07 November 2012

The Perverse Priorities of Power (PPP)

The Maracanã privatization scheme (Public Private Partnership) is both emblematic and symptomatic of the way that the Rio State and City governments relate to the public. For those not familiar with the story, the Maracanã has undergone a series of crippling reforms since 2005 when the state threw R$430 million at the complex to “prepare” it for the Pan American Games. The promise at the time was that these reforms, which included upgrades to the Maracanazinho gymnasium, the Celio de Barros running track and the Julio de Lamare aquatic center, would meet the demands of international sports federations (IOC, FIFA) so that one day Rio could bask in the temporary glory of being the center of the universe. Overseeing the reforms for the Pan was the current mayor, Eddie P., then the state secretary of sports. In his words at the time, “the privatization of the Maracanã is inconceivable.”

Foto from inside EMOP showing the permanence of the Maracana complex 
After tearing apart the reforms of the Pan, the Maracanã has been ripped to shreds with a price tag that is approaching R$1 billion. The football stadium has been closed four of the last eight years, but the aquatic park and athletics facilities have functioned well, serving a diverse constituency of neighborhood residents, athletic athletes and public schools. Two weeks ago, these facilities were put at risk through the opening of proposals to privatize the complex. Ícaro Moreno, the head of EMOP (state public works), said last week that these installations are being moved across the train tracks, but there’s no project for that at all. In fact the photos of the Maracanã complex on the walls of EMOP show these facilities being preserved in situ. No one has consulted any of the users of the Maracanã: football fans, elderly, parents of school children, athletes, coaches, journalists.

The ONLY time the public interest will be “consulted” will happen tomorrow night in what is being erroneously called an audiência pública. The government will present the project they have developed behind closed doors, open the floor for a few comments, perhaps register that they have somehow engaged in a democratic process and tchau. Following the audiência, the script reads, Batista’s IMX company will submit its privatization proposal, which will be accepted, and poof – no more public influence over one of Brazil’s greatest architectural icons and public spaces, no more public school, no more athletic track, no more swimming complex, no more Museu do Índio. The projected return on public investment (without inflation or interest on loans) over the 35 year concession will be around 26%. After 30 years, these cookie cutter “world-class” stadiums all a face lift anyway, so IMX will likely re-negotiate after the public pours money into the New Novo Maracanã.  This is a direct public investment in private welfare.

The perverse associations between Eike Batista and the state government are little discussed, even amongst the politically conscious. The perverse conception of democracy as one in which the public can comment on but not participate in the formulation of the public interest is totally blasé. The extension and expansion of democratic rights to the population isn’t high on the mayor’s or governor’s or Eike’s to-do list.  The expenditure of public money on public works to be handed to private interests that involves the destruction of a top-performing public school, a century-old indigenous heritage site, and two Olympic quality training facilities in order to generate even more profit for Brazil’s richest man, is a perversity that boggles the imagination. 

The future of the Maracanã must be discussed more broadly with those who use it. An audiência pública to discuss a pre-determined project is merely farcical theatre.

If you didn't have enough to gag on today, take a look inside the host city agreements: http://www.prefeitura.sp.gov.br/cidade/secretarias/copa/documentos/index.php?p=47152

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