14 April 2011

"Neigh" to the Trojan Horse

There is nothing going right in the preparations for the 2014 World Cup. The stadia are 85% over budget from their initial projections (now more than R$7 bi) and some of the projects haven’t even started or been contracted. Five of the proposed stadia will have no effective post-cup use. The Maracanã, Fonte Nova, Verdão, and Mane Garrincha epitomize the capitalist cycle of creative destruction.  There aren’t enough places for the 32 teams to train. The transportation infrastructure within and between cities is appalling. Things are so bad that even the new CBF headquarters has come under scrutiny for financial irregularities in the transaction that gave them a sweet deal on a property in Barra de Tijuca (which I reported about last year). Dilma is getting anxious, her hair stiffening. OGlobo, (again in their impression of Fox News) is increasingly fretful, saying that “Brazil is worse than Africa.”

On top of this organizational fail, there is NO TRANSPARENCY and NO ACCOUNTABILITY. I have repeatedly sent emails to the organizing committee asking for a list of the people who comprise the organizing committee. Nothing.  Who are these people?

What is really going on here?

Historically, one of the biggest challenges to building the Brazilian state has been the country’s size. In the USA and W. Europe and Japan and Australia, there are massive, state funded infrastructure projects that link cities and their hinterlands to other cities. Infrastructure projects such as the interstate highway system in the USA (to take one case) were part of a continental-scale developmental project that accelerated flows of people, information, goods, and money. This allowed for the industrial development of the South and Southwest as well as for massive internal migration from the Northeast and Midwest in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s.

A similar project never happened in Brazil where the coastal cities have always been isolated from one another, tending to be more connected with the exterior than with other Brazilian cities. This is reflective of an colonial and neo-colonial economy based on natural resource extraction. Now, that Brazil is trying to develop its internal market and consume more of its own natural resources as it pursues a USAmerican-style consumer society. However, the lack of effective infrastructure links between the major cities and their hinterlands (which would open up the same kind of internal colonization / economic expansion that happened in the USA after the development of the interstate system) is limiting those possibilities.

So when we hear all of the complaints about the airports in Brazil, what is it that we are listening to? Given that World Cup travel will increase demand by 5% for one month (I have this data somewhere, excuse its temporary absence), what is all the shouting about?

The airports are saturated and disorganized because as the Brazilian economy has grown, demand for personal and business travel has also grown but have not been accompanied by commensurate infrastructure investment. Who is doing the traveling? The “new” middle class and the old upper classes who are trying to get here and there as comfortably and as quickly as possible. The papers are always full of pictures of long lines, cancelled flights, one or another INFRAERO manager making apologies for a half-ass airport. But really, these are complaints about the inability of the Brazilian state to invest significantly and effectively in the necessary infrastructure to accelerate flows between cities.

Cheap air travel in the USA and W. Europe is a relatively recent phenomenon and only came after significant developments in rail and road infrastructure. In Brazil, there is NO WAY to effectively travel by car or bus or rail between regions. Inter-regional transit is shaky outside of the Rio-BH-São Paulo axis, but linking these regions together has always been one of the biggest challenges for Brazil. The recent surge in demand for air travel has not been accompanied by any long-term strategic planning. Airports are clearly not the answer but they do attend to the leisure demands of the upper classes, the novelty trips of the nascent middle classes, people on business travel, and international sport federations and their blinkered, myopic, aloof, retrograde, feudal, extractive and oppressive demands.

The challenges for Brazil are huge and everything is behind schedule, increasing costs. The people in charge of producing the World Cup lack professionalism and a sense of civic responsibility. There is a growing sense in the media and in government that 2014 could be a massive embarrassment. The problems, as I have continued to identify here, are historical, geographical, political, and cultural. Using sports-mega events as a catalyst for continental-scale development projects is not a good idea. Focusing the discussion around airports is a smokescreen which will hide the real necessity: effective rail infrastructure that will begin to stitch together Brazil’s urban archipelago. This has never been mentioned as a possibility.

The World Cup is a Trojan Horse that is allowing for the implementation of a series of neo-liberal governance mechanisms to be implanted while diverting attention from the effective demands of Brazil’s seriously troubled infrastructure. The opening of the gates to a horde of international capitalist interests combined with the focus on tourist infrastructures will not leave any lasting benefit for Brazil. A country of 200 million that receives 6 million tourist visits a year should not predicate economic growth on that industry, nor should it concentrate on developing infrastructure to attend to those people. State-led investment in infrastructure is fundamental for economic growth and the larger developmental project [sic] of Brazil. It is by focusing the discussion in relation to the World Cup and Olympics that these larger necessities and failings are covered over with short term solutions by near-sighted politicians and their corporate overlords who use the event(s) as a smash and grab, shock and awe tactic to suck as much surplus value as possible out of Brazil before moving on.

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