06 June 2011

The Good News

I would like to write about all of the good news related to the top-down installation of mega-events but am having trouble finding any. It’s pretty clear that one has to look at the micro-level to see anything positive as the recent FIFA embarrassments were given a healthy scrubbing by the IOC. It is a sad day indeed at FIFA house when Jacque Rogge has to come across the country to give the IOC’s five fingered seal of approval. The despicable shenanigans at FIFA are nothing new. On the bright side the swirling corruption claims may have opened up a corner of the black box, potentially ushering in a call for change. On the other hand, 186 of the 208 member associations voted for Herr Blatter in the uncontested election. FIFA runs on a fear-based economy and the national associations act like sniveling sycophants.

In Rio, the installation of mega-event infrastructures is happening at various paces. The Maracanã is dead, and the process of creating the Novo Maracanã has to wait until the roof is taken off the old stadium. There’s no real hurry, as long as the stadium is ready six months before the World Cup, no one will much care. The budget for the stadium has already tripled from the initial projections in 2009. My estimate is that the Novo Maracanã project will cost 2 BILLION REAIS (US$1.25 b).
View of the deceased Maracanã from Parque Nacional da Tijuca, June 5, 2011
The average monthly salary for a fireman (bombeiro) in Rio de Janeiro state is R$950. No surprise then that the Rio Bombeiros took collective action to demand improvements in salary and working conditions. They invaded their own headquarters last week, occupying their place of work in order to negotiate with the government. The governor’s reaction: send in BOPE (the black hooded killing squad that usually invades favelas). The scenes were as lamentable as they were preventable; children getting tear gassed, police forcing public servants to the ground with machine guns, massive arrests, general jack-booted thuggery. The governor has no problem spending billions on a stadium that was already functioning but when essential public services like firemen as for a raise he sends in a death-squad.

The stories coming out of the Zona Portuaria, Jacarepaguá and the Zona Oeste are equally discouraging. The SMH, municipal housing secretary, continues to use the most incredible tactics to remove people from their houses. The stories defy belief. The jist is that the SMH, at the behest of the mayor, is denying communities the right to collectively bargain, arriving in some cases with unmarked bags of cash and handing thousands of R$ to people who may have never seen that much money before. In other cases they force children to sign documents in the name of their parents. In other cases they simply intimidate, in others they deliberately deceive and mis-represent. The asymmetry of information is complete. The very threat of forced removal is a form of terror that violates basic human rights. Even with a very powerful telescope, Jacque Rogge and the IOC couldn’t see these things happening from Mount Olympus.

The Brazilian national team is back in country for the first time in a long time, playing a series of friendlies leading up to the Copa América. There was a poor performance against Holland in Goiânia the other day. However, the Goiânians were so well behaved that the CBF promised them that they would be able to host games for the 2015 Copa America. Hold on. We are constructing 12 new stadiums for the World Cup, none of which are in Goiânia. In fact, the only reason that the seleção played there was because all of the major stadiums in Brazil are under construction. Of course the Copa América won’t be played in Manaus, Curitiba, Natal, or Cuiabá, because no one would go. Why are those cities building World Cup Stadia?

ANT-SP is organizing a protest against the CBF and their absurd and corrupt regime for the seleção’s game against Romania at the Pacaembú in São Paulo. The cheapest ticket is R$140 and for a seat it’s R$800. The game will, naturally, start after the novellas on Tuesday night at 9:50pm. So by the time the game is over the metro will have stopped and the bus service diminished. In Rio, Super Via managed to provide special trains to bring people from the Zona Sul to the Enenhão for the Paul McCartney concert last week, but insist that they can do nothing about the over-crowded, un-air-conditioned cars that sometimes make it to their final destination, much less provide special cars to get people to the Engenhão for a football match.  

As I have mentioned in innumerable posts and interviews, the installation of mega-events in Brazil and Rio de Janeiro allows for the acceleration of the deployment of neo-liberal tactics of governance. States and cities of exception produce highly territorialized and militarized spaces of exclusion where democratic and human rights are available to those who can afford them. As Mirelles (head of the Public Olympic Authority and former Central Bank head) said the other day, “the Olympics are a symbol of the growth of the country”. This is undoubtedly true. But this growth is coming at a tremendous cost and mega-events, with all of their symbolic, cultural, and poltical powers, allow us to crystallize our thinking about the kind of society we want to develop. The good thing is that the Gestapo tactics of the government are showing what Brazilian “development” is really all about. This is helping social movements across the country to articulate in ways that might not have been possible without the events. Thus, the very things that are accelerating the implementation of rapacious regimes of capital accumulation through the deployment of jack-boots and surveillance cameras is also allowing for the contestation of those systems. The bad news is that tens of thousands of people are going to lose their homes, have their communities divided and dispersed, and have their children tear-gassed in the struggle for a living wage. 

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