07 October 2010

Raining Toads

Tropa do Elite 2, Expo Estadio, Expo Urbano

Films are so powerful because the are able to bring us to times and places that we have never been (or never existed). I always suggest that visitors to Rio de Janeiro watch a series of films before they come so that they can educate themselves about the social, urban, and geographic contexts that they are about to plunge into: Bus 174 , Orfeu Negro, Central do Brasil, Cidade do Deus, O Que Isso companheiro? (Four days in September), Favela Rising, Blame it on Rio, Moonraker (rs), and Tropa do Elite I and II.

Tropa do Elite II debuted in Rio today, just after the elections. Poor timing but given the content of the film one can understand why it wasn’t released sooner. For those not familiar with the first, the Tropa movies take as their focus a Colonel in the Rio state government’s elite police force, BOPE. The first images that pop up on a search give a pretty clear picture of the tactics and mentality of the Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais.  The Rio State police forces do not have a good human rights record, a point that the film hammers on, but manages to complicate the discussion to the point where one gets an acute sense of the hopelessness of a “just” solution to the more generalized problem of corruption and violence that encompasses the whole of Brazilian society.

The basic story line is one that follows reality in nearly every detail. The absence of the state in Rio’s favelas created a power vacuum filled by drug traffickers. Not good. BOPE and the State invaded favelas both continually and from time to time, locking some people up, killing others, shooting down from helicopters into houses – a seemingly endless and deadly game of cat and mouse that was perpetuated by corruption all around. War is probably the most profitable human endeavor, after all. In the film, a decline in drug sales reduced the “rents” that the traffickers were paying to the cops. So the cops stepped in to run the other profitable elements of informal settlements: cable, gas, water, electricity. This was extremely lucrative and since the communities were “freed” of the drug traffickers, the cops could basically do as they pleased and got very rich doing so. Corrupt? Yes. Illegal? Yes. Control through violence and all its derivative forms? Yes. Better than the rule of the drug traffickers? Not really. The groups of cops and firemen who ran the favelas are known as milícias. Because the milicias are comprised of active duty cops involved in illegal activity, the conflicts become clear. However...

The favelas are and were places where the old clientelist political games of Latin America still hold steady. The milícias were able to deliver votes to politicians and received protection in return. Our good, yet deeply disturbed, BOPE Coronel begins to realize just how twisted the system is and he begins to fight it, trying to tear the entire apparatus down. Most of the political figures in the film are intended to represent their fleshy counterparts, in particular Anthony Garotinho, who was incredibly elected as a federal deputy this week despite being convicted and condemned to two and a half years in prison for the formation of an organized crime ring  As one person expressed to me this week, “the people get what they deserve.” Anyone voting for Garotinho deserves uma tapa na cara.

Tropa II hits all the right notes. It’s got good pace, good dialogue, good directing, good acting. When I left the theatre I was literally scratching and shaking my head at the intractable complexity of it all. And just yesterday I was nearly raving about Brazilian democracy. Oh well.

I went from the film directly to the Expo Estádio / Expo Urbano. I covered this same event when it was in São Paulo last year. In case you don’t want to go back and read that post, the Expo Estádio is a showroom for all of the shiny metal and plastic and membraney bits that one needs to put together a World Cup stadium. There was hardly anyone there. The Expo Urbano part was non-existent, I have no idea why that is there. Presumably, the polished interiors of a VIP box at the stadium are going to be the same kind of polished interiors in which “global clients” will be sucking down their imported vodka in their apart-hotels, nightclubs, condos, roof top flats, or restaurants (where they will only encounter people just like them or people who are serving them). Basically, the Expo is an opportunity to see, spread across a showroom floor, all of the component elements that go into constructing a very limited, air-conditioned, sanitized class world.

Of special interest to me was a booth specializing in work visas for foreigners. How long, typically? I was desperate to know.  30 days or less. [Inserir sequencia de palavrões aqui]. In order to capture my information, the guy at the booth leaned across with a scanner and zapped my name tag. I felt violated, somehow, and as I had nothing to zap him with I pulled out my can of mace and did by best Hunter S. Thompson impersonation.

Leaping three stairs at a time, I found the “information session” I had trekked to the Expo Estádio to see: Projects, Technologies, and Equipments for Mega-Events. I was ASTOUNDED to see that a Major from BOPE was presenting. I arrived a few minutes into the presentation and was one of 7 people in the room. Not long after I sat down the decidedly amateurish powerpoint started showing video clips of BOPE testing all of the different machine guns that they were buying in order to beef up security for mega-events. As the guns blew things apart, the major commented, “from England. This one’s German. This one is American.” Nice to see that the international arms trade is alive and well.

There wasn’t much information in the BOPE presentation that was new, but it’s always interesting to hear these things come out of the horse’s mouth. BOPE is installing a massive operations  center ("the largest and best in Latin America") near the international airport in order to “protect” the Linha Vermelha, Linha Amarelha, Avenida Brasil, and to be close to the center of “80% of Rio de Janeiro’s criminal activity.” Illegal criminal activity, that is. The public security budget is staggering. The PMERJ (RJ State Military Police): R$ 1 billion over the next 4 years. BOPE: R$500 million. SESEG (State Secretary of Security): unlimited? No one knows. People just want the problem of violence solved. Understandable, but is the total militarization of public space the best and only way to go about it? Apparently. That’s why Rio 2016 contracted Rudy Giuliani and Tony Blair, isn’t it? How else can you convince the public that buying surveillance helicopters and airplanes, plus “microphones that will be able to pick out a single person’s words in a stadium crowd from 100 meters”, and stockpiling advanced weaponry to ward of a non-existent terrorist threat is better than putting that same kind of money into education or health care or housing. Ah yes, the public does not need convincing. They’ve elected Garotinho and Chiquinho to do the thinking for them.

It’s obvious what I think, but this is what I think: There is a MASSIVE investment in weaponry and police training in order to securitize the public and private spaces of Rio de Janeiro and Brazil so that capital (symbolic, political, economic, and cultural) can flow more fluidly along fixed paths to strategic points of accumulation (Barra, Zona Sul). The investments in stadium infrastructure and security apparatuses on display at the Expo Estádio are intended to demonstrate to highly mobile and selective global clients that there are investments and profits to be made here. We are spending billions and billions on the construction of a kind of Bladerunner-esque class world that will be hyper-secure and very deadly for those who do not comport themselves properly within it or who threaten to interrupt the flow of capital from Brazil to gringolandia (esteja onde for), or from the povo to the elite.

The World Cup is a private event. FIFA takes control of stadiums, highways, airports, public spaces that are constructed and securitized with public money. South Africa lost US$4 billion during the World Cup. FIFA made US$4 billion. In a month! In reality, these are not events but decades’ long processes of constructing, sanitizing, and securitizing urban space for the maximum accumulation of capital in the shortest possible time frame.

No one disputes the fact that public security is an element of Rio de Janeiro that needs to be addressed urgently.  Tropa do Elite II shows just how complex that reality is. Expo Estádio, and the overblown events that it attends to, is stimulating the development of security apparatuses that will not serve the general needs of cariocas for safe transport, clean air, clean water, good schools, living wages, rights to housing and all of the other elements that comprise a more general conception of “security”. Just the opposite. Expo Estádio is furthering the production of militarized urban spaces that attend to the fetishized demands of a global consumerist/tourist class that will start raining on Rio de Janeiro like toads  at the onset of the apocalypse.


Anonymous said...

love it Gaffney!

Sarah said...

Were you able to participate in any of the other 30 seminar sessions, including: Urban Mobility, Public Furniture, Stadium Architecture and construction?

These sessions brought/bring together the designers, architects, urbanists, engineers and other specialists from all over Brazil.Todays program includes a session on 'Urban Art and it's impact on Society'.

You can see the entire program here: http://www.expoestadio.com.br/br/conference-program.html

Dr. Christopher Gaffney said...

Sarah, I wasn't able to get to many of the other sessions. I know that there will be "legacy benefits" of some kind brought by these events, transport, security apparatuses, communication (there can't help but be with so much public investment) but the production of FIFA stadiums in Brazil is not going to bring positive changes for the culture or practice of Brazilian football. Things change, and need to, but the lack of public input and lack of transparency are hugely problematic.

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