HUNTING WHITE ELEPHANTS / CAÇANDO ELEFANTES BRANCOS

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24 May 2014

Dis-ingenuity

The Brazilian federal government has launched a new marketing campaign to convince Brazilians that they haven´t really wasted public money on the World Cup. The Folha de São Paulo published a puff piece comparing the investments in stadiums to one month of education for the whole country, while the feds have published a pamphlet comparing the federal investment in health and education since 2009 (R$820 billion) to the investments in stadiums (R$8 billion).

This is wrong for innumerable reasons, not the least of which is the government´s attempt to hide their poor choices behind big and small numbers.

The investment in education is one thing, health another. Why are they mixed together in the government´s “data”? This is a weak attempt to respond to the cry “Da Copa eu abro mão, quero meu dinheiro para saúde e educação!” More, the public investment in health and education is for the Brazilian public, all 200 million of them. As I´ve been pointing out here for the last five years, the investment in stadiums is for an ever more limited public.

Worse, of the nine stadiums fully constructed with public money, seven have been handed over to Public Private Partnerships and Manaus and Cuiabá are desperately trying to find elephant trainers. That is, the state has financed these behemoths and given them to private companies to make a profit, therefore privatizing public space and taking the logics of the public realm and kicking them up the arse.

I don´t actually have a problem with public financing for stadiums as long as they remain public. Why doesn´t the government demand that these stadiums have public schools or emergency care centers inside them? Why can´t we make them multi-functional, integrated elements of the social and urban fabrics? PPPs make the stadiums uni-functional, just the opposite of the claims being made.

Another perverse claim of this new marketing (Neymarketing) in relation to stadiums is that R$8 billion really isn´t all that much money. In relation to the Brazilian GDP this is true, but by that same logic a one hundred thousand kids not having decent schools isn´t much compared to the general population. These stadiums need to be evaluated in their local contexts where they have social, economic, political and urban impacts. As Rodrigo Zeidan at the Fundação Dom Cabral recently told me, “Even though the world cup may provide some marginal direct economic benefit there are huge losses of we take into account the opportunity costs involved in the proposed investments by the Brazilian governments.  All taken into account the world cup is not the brightest investment by a lower middle class income country.”




19 May 2014

Discursive framing and other one-offs

There are few media conglomerates that wield the kind of influence over society, culture and popular perception as the Globo Network in Brazil. This is particularly true in the media-government-business nexus of the World Cup. Globo is the de-facto owner of Brazilian football, paid dearly for the rights to transmit the 2014 World Cup (though no one knows how much) and is shaping the discourse around the tournament to suit the needs of those who seek to maintain their grip on power, namely the Globo network itself. 

One of the biggest advertisers in the Globo newspaper is the state government. Their contributions are rivalled by the big civil construction firms whose subsidiaries in the closed-condominium housing industry take out full page ads everyday to extoll the virtues of living in stylized off-worlds with names like Miami Gardens, Pure Island, or Reserva Golfe. The condo ads are inevitably flanked by car and truck ads, extolling the virtues of escape into the wilderness, or alternatively, into a morass of congestion. As ever, Rio de Janeiro is the most beautiful city in the world to be stuck in traffic. This is not a counter-cultural moment in Brazil. People are pulling their hair out, not letting it flow naturally to prove a point. Brazil is in the midst of an ideological project driven by elites in government, media and industry that want Brazilians to charge full speed ahead into a debt-ridden world of consumerism, hostility towards the public sphere and fear of the underclasses.

One of the most perverse ways in which Globo tries to twist the realities of fantastically unequal wealth distribution, militarization, privatization and commodification into a Hallmark moment of Brazil´s arrival on the international stage is in their presentation of the Maracanã. As we know, the Maracanã was ripped from public hands with some violence over the past few years. One of the particularly charming displays was the removal of the Aldeia Maracanã indigenous community with shock troops. The ever-mindful president of the state agency responsible for the Maracanã complex said at the time, “the place for Indians is in the forest, that´s why we´re preserving the Amazon.” This is what it looked like:


Warning: do not eat while looking at this photo. 
Now, according to Globo, this is what the Aldeia Maracanã has become.

In the article, we are informed that weddings can now be held in the stadium for a rent as low as R$30,000. The new Aldeia Maracanã according to Globo, has no indigenous, no poor, not even the middle class. This Aldeia is only for those who can afford it. 

They´re cute while young, best to declaw in early adolescence.
To prove the point, this is the way that the ideologues at Globo are presenting Brazilian´s indigenous communities as the World Cup approaches.

The title here should be, “Brasil, através da bala.” If you are indigenous, you had better be young, because as soon as you start to demand rights or dare to appear in places where you don´t “belong” then likelihood of extirpation by FBI-trained shock troops is pretty good.


While the criminal and unconstitutional treatment of the indigenous communities across Brazil gets almost no play in the media, it is important to remember that the oldest center of indigenous culture in Brazil has been forcibly removed for the realization of the World Cup. In its place we have a sterile urban environment that tens of thousands will pass by without noticing on their way to drink Budweiser and eat McDonalds inside of the privatized, sanitized and hollow (not hallowed) Maracanã.

16 May 2014

Contesting the Games

Back in April, I was invited to give a talk by the Center for Latin American Studies at The Ohio State University. The kind people there put together a nice video which I am reproducing here. 

The talk deals with the social discontent around the World Cup and Olympics. I trace the development of social resistance to mega-events in Brazil, explain the role of scholar-activists in this process and then reflect more generally about what has been happening in Brazil as 12 cities have contorted to host #WC14.  The video is long-ish, but hopefully will answer many questions and raise a few others (if not some hackles). 

13 May 2014

30 Daze

With one month to go until kickoff all the talk is about infrastructure projects delivered or not delivered, costs, stadiums, legacy, protests, who will win, etc. There are a few talking points being left out of the debate.

Which projects are (not) being completed and why?

More than half of the WC infrastructure projects that were part of the Matrix of Responsibilities that each city signed as part of the “host-city agreement” with FIFA have not happened. This includes a monorail in Manaus, a light rail in Cuiabá, the 1.5 km extension of the metro in Salvador, reforms to Rio´s port, airport projects, 4G communications and numerous Bus Rapid Transit lines. There are two things to consider: a) why were these projects chosen, by whom and how and b) why didn´t they get done and what are the consequences?

In the case of Rio, a major bus line that was projected in the 1960s was finally brought into being. It connects the international airport with Barra da Tijuca in the southwest part of the city. It cuts through dense neighborhood fabric, has removed tens of thousands of people and will not attend the tourist or commuter demands of the city. Why a bus line from the 1960s to a distant suburb where no residents use public transportation? Why not an expansion of the metro to the international airport? Why not new ferry lines? In short, the lingering questions about “legacy” are going to be answered in a few years, as Jerome Valcke recently said. The implication is that Brazilians shouldn´t protest now because we don´t know how things are going to turn out. Already, the evidence points to a legacy fail of historic proportions.

But if we take Valcke´s advice and wait to see what happens, surely we can look at what has happened with the projects that have been delivered.

The projects that have been delivered, such as stadiums, have not functioned to attract “families back to football”, as the event organizers have suggested. FIFA suggests that these “better facilities” will “welcome more fans, because the structure is nicer and have a higher standard of international football.” Please.

The quality of the Brazilian league may be at its lowest point in fifty years. The data show that attendances are lower and ticket prices higher than all of the major football leagues in the world. Indeed, Brazil has the highest ticket prices in the world relative to minimum wage. The new stadiums have been privatized and the teams prefer to have fewer, wealthier fans in the stadium. Why? For every fan, the teams pay insurance and security costs. Therefore 10,000 fans at R$50 generates more money than 20,000 at R$25. 

Year
Total Public
Average  Public
Total gate receipts (R$)
Average ticket price (R$)
2007
6,582,976
17,461
80,040,848
12.2
2008
6,439,854
16,992
101,241,490
15.7
2009
6,766,471
17,807
125,764,391
18.6
2010
5,638,806
14,839
112,873,893
20.0
2011
5,660,987
14,976
117,665,714
20.8
2012
4,928,827
12,970
119,100,000
22.92
2013
5,681,355
14,951
176,500,000
31.06
Data taken from the CBF website and compiled by me.

If we take out the novelty of visiting new stadiums, and the fact that the big teams are playing outside of their home cities and attracting bigger crowds through novelty, the 2013 Brasilierão would have been worse than the numbers here show. If we take into account items such as transportation, food and parking then average costs are much higher. In short, the promise that families would flock back to the stadiums because of increased comfort and security did not and will not materialize as long as the level of play is so bad and the prices are so exorbitant.

Yesterday, I returned to the Favela do Metrô-Mangueira. The city has removed the majority of the favela to make way for undefined and uncompleted projects. We were warned of all the cracudos lingering in the trash and sewage filled alleyways.  The scene was one of utter destruction and desperation.

Passing by the Maracanã metrô station, I was astounded to see that a huge construction project had gotten underway in the three weeks since I had last been there. It seems impossible that the integration of the train and metro stations will happen in a month.

Inside the Maracanã, the press handlers were frantically trying to keep us from touching the grass at the edge of the technical area. “Only players” was the mantra, as security guards stomped around the edge of the pitch. The gaggle of neurotic pr flacks was desperately trying to create some kind of religious iconography out of a patch of grass in a historic place that has been sanitized and deracinated. Not 500 meters from that very spot, people are struggling for their lives amidst scenes of destruction and ruin.


One month from the Cup, the questions should be about infrastructure and preparedness, but we must first consider what has Brazil (not) prepared, how and for whom.

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