20 August 2012

Minha Preciosa / My Precious

When the Olympic Flag arrived in Rio de Janeiro, the mayor posed for cameras with a coy, obsequious smile as he stroked the wooden box which housed the flag. As he caressed the source of all earthly power, he touched the flag (made of Korean Silk!) with his bare hands: a violation of Olympic protocol equivalent to showing the soles of one’s feet to the King of Siam. The Lords were not happy. In the week following the arrival of the Olympic flag in Rio, the twenty first century equivalent of Cortez claiming Mexico for Spain, the mayor has triumphantly brought this sacred icon of the European aristocracy to Brasília (for the Queen of the Planalto), the Complexo do Alemão (occupied by the Brazilian military and symbolic center of power for traficantes), Realengo (the center of military power in Rio), the Palácio da Cidade (center of non-ecclesiastic power), and to Cristo Redentor (symbol of celestial and economic power). Now that we’ve all had the flag waved in our faces and are duly conquered we can send it to the cleaners to remove the fingerprints. Only if one is a Brazilian journalist working for a major outlet could one not notice the parallels between the way the government slobbers and slithers after the flag and the role of the Olympics in consolidating symbolic, political, social, economic and urban power. We are living in a city governed by Gollum! Five rings to rule them all!!!!

Three signs that all is not well under the developmentalist, consumerist regime that counts as public policy in Brazil: the grocery store around the corner from my apartment was assaulted at 6am Sunday morning. Upset that the manager didn’t have the code to the safe, the two assailants put something that “had the appearance of a grenade” in the mouth of the manager and kicked him in the face. Really? Flamengo is a middle and upper-middle class neighborhood in the center of town. Perhaps we should require that everyone wear five rings to work? The assailants escaped out the back of the store and the supermarket opened for business as usual at 11am.

Sunday brought Vasco x Flamengo to the Engenhão. On the way to the stadium a bus full of Flamengo supporters from Resende stopped at a gas station, were put into a rage after seeing some Vasco fans and started to break everything in sight. They then chased down, stabbed, shot and killed 30 year old Diego Matins Leal, who wasn’t wearing a Vasco shirt. 57 people were arrested. As an aside, there were only 19,469 people at the game and only 15,459 of them paid to get in, meaning that 21% of fans entered for free. The paying fans forked over an average of R$26 per ticket for gate receipts of R$403,835. Those who aren’t entitled to half-price tickets paid between R$30 and R$60, subsidizing everyone else. Between the latent, bubbling violence of the torcidas organizadas, the militarization of stadium space that does nothing to diminish the violence but treats everyone as a potential criminal, the high cost of tickets, the difficulty of access and the terrible Engenhão stadium (which I want to say, again, is no longer called Estádio Olímpico João Havelange, but Stadium Rio -  a fact continuously ignored by the media here) – is it any wonder that the biggest rivalry in Rio can only get half the average attendance of MLS's Seattle Sounders?

And to continue what has been a very depressing post…In the last week two kids have been killed by Rio’s security forces. One, a 15 year old male, was killed outside his home by BOPE as he bent down to pick up the keys that his mom had thrown from the upstairs window. Shot three times, his mother was forced to clean her son’s blood off the doorstep. Yesterday, a four year old girl was killed by Military Police during a raid. In the USA, people make tragic films about these events. In Rio, this is everyday news and a sign that not all is well. 

It would appear that the metrics of security for Rio de Janeiro are indeed linked to the ability of Zona Sul residents and visitors to walk around with an iphone on their way to get some frozen yogurt. For those who live outside the Olympic City, there are daily, deadly reminders that NOTHING FUNDAMENTAL HAS CHANGED. The appearance of new buildings, shopping malls, museums, ageing football stars and the occasional international celebrity only mean that there’s a chance for someone to make money, not that there’s any kind of meaningful wealth redistribution, or shift in paradigm. To the contrary, the wholesale capitulation of the Worker’s Party to private industry has stuffed private hands even further into public pockets.  Three absurd deaths in three days, a supermarket manager getting kicked in the face with a grenade stuffed in his mouth, endemic and systemic corruption, phantasmagoric mega-projects, the decline of popular culture and fawning fealty to a posse of high-handed moralists: the narcotic power of the five rings hides the violence from plain sight.


David said...

Wow, bleak stuff. Really discouraging to read about conditions at this derby. Not to mention in your neighborhood.

Anonymous said...

What I'd like to know is the degree to which Brazilians are waking up to political/media PROPAGANDA.

Are blogs like yours, You Tube, Twitter, Facebook waking the povo up and starting an "arab spring" of sorts or not?

Being Brazilian myself I'm grateful for your insight and I want to know how or if the truth is making the people reconsider their loyalties to politicians and TV Globo?

Christopher Gaffney said...

I'm not sure to what degree Brazilians are "waking up" or reconsider the trusted sources of mis-information. There are some movements working towards presenting reality, but the influence of the "grande midia" is so pervasive, so encrusted into the DNA that there's not much we can do but continue to work for more social justice through writing and activism.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the reply.

Dilma is the COVER of Forbes September issue highlighting power women.


"According to Nielsen, Brazil had 82.4 million Internet users in the first quarter of 2012 compared with 62.3 million three years earlier. On Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter Brazilians are the second most active social network users behind the U.S. "

This doesn't surprise me but I do scratch my head in bewilderment as to why it hasn't been used FOR CHANGE on the major issues of corruption, health, education, infrastructure and of course accountability.

What do you think will be the CATALYST?

Christopher Gaffney said...

Catalysts for change are indeed hard to come by. One would have thought that the robbed elections in the USA in 2000 and 2004 + the financial collapse would have stimul,ated some changes there, but we are seeing the rightward turn of all debate and all parties instead of a call for more solid democratic institutions and greater controls on capital accumulation, etc. In Brazil there will be a crash, yes, but I don't think it will result in a change because people will resign themselves to the immutability of a cultura escravocrata. The very real changes and progress that have been made in Brazil over the last generation cannot be denied, but it is difficult to tell if the increase in purchasing power, provision of electricity, and elimination of hunger are enough to alter the basic pillars of society. Certainly not in 25 years, but perhaps in 100? Brazil's problems are not new, nor will they be solved quickly and it might take 100 million individual ctalysts to make meaningful change. That, in a passive society that is used to getting hit over the head with a baton (or worse, as dilma knows) when oppositional voices are raised, might take some time indeed.


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