HUNTING WHITE ELEPHANTS / CAÇANDO ELEFANTES BRANCOS

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23 December 2013

Reloading for 2014

2013 will hopefully be remembered as a year of positive change in Brazilian history. As we have gone through a series of urban and social transformations for huge sporting events, the real fragilities of Brazil came into sharp focus. To host the World Cup and Olympics, special legislation weakened already tenuous institutions. Tens of billions of public funds have been directed to projects that were never discussed with the
public. These privatized projects are justified with the word legacy, but there is no guarantee. The spoken word means almost nothing in Brazil and the very structure of the World Cup and Olympic Games allows for the circus to move on while the locals are left to clean up the elephant droppings. Forever.

The protests of 2013 were partly a reaction to the opaque, exorbitant and authoritarian megas. They also responded to the deteriorating conditions of urban life in Brazilian cities. I see this every day when I walk out of my apartment: bubbling sewage, abandoned buildings, precarious infrastructure, military police sitting on the corner. The protests were not spontaneous expressions of rage, but a big blip of concentrated indignation that is always kept alive by Brazilian social movements such as the Comitês Popluares da Copa.

The violent police responses to peaceful protest exposed the contradictions and brutalities that underlie most facets of Brazilian life. The police do not do policing, they treat the population as a threat to order and have no capacity to work for the public good. They serve at the behest of a very thin slice of Brazilian society – those benefitting from the very projects and conditions that the protesters were on about. There may have been real material gains in Brazil over the past generation, but this does not indicate meaningful social, political, infrastructural or economic reform has been accomplished. Rio is a perfect example of this – a place where issues of inequality and violence are solved through a counter-insurgency pacification program. The knock-on effects of pacification were never thought through or adequately prepared for, exposing Rio´s most vulnerable citizens ever more to conditions of bare life.

2014, without question, will be the shortest year in modern Brazilian history. A late Carnaval, World Cup and Elections will ensure that none of the necessary, difficult work of building a more just society will occur. The events will limit social agency at the same time that the politicians will be handing out crumbs to gather votes. If Brazil wins the World Cup, we will lose even more of our lives to the false delirium of a hollow promise.  
Despite the constant difficulties of living in a city governed by decree and in a state that acts on the behest of the invisible hand, 2013 was a year that demonstrated that there is real potential for collective social action to have an effect. The work of building consensus to create a collective future based on an atomized and self-referential past is tiring, frustrating and slow. The events of 2013 demonstrated that this work, undertaken by millions on a daily basis, can spring to life to challenge those in power with legitimate, articulate and diverse messages. These messages were heard and seen around the world linking Brazilians with Turks, Egyptians, and Circassians in their struggle against authoritarianism. Hopefully 2014 will bring even more people to the streets to raise their fists and voices.


That´s it for another year of Hunting White Elephants. Thanks to the tens of thousands who have visited the site this year and be sure to follow my twitter @geostadia. I´ll be putting up links to journalistic and academic pieces in January and updating the media page. Feliz ano!

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