HUNTING WHITE ELEPHANTS / CAÇANDO ELEFANTES BRANCOS

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27 August 2013

Same band, different tune

Lord Mayor Breads has been singing a different tune lately. Over the past few weeks he has called the Olympics a boon for Rio but an embarrassment for Brazil, said that FIFA is not concerned at all with what happens after the World Cup, compared his municipal habitation employees to Nazis (for tagging houses to be demolished), demanded that the mafia bosses of Brazilian sport end their lifetime tenures, been interviewed by Midia Ninja, sat down with the Comitê Popular, guaranteed the permanence of the Vila Autódromo, the Escola Friendenrich, Museu do Indio and said that Brazil has wasted its opportunity to benefit from the World Cup and Olympics. It’s almost as if he’s been reading and agreeing with Hunting White Elephants.

Pinch me a loaf!

While it is not likely of interest to those who don`t know the delights of the Bay of Guanabara, for those of us fortunate enough to live in the center of the world, Paes’ words and actions are of some interest. There appears to be a rupture in the friendly hegemony that Carioca society erected in the past few years. Deputy Dawg Cabral is really suffering as Govenor, coitado, and has floated some information biscuits about resigning in April in order to escape to Brasilia in 2014. The majority of the protests in Rio have taken Cabral as their target and Paes is clearly trying to get some distance. The ongoing protests have won significant victories and concessions, though as Gramsci (and Nidhi Srinivas) would remind us, “progress occurs as the reaction of the dominant classes to the sporadic and incoherent rebelliousness of the popular masses.”

Paes is also trying to capture some sympathy from the Carioca and Brazilian left. In the absence of strong, persuasive, lefty leadership Paes has seized on the opportunity to make some concessions in order to show how rational and progressive he is. The problem is that Paes continues to be Paes and watching the interview segments that he did on Juca Entrevista one cannot help but note his inability to answer a question directly or to express himself on national television without saying “porra”. Now that he has everything he wants in terms of the closing game of the World Cup, the International Media Center, the Olympics, etc, he can basically say whatever he wants for short term political gain. He has managed to irritate FIFA, the IOC, the Minister of Sport, Snoozman, the CBF and probably Cabral and Dilma. If Machiavelli and Madame Chiang had a child, what would they name it?

Though whistling a different tune, Paes has not changed the band. As evidence, I present this delicious bon mot on the lamentable, but inevitable (according to him) decision to turn an environmentally protected wetland area into the Olympic golf course: “How is it possible that a golf course, that is basically grass and native vegetation, could damage the natural environment?”  

Protest march to the Palacio de Guanabara on 26.8.13 -C.Gaffney photo
To close out the month, the Maraca é Nosso movement has staged a series of protests in the last few weeks to demand the end to the Maracanã concession / privatization. After decreeing that the Escola, Museu, swimming and athletics facilities could not be demolished, the government had to allow for the possibility that the new rights holders (Maracanã S.A.) back out of the contract. Maracanã S.A. is 80% controlled by the civil construction behemoth Odebrecht, 10% by IMG and 10% by Eike Batista’s IMX. It appears that Maracanã S.A. are going to continue and will make tens of millions on this public investment, while taking no risk of their own. After the effective life of the stadium is over, in 35 years, the state will take it back, reform it again with public money and the next generation of Cariocas will repeat the mistakes of their parents.


The immediate return of the Maracanã to public hands is a first step towards solving the problem. Once there, the problem of ineptitude within SUDERJ (State Superintendency of Sports for Rio) has to be resolved. The Comitê Popular has opened a public consultation site so that a more egalitarian and functional management system can be created for the post 2014 reality of Rio. 

19 August 2013

São Sebastião and his pet monkey

It is a lovely day in Rio.

Marcio Fortes might be on the beach in Barra de Tijuca after resigning his position as the head of the Autoridade  Publico Olimpico (APO). Fortes, who has run a handful of Brazilian ministries since the beginning of time, handed in his resignation to Dilma citing “personal reasons.” Remember, the dispute for the top spot at the APO was a little confusing as Brazeel`s power figures tried to figure out where the power within the Olympic Games organizing apparatus lay. After Forte`s resignation, Mayor Breads (Paes) called the APO expensive and unnecessary. That may be true, but the Lord Mayor also affirmed that he was not going to cede control over the construction of the Olympic City to anyone. The overlapping extra-governmental structures are confusing and inefficient at best, but what is really going on is a political power play that has paid off nicely for Paes. As I pointed out in 2011, just putting together the APO cost around 22 million.

FIFA is back in Brazil to ask and answer questions. One of the major questions they will have to answer is regarding the price gouging that World Cup hotel operators are engaging in. The FIFA hospitality group MATCH, owned by Blatter`s nephew, has contracts with Brazilian hotels for the World Cup. These hotels, a recent report demonstrated, are elevating their prices by as much as 500% for the tournament. A paradigm of managerial opacity, MATCH continually wins contracts for the World Cup and has been involved in numerous scandals. Did I mention that it is run by a relative of the FIFA president? The average cost for a hotel room in Rio de Janeiro during the World Cup will be US$460. Save those shekels!

This weekend the Comite Popular took the fight for social justice to the Mayor`s residence in the Alto de Boa Vista. Protests are abundant but it appears that some people do not like to have their daily routines interrupted by the dissatisfied. Predictably, OBobo has published an op-ed lamenting the incomodos of the manifestations, saying that  “nothing was left undestroyed” by the righteously indignant. The argument is that manifestations have their place, but not if they actually disrupt life as it is. Truly, this is neither Istanbul nor Cairo.


And finally, a photo that says more than a thousand words. This book is an apologia for the transformation of Brazilian football culture into an aseptic exercise in consumption. The empty stadium is symbolic and emblematic of the myriad elements of this transformation that I have been cataloguing here for years.

However, in the bottom right corner of the picture is the banner that is in the second photo, which I took from the press area. I am not sure there is too much to be read into this but it was refreshing to see that even slick apologists cannot avoid reality. 

14 August 2013

The Milkmen of Human Kindness

The Lord Mayor of Rio deigned to receive members of the Popular Committee for the World Cup and Olympics last week. This surprising yet calculated move was a response to the growing pressure from civil society to reverse the privatization of the Maracanã, preserve the athletics, educational and cultural facilities there and to put an end to all removals in Rio de Janeiro. The meeting had two potentially positive outcomes. One is that the Vila Autodromo appears to have escaped the mayor’s bulldozers. This hugely important victory has come after years of unseen struggle and more than a decade of organized fighting on the part of the residents of the Vila Autodromo. The collective actions of residents, social movements, academics and media actors managed to block autocratic and truculent moves on the part of the city government.

The second important element of the conversation with the mayor was the “tombamento” of the Escola Municipal and the Museu do Indio. This was not the work of one international organization (as Meu Rio would have us believe), but rather the concerted work of hundreds of people and dozens of organizations over many years. Tombamento means that the buildings cannot be destroyed. However, Paes made clear in his decree that the function of the buildings was not guaranteed, just the buildings. So it is possible that the school will be removed and the building maintained, just as it is probable that the Aldeia Maracana (the indigenous community) will be removed and the building turned into a whiskey bar for Snoozman and his IOC buddies. The mayor is clearly under pressure to respond in some way to the continuing battles raging in the city and his move to meet with the Comitê, as well as his semi-capitulation, is a sign that things can be achieved with direct social action on the streets. However, Paes’ move should be understood as entirely political, likely reversible and totally incomplete. He will continue to hear loud and insistent knocks on his door.

The city as a whole appears as if it is going to implode. Three weeks ago, just after the Pope took his millions of poopers out of town, a water main broke in the West Zone killing a 3 year old child. Other problems with the sewerage system have also appeared. Is it a coincidence that after millions more users enter the system for a few weeks that things start to blow apart in strange places? There appears to be nothing done about sewage treatment in the Zona Sul, so how bad must it be in Barra and other “forgotten” parts of the city. Neither the public nor private sectors are capable of delivering quality services.

The goons that parade about in Military Police uniforms began throwing rocks at protesting professors in front of the state assembly. Seriously? Protesters have occupied city hall for nearly two weeks. Cabral (Governor) and Beltrame (Sec. of Security) do not appear to have much say in how their troops behave. There has never been any meaningful reform of the police, the Rocinha UPP disappeared a resident, and Brazil’s former golden boy, Eike Batida, has pulled the plug on his UPP funding. For those of you watching from the North, because CNN is not covering any of this does not mean that the social movements have gone away since the end of the Confederations Cup. The Brazilian marketing machine is running in high gear, as ever, and there are some that continue to believe in the magic potential of ill-conceived projects to deliver long-term benefits. Believe it or not, one professor of architecture is calling the clattering abomination in Cuiabá an Elefante Dourado (Golden Elephant). Just to be clear, the public paid for the construction, maintenance and destruction of the old stadium, the construction and maintenance of a new one, and will have to pay elevated prices to go to games and events. Portugal has decided to tear down a number of the Euro 2004 stadia because their maintenance costs are too high. The Brazilian parade of White Elephants will eat everything we have and leave gigantic, steamy piles for unskilled, unhealthy, uneducated people to clean up until they are destroyed. The post-Cup future is golden indeed.

The situation has become so obviously bad that even people like João Maximo, who wrote an obsequiously apologetic introduction for a 60th anniversary book of the Maracanã in which he basically clamored for its deform, has become predictably nostalgic. Why? A Fla x Flu with less than 40,000 people is considered a big crowd. Minimum ticket R$80. Brazil continues to have the most expensive tickets in the world in the most expensive stadiums ever built for a World Cup. But please, ignore all this, close your eyes and wait for the milkmen to come with an extra pint of kool-aid.

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