HUNTING WHITE ELEPHANTS / CAÇANDO ELEFANTES BRANCOS

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30 June 2014

Accumulating Brazil

In a normal month of June, Rio de Janeiro hosts at least 16 professional soccer matches. São Paulo will typically see the same number. Salvador typically has around 8 first division matches; ditto Recife, Fortaleza, Porto Alegre, Belo Horizonte and Curitiba. None of these cities will host more than 7 during the World Cup.

Compared to this time last year, Brazilian airlines transported 15 % more passengers per day than they are doing during the World Cup. The airports seem empty because they have fewer passengers. Planes are on time because they have fewer problems getting out of the gate. This is not to say that the Brazilians aren´t doing a good job with airline transport, but that the predicted problems have not emerged because Brazilians were so afraid of the problems that they aren´t traveling the way they normally do.

In a normal month of June, Brazil receives around 600,000 foreign visitors. That is the expected number of tourists that the country will receive for the World Cup. “Normal” tourists have been replaced by World Cup tourists, who are being bilked by hoteliers and tour operators.

In every host city, for every game, there is some kind of holiday. This means that during the World Cup there will be 64 holidays. Bank and government holidays mean fewer people on the streets, freeing up space for the circus acts. Schools schedules have also been altered to keep kids, parents and teachers at home. If kids are not getting to school, parents have to find a way to stay home too.

The holidays, fears of logistical headaches and general party atmosphere have been disastrous for Brazilian productivity – a decline in as much as 30% during the first round of the tournament. These costs are never factored into the general budget for the event. This is in addition to the deficit spending of cities. A little known fact about the World Cup is that all of the host cities were granted an exception to the Law of Fiscal Responsibility (LFR). The LFR prohibits urban administrations from deficit spending. Once released from fiscal responsibility, urban administrations started borrowing heavily and will have to start repaying as soon as the Cup has run dry.

The FIFA-standard stadiums have worked for FIFA, but they are antiseptic containers of global corporatism that negate the history and football culture of the cities in which they sit. We know about the elephantitis and the opportunity costs, we know that the vast majority of people cannot afford to go to football matches, but not many people are talking about the anti-urbanism of these stadiums. In the majority, they are completely isolated buildings, surrounded by a sea of parking and “zones of exclusion”. They may have LEED certification (a form of greenwashing) but they are DUMB in terms of weaving together the urban fabric. 

The party is rolling on and there have not been any major horrors, so the international media parachuters are doing a kind of mea culpa, saying “oh, it´s not as bad as I thought it would be, sorry Brazil, we were unkind.” This is a position that ignores the extent to which the entire country has been retooled to host 64 games of football. The repressive and reactive police mechanism is there to guarantee that this event happens. The upper middle and middle classes from Latin America and elsewhere are enjoying the Brazilian festival while the elites of the world jet into and out of wherever they please, however they please, whenever they please. Yet those excluded from the party are suffering with even more repression than normal, or are hurting from a lack of police coverage because the “normal” coverage has been moved to the World Cup.

The media is underreporting the continuous protests that are unfolding in Brazilian cities. There continue to be strong undercurrents of dissatisfaction with the realization of the World Cup. For the government and FIFA, the amazing football and smooth logistical operations for the tournament have been a blessing. However, in the peripheries, the same repressive and violent police force continues to kill poor black people. While there is more conversation about these kinds of things than there was even two years ago, the World Cup has doubled down on the military model of policing the Brazilian population.

Geographer David Harvey´s concept of accumulation by dispossession is a useful framework to understand all of the processes I have outlined above. The city governments dispossess residents of their streets by declaring holidays, keeping people at home. Public culture and public space are taken from the public realm as stadiums are sanitized, corporatized and privatized. The right to free circulation and protest is limited by the police. Tax burdens for multi-national corporations and FIFA are annulled though special legislation (while the Ghanaian players have to pay taxes on their bonuses received in Brazil and Suarez is deprived of his right to exist as a person while Ricardo Texeira is back in the fold). In short, the entire weight and power of the Brazilian state has collaborated with global financial and political interests to ensure that the World Cup happens in the smoothest manner possible.



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