07 December 2009

Interview with Al Jazeera

Interview with Al Jazeera
4 December 2009
Rio de Janeiro

AJ: Al Jazeera
CG: Christopher Gaffney

AJ: What is taking place on the ground here as you see it in relation to the Olympics and the World Cup?

CG: In regards to the Olympics especially, I think they are reforming territory in order to put the projects in place. This involves rezoning, redesigning infrastructure, and creating an Olympic City – that is a very limited vision of the city. In order to build projects, in order to get tourists to come, you have to build infrastructure. That is what is going on right now, they are preparing the ground.

AJ: Right, and in this preparing the ground, you have denounced things that are taking place, could you tell us a little bit more about it?

CG: There have been some laws passed by the city government that have reformed the plano director , the master plan for the city of Rio, that have happened through unconstitutional processes, without public audiences, that have rezoned strategic parts of the city and set off a series of real estate speculations without taking into account the people that live there already. Most of the targeted areas are poorer communities that are threatened with forced relocation in order to allow the real estate projects to move forward.

AJ: And these forced relocations, would you say there is a pattern, how generalized are they?

CG: There is a pattern that happened during the run up to the 2007 Pan American Games when members of the housing commission would come through communities and try to cadastrar or register people and households, saying “we’re here to register your houses” and then the next week would come back and say “ok, now that you’re registered we know you’re here illegally and it’s time to remove you.” If you want to go peaceably we’ll give you a check for x amount of Reales and you can be on your way. In the Canal de Anil, they forcibly removed sixty families in 2006 in preparation for the Pan American Games. These people had rights and title to their territory but were forcibly evicted.

AJ: Right, how may people are we talking about in this case for the Olympics?  

CG: Certainly in the hundreds if not one or two thousand people. I’m not sure how many people, I know that 30 communities have been targeted by the city as targets for removal or at least identified as “areas of concern” in relation to the new zoning laws in relation to the Olympic project.

AJ: As we were talking about before why are people not organizing to prevent this from happening?

CG: The people in the communities are trying to organize. There’s a lot of co-option that goes on of course, clientelist politics in Brazil are still very much alive and well, and then the hegemony of the media outlets prevents the story from getting out there. The forces allied in favor of the Olympics are quite strong and those against it almost nil. There are social groups organizing but they have very little coverage in the general media.

AJ: And we saw that because of the violence taking place here almost all the time but now with the Olympics coming I’m sure they’re doing loads of things to improve the situation but I’m sure there’s going to be other consequences in terms of speculation, I don’t know if you could tell us a little about that aspect as well. Not in terms of human  rights and other controversial aspects along the way to making things peaceful but what can we expect in terms of other consequences?

CG: There are many other types of violence that are also going on. The mere threat of being removed is a kind of violence and then there’s the actual act of removal. People are already experiencing the threat of forced relocation which is causing considerable stress. People have to take time out of their ordinary lives in order to mobilize with the same intensity as the forces that are mobilizing against them. This is quite a different level of fight for an individual or a small community versus say the International Olympic Committee which has money, a strong bureaucracy and political clout. We can expect that these dislocations will probably happen and will probably happen with violence that will be resisted, but in the end the dislocation will be carried out. In the end, around 30 communities will lose the rights to part or all of their territory in the Olympic region in the southwest part of the city.

AJ: And more generally, the Dona Marta favela and other “pacification” projects aren’t going to be part of the Olympic project are they?
[Dona Marta is a showcase favela in Botafogo. It has been occupied by BOPE (shock troops) since 2008. Madonna made a visit there last week].

CG: There will be tourists going there now as part of their Olympic experience and now that it’s “pacified” it will be a protected area. Every place that becomes pacified, controlled, settled, becomes then fair game for part of the project.

AJ: Is that part of the Games?

CG: It’s part of a generalized project to make the city safe for capital.

AJ: Can you tell me a little bit about that? What is the plan and how are they going to achieve it, basically?

CG: The plan, as with any Olympic city is to create infrastructure so that capital can arrive and circulate fluidly. That includes tourists, information infrastructure, media centers, people arriving through airport infrastructure, moving people thorough the city via metros and bus systems and private Olympic lanes. Part of the pacification programs, such as the BOPE occupation of morro Dona Marta, Pavão-Pavãozinho in Copacabana and trying to settle things down in the Complexo do Alemão is to make the city safe for capital. This is unabashedly the project of the governor, the mayor, Lula, etc…this is the Olympic project in Brazil – to make the city a market, to put it in the shop window. If you can have places in the Zona Sul on the mountainside with beautiful views where tourists can go and have a nice bed and breakfast while they go to the Olympics or World Cup, that’s also part of the project.

AJ: Is there already real estate speculation?

CG: We have seen real estate speculation in Dona Marta already. If it’s peaceful and it’s close to beautiful areas, people want to live there and you’re going to see a rise in rents. That pushes people who lived there in the first place because they needed a cheap place to live close to centers of employment, that rise in rents pushes them further out. A generalized “settling” of the favela in Rio will then dislocate that poverty somewhere else and as long as that poverty is not in the Olympic city, fine. They become forgotten. The real estate speculation in Barra de Tijuca and Jacarepaguá is part of the larger civilizing mission of the Games .

AJ: Do you think that the erecting of walls around the favelas is problematic?

CG: The strategy is problematic for a number of reasons. One, it’s penning people in, it’s animalizing a class, it’s criminalizing poverty. By walling someone in you’re limiting their ability to move freely. Of course, aesthetically no one wants to live next to a wall. Secondly, the rationale is that the favela is destroying the environment, that be erecting the wall, they’re preserving the environment. If they want to preserve the environment, they should put social services in, have water and sewage and trash collection – this would be preserving the environment. Building condominiums with a highly consumptive lifestyle in a fragile wetland in Barra de Tijuca destroys the environment much more than people living on a hillside or a favela expanding into the Floresta de Tijuca. Of course, every human settlement has its environmental impact, but a highly consumptive lifestyle in a car dependent landscape creates another level of impact where people are, just by their mere existence, destroying the environment more.

AJ: Can you talk about the method by which Rio is going about taking over these places in the city? How does this process work? What are the critical steps they are taking?

CG: The emblematic person for this process is Rudy Giuliani who was here in Rio yesterday and has been employed as a private consultant in the lead up to the World Cup and Olympics. The “zero tolerance” policy that he implemented in New York criminalizes ordinary behavior, but only in certain areas of the city. The idea that by enforcing the law with maximum authority, you create a situation by which those who can afford to evade the law or have knowledge of ways to avoid it, or those who create the law themselves, don’t have to obey it – so in the end you are further criminalizing poverty. This is what happened in New York and is what is happening here as well. There, you had a massive real estate boom because poverty and “disorder” was pushed away from Manhattan into smaller and smaller areas of the city where the “zero tolerance” policies were rigidly enforced. So Manhattan island becomes a massive area for real estate speculation and a global symbol of consumption. That is the idea here with the “Choque de Ordem” that Eduardo Paes has instituted. The more you can isolate and contain certain groups and their undersirable behaviors, the more real estate is going to rise in the south of Rio, in what is becoming an increasingly limited Olympic City.

The major problem for me with the Olympic planning is that it only touches a very small segment of the city. The imagination of Rio is this: the beach, beautiful mountains, Christo, futebol, samba, etc. but there is a whole other world of Rio that exists beyond that imagination that also needs to be included in the project. This lack of inclusion is accomplished by pushing people out, or conducting what the call a faxina social or social cleaning, and that is how these communities feel they are being treated. Step by step, moment by moment, that is what is happening to the point that now you can’t even drink a coco on the beach. For me it’s not a whole conception of the city. It’s dealing with little pieces that you can target, isolate, and exterminate and to me it’s complete violence against the poor.

AJ: Who benefits from this violence?

CG: The beneficiaries are real estate speculators, private security forces, wealthy merchants, bullet proof car manufactures, arms dealers. Military spending will increase.  Oglobo will benefit from selling the idea of fear, real estate speculators and security companies will benefit by selling condominium compounds far from the “poor parts” of the city. We see this in the United States, one of the most fearful societies in the world, that faces no real threats but people are scared continually. When there is not a threat you have to invent a threat. The threat here is the poor: the dirty, poor person that is going to steal your purse on Copacabana – that’s the threat. The people who live with the daily violence are the poor, not the middle and upper classes. They have violence touch them from time to time but it’s not …they’re the people gaining from that violence.

AJ: Is the drug problem being used as an excuse?

Yes. The drug problem is being used as an excuse, but the drug problem is also a problem. It creates violence within the favelas. It creates separate worlds within the favelas. Most people that live within the favelas are lower middle-class people living in communities that have been there, in some cases, for a hundred years. They’re not criminals, they’re just working people who want to live in a place that is close to where they work. The traffic is stimulated by those who have money for recreational drugs. There’s this link between extreme poverty and extreme wealth that circles around itself in Brazil and this drives all kinds of social, political and economic relations. It serves the police, it serves the traficante, it serves the upper-middle class kid going to the disco with his little bag of cocaine on the weekend, it feeds real estate speculation and car sales in Barra and there’s no real exit from it. The mechanism of capitalism and the mechanism of democracy in Brazil are such that these processes are interlinked and mutually re-enforcing. The World Cup and Olympics are only going to exacerbate the problem.

AJ: Is there anything else you would like to comment on?

CG: Yeah. I think that transportation and the issue of mobility are fundamental. The major problem that I see with both the World Cup and the Olympics is the issue of mobility in the city. In order to get from the Baixada Fluminese to the Center of the city or Zona Sul to work have to travel two hours, one way on a bus or non air conditioned train. One of the most frequent protests you see in Rio is either the burning of a train or the burning of a bus. This is a tradition that goes back to the nineteenth century, when people would burn forms of transportation in order to protest a hike in fares, poor travel conditions and things like that. Transportation here is fundamental. The plans in place for the Olympics do not link any part of the Olympic city, this Olympic ring, to the North, where the majority of the people in the city live. Or the West which is the fastest growing area of the city. The idea is to create specific Olympic lanes within existing traffic infrastructure. So for the three weeks of the Olympics, they are planning the transportation for the next fifty years and the idea of not linking the metropolitan region through effective transportation is serving to isolate and fragment the workforce. Where you are condemning people to live far from places of employment without mechanisms to get there and so you are keeping a workforce docile and immobile by limiting their transportation options. This is a form of violence equal to any other that needs to be addressed in a hurry before these plans really take off.

AJ: It sounds like a really bad idea for Rio to host the Olympics.

CG: The Olympics are never good things for anybody! This is the great myth of the Olympics. Who wins with the Olympics? Barcelona is the paradigmatic example of a brilliant Olympics but it transformed the city into a tourist spectacle. Barcelona lost a lot of its character it lost it’s working class population in the middle of the city. It turned into a city to be sold somewhere else and not a city to be lived in. Atlanta was a disaster, Sydney and Homebush Bay was a nightmare, Beijing, nem falar. The Olympics come around every four year and put an authoritarian regime in place. In Brazil the Olympic Authority is going to direct a budget of 30 billion Reales and it’s a parallel government and has not democratic responsibilities. They are in charge of planning the city for the next fifty years without consulting planners. The Olympics is three weeks. The Olympics brings a lot of money and reshapes and reinforces the spatial dynamics of the city for a long time.

AJ: Thank you very much!


Manuel said...

GREAT interview. Proud to be your friend. Un abrazo.

Leigh said...

wow, interesting stuff. insight into sides that no one thinks about.

Antonio Oswaldo Cruz said...

"Olympics are never a good things for anybody!"

Disse tudo. Matou a pau!

Valente Filho said...

Mais uma vez, muito bom!

Dr. Christopher Gaffney said...

Thanks for the comments everyone!
Spread the word and have people sign up to follow the blog.

Muito obrigado pelos comentários amigos!


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