projects completed on time.

Section 33.8 – No Partnership. “The Host City shall not act nor purport to act as a partner or agency of FIFA or the LOC…The parties are in all respects independent contractors and have separate financial interests under this agreement.” Indeed.

Section 33.18 – What me worry? “The Host City waives any and all claims of liability against the LOC, FIFA and their officers, members, agents or employees for any loss or damage to the city whether or not such loss or damage may have been caused by or resulted from the negligence of the LOC, FIFA, [etc]…The Host City further indemnifies and hold harmless FIFA, LOC, broadcasters, commercial affiliates, external advisors and agents, [etc.]…from any and all obligations and liabilities, including, without limitation any and all claims, losses, damage, injuries, liabilities, objections, demands, recoveries deficiencies, costs, expenses which they may suffer or incur arising out of or in any way connected with this agreement, or any acts or omissions of the Host City hereunder. The obligations of the Host City set forth in this clause survive the termination of the agreement.”




09 November 2012

Audiência não pública


As anticipated, the government showed up to complete its obligation of realizing at least one audiência pública. Because at no stage of the project had it been discussed with the public, and because it is so clearly wrong in so many ways, an intense resistance to this autocratic schema developed. Yesterday, the idea of those opposed to the privatization of the Maracanã (and to the lack of democratic process) was to impede the audiência from being realized on legal and moral grounds. If the government could not demonstrate that it had performed (or staged) a public hearing then the contracting process for privatization could not begin. Hundreds of people comprised a very loud, unified chorus and tried to bring a halt to the Potempkinish proceedings.


The amount of debris that rained down on the heads of the government officials was enough that security forces used an umbrella as a raised shield. Someone threw a bag of $hite towards the table, signaling the general degree of indignation. As the 500+ crowd hollered down the government, the microphone went to a very long line of individuals, who harangued the government even more. There was then a mass exodus that toppled dozens of rows of plastic chairs, and left the government calling the names of those who had just abandoned their show. At the end of the hall, people lit flares and chanted: “Puta que pariu, é a maior robaleira do Brasil”. (Son of a Whore, it’s the biggest theft in Brazil!)

After the confusão, the head of Rio de Janeiro’s state construction authority, Regis Fichtner said that he “refused to cancel the audiencia publica because there is nothing less democratic that restricting people’s right to speak.” Unfortunately, he wasn't prepared to listen which is why the crowd had resulted to throwing trash on his head in the first place. 

I could no longer tolerate the scene when Fichtner began to repeat the litany of reasons why the Maracanã had to be reformed, why it had to be privatized, why this was all for the good of the people. He arrived at this final point by rejecting the legitimacy of those who spoke, at the event that he convened, by intoning: “they do not speak for the people.”

This was a keenly important moment in the history of the Maracanã. An unresponsive government sat and took abuse from the people whose interests they purportedly represent. There was no one at the table taking notes about what was being said, no indication that they heard anything at all. A mood of tyrannical boredom and indifference radiated from the head table. When the waves of abuse passed, they went about completing their legal obligation, and the audiência foi realizada. O Globo called it “one more step towards the realization of the concession.”



07 November 2012

The Perverse Priorities of Power (PPP)


The Maracanã privatization scheme (Public Private Partnership) is both emblematic and symptomatic of the way that the Rio State and City governments relate to the public. For those not familiar with the story, the Maracanã has undergone a series of crippling reforms since 2005 when the state threw R$430 million at the complex to “prepare” it for the Pan American Games. The promise at the time was that these reforms, which included upgrades to the Maracanazinho gymnasium, the Celio de Barros running track and the Julio de Lamare aquatic center, would meet the demands of international sports federations (IOC, FIFA) so that one day Rio could bask in the temporary glory of being the center of the universe. Overseeing the reforms for the Pan was the current mayor, Eddie P., then the state secretary of sports. In his words at the time, “the privatization of the Maracanã is inconceivable.”

Foto from inside EMOP showing the permanence of the Maracana complex 
After tearing apart the reforms of the Pan, the Maracanã has been ripped to shreds with a price tag that is approaching R$1 billion. The football stadium has been closed four of the last eight years, but the aquatic park and athletics facilities have functioned well, serving a diverse constituency of neighborhood residents, athletic athletes and public schools. Two weeks ago, these facilities were put at risk through the opening of proposals to privatize the complex. Ícaro Moreno, the head of EMOP (state public works), said last week that these installations are being moved across the train tracks, but there’s no project for that at all. In fact the photos of the Maracanã complex on the walls of EMOP show these facilities being preserved in situ. No one has consulted any of the users of the Maracanã: football fans, elderly, parents of school children, athletes, coaches, journalists.

The ONLY time the public interest will be “consulted” will happen tomorrow night in what is being erroneously called an audiência pública. The government will present the project they have developed behind closed doors, open the floor for a few comments, perhaps register that they have somehow engaged in a democratic process and tchau. Following the audiência, the script reads, Batista’s IMX company will submit its privatization proposal, which will be accepted, and poof – no more public influence over one of Brazil’s greatest architectural icons and public spaces, no more public school, no more athletic track, no more swimming complex, no more Museu do Índio. The projected return on public investment (without inflation or interest on loans) over the 35 year concession will be around 26%. After 30 years, these cookie cutter “world-class” stadiums all a face lift anyway, so IMX will likely re-negotiate after the public pours money into the New Novo Maracanã.  This is a direct public investment in private welfare.

The perverse associations between Eike Batista and the state government are little discussed, even amongst the politically conscious. The perverse conception of democracy as one in which the public can comment on but not participate in the formulation of the public interest is totally blasé. The extension and expansion of democratic rights to the population isn’t high on the mayor’s or governor’s or Eike’s to-do list.  The expenditure of public money on public works to be handed to private interests that involves the destruction of a top-performing public school, a century-old indigenous heritage site, and two Olympic quality training facilities in order to generate even more profit for Brazil’s richest man, is a perversity that boggles the imagination. 

The future of the Maracanã must be discussed more broadly with those who use it. An audiência pública to discuss a pre-determined project is merely farcical theatre.

If you didn't have enough to gag on today, take a look inside the host city agreements: http://www.prefeitura.sp.gov.br/cidade/secretarias/copa/documentos/index.php?p=47152



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