30 November 2010

Other considerations for the “War on/in/of Rio”

After listening to Luis Eduardo Soares last night on tv rodaviva, I have a few more things that I would like to add to my commentary about the Complexo.

This is one of the most important developments in the modern history of Rio de Janeiro and any analysis needs to be taken with that in mind. It is not just about “preparing” the city for mega-events, though that is undoubtedly a motivating factor. As Soares points out in his interview, this is an opportunity to “clean” the police of corruption, to professionalize the institutional structures and functioning of public security in Brazil and to vitalize the perception of the police force in the public consciousness (note that I’m not using “re” in front of any words). This is a worthwhile project, but one that has so many tentacles into the highest levels of government that it will be at least as many years in the untangling as in the tangling. Fundamental to this project is to pay the police a decent wage. Perhaps some of the R$50 billion headed to the bullet train could go towards this? I should have an opportunity to ask Lula that question on Friday.

The idea of war is propagated through the media in order to justify extraordinary measures. There were some major abuses that occurred during the occupation of Alemão and Cruzeiro. Though the death penalty is unconstitutional in Brazil, people openly clamored for the summary execution of bandidos. In the case of mega-events, the state of emergency allows for the suspension of the constitution. In the case of "war" the death penalty can be imposed. Yesterday, I wrote that this is a class war. That’s not entirely correct either. It’s a struggle for resources, social inclusion, equal rights, social and urban services, education, opportunity etc. that defines this mind-boggling intricate conjuncture in Rio de Janeiro and Brazil. While peace and prosperity pertain in the Zona Sul as never before, the Zona Norte is the scene and scenario of “trouble”. Surely the two worlds are related. "War" it's not and those watching from should understand that. It's something else. 

This is a geo-political and economic project that is in an accelerated cycle of implementation. EVERYONE agrees that the UPPs are bringing some benefit to the way that Rio de Janeiro is governed. However, the secondary and tertiary effects have not been thought through to the point that there are governmental or institutional responses to deal with them. The mayor is concerned with applying “shocks” of all kinds to the Zona Sul of Rio: order, small crime, peeing in the street, trash. “They” propose huge development projects worth hundreds of millions as if these will solve systematic problems that emerge as symptomatic expressions of poverty, crime, informal economies, drug trade, corruption, etc. Will the government go so far as to begin to redistribute wealth, not just in the form of higher salaries and investment in social services, but through the implementation of a urban plan that will attend to the needs and desires of those left out of the “Olympic City”? From the looks of the investments scheduled over the next years, not bloody likely.

Therefore, in the absence of structural changes to the economic-geographic realities that have always defined the city, we can understand these adjustments as partial attempts to control strategic areas of the city that can then be more easily inserted into systems of capital. The security situation in Alemão was critical and was a major threat to the mega-events and capital accumulation at large. The problem (but not the cause) was opportunistically solved, allowing us to ask the government: what’s next? Will you address the cause? These are the same questions we’ve been asking about the UPPs. Rocinha and Vidigal have to be next (especially after the relative embarrassment of the hostage taking in São Conrado). When and how Nem and his troops in the Zona Sul are going to be confronted will be the next chapter in the larger pacification and unlocking of Rio de Janeiro.

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