HUNTING WHITE ELEPHANTS / CAÇANDO ELEFANTES BRANCOS

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23 January 2014

The Slow March of the White Hippopotami

There has been a long debate about which of the twelve World Cup stadiums are going to be White Elephants. The leading pachyderms have been Manaus, Cuiabá, Natal and Brasília. While it is true that these wayward children of post-Keynsian corporate welfare will have no practical use as sporting venues after the World Cup, the global band of elephant hunters has yet to turn their sights on the other eight elephants. In reality, ALL of the World Cup stadiums are White Elephants. Let me explain.

The public financing of stadiums that remain in the public domain theoretically bring public benefit. This is what taxes are for. Ignoring for a moment the privatization of social services, we pay taxes for health care, security, sewage, trash collection, education, public transportation and the maintenance of public spaces because they bring public benefit. It doesn´t matter if these make money because as taxpayers we are willing to pay for them.

Ignoring for a longer moment the obscene tax burden in Brazil and the recondite machinations of massively irresponsible people like Rio´s State Secretary of Transportation (who was last seen laughing at the site of yet another train derailment in Rio), the public financing of stadiums for the 2014 World Cup, should theoretically bring public benefit. Yet other than being a condition of hosting the World Cup, during which time the stadiums will legally belong to FIFA (except if anything goes wrong), what public benefits are privatized stadiums going to bring?

All of the stadiums have been financed with public money to some degree or other. Three have had private sector investment because they are the property of teams: Porto Alegre (Internacional), Curitiba (Atlético Paranaense) and São Paulo (Corinthians). ALL of the others have had 100% public financing and ALL of them are going to be run as for-profit venues by private companies or consortiums. This jack-in-the-box hocus pocus has a name: Public Private Partnership, or PPP. What´s the problem with this?

PPP takes the stadium out of the public domain, shifting the logics of the building from one of public benefit to private profit. The only logic driving the operation of the stadiums for the World Cup is profit. When that is all you have as a guiding principal, ticket prices rise, costs get cut, perhaps safety is compromised, and the taxpayer, if he or she wants to enter into this formerly public space, now has to pay, and dearly, for this “right”.

Take the case of the Maracanã, an elephant so white it could run for political office in Utah. The stadium was built, maintained, used, modified, enjoyed, adapted, hacked and deformed with public money. Now it has been violently ripped from public hands and handed over to some fat cat construction bosses, marketing fakirs and the benighted princes of Rio´s football teams who are keen to extort the public at every turn. The public paid in money, blood, and gas induced tears for the Maracanã, now they pay again and again and again to have access to it. This is the new White Elephant scenario in Brazil where eight cities destroyed pre-existing stadiums to build new ones on the same spot.

The economic logics used to justify PPPs are never adequate. For instance, we will never know how much the Maracanã cost to maintain during its 63 years in the public domain because Rio´s State Secretary of Sport and Leisure and SUDERJ are as transparent and accessible as a lunar eclipse. There is no information available, not even through Freedom of Information Requests. We may know how much the new stadium costs to maintain and operate, but only because those numbers will justify increased entry fees.

The use logics are equally wrong. The notion that these Elephants are now multi-use arenas ignores the history and functioning of the stadiums before. These “obsolete” stadiums were used for exam taking, cadet training, religious gatherings, or had public restaurants, meeting spaces or served as public athletic facilities. They were also relatively affordable places to see football matches. Under PPP, multi-use means “shopping mall”, where the only chance that the public has to use the facilities that they paid for is by opening a wallet wider than a hippopotamus.

17 January 2014

Incompetência Gera Violência

The 2013 Brazilian championship is still not resolved, lingering in the court system. Ricardo Texeira is lounging in a bath of saline and botox in Florida, his pilfered millions safe under Obamacare. The CBF continues to bumble along under the liver-spotted hands of José Marin, who is to institutional reform what a sewage system is to a band of Australopithecus. In the country that is about to host the most expensive World Cup of all time, there has been no attempt whatsoever to make the national sport more transparent, more accountable to fans, less abusive of tens of thousands of young men, more supportive of the women´s game (there is no national league of any kind), etc. The national championship isn´t resolved on the field. It´s not resolved off it either. Clubs are hundreds of millions in debt but money keeps pouring in from sponsors and as we get ready to kick off the state championships the prospective of Brazilian football appears as solid as Neymar´s ankle ligaments.

This excellent website has put together a collection of photos from the Confederations´ Cup, showing just how lively Coca-Cola can make an urban environment. In preparation for more of the same in 2014, the federal government, headed by the Worker´s Party since 2003, hs put together a 10,000 strong shock force to deal with protesters. These troops are being trained by the French police that use such a light hand in dealing with suburban youths. On the heels of this, the massacre in Campinas this week has once again demonstrated just how prepared and professional Brazil´s police are. When it comes to settling accounts, none better. When it comes to protecting the lives of citizens, guaranteeing their civil liberties and actually policing, none worse. Hooligans beware, this is a war zone.

The Rio city government continues to remove people with shock troops and military police. The favela do metrô has been suffering the effects of state-sponsored terrorism for several years now. Last week, the city moved to clear the rest of the people and buildings so that a parking lot for the Maracanã can be installed. Somehow, Eduardo Paes has convinced mayors around the world that he is a thoughtful, reasoned, capable administrator. All of the evidence in Rio de Janeiro is to the contrary. The recent news that the proposed TransBrasil BRT line will no longer reach the Santos Dumont Airport is yet another example of how the city is being reshaped on an ad-hoc, authoritarian basis.

As predicted, 2014 is going to be short. We have already had mass murders, massive flooding and a mass movement of poor suburban youth occupying shopping centers, exposing the latent violence, classism and racism that undergird Brazilian social relations. In March, after Carnaval, we will “celebrate” the 50th anniversary of the 1964 military coup in various ways – the old guard that is still hanging about in the corridors of power and at João Havelange´s bedside will pine for the good old days while the rest will get tear gassed in front of the Clube Militar. This will be a nice warm up for the waves of protests that will target the rise in bus fares (again), the summary executions of the poor (again), the privatization and militarization of public space (again), and the violations of human rights to ensure private accumulation (again and again). As a curmudgeonly profeta gentileza would have said: Incompetência gera Violência.




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