14 August 2013

The Milkmen of Human Kindness

The Lord Mayor of Rio deigned to receive members of the Popular Committee for the World Cup and Olympics last week. This surprising yet calculated move was a response to the growing pressure from civil society to reverse the privatization of the Maracanã, preserve the athletics, educational and cultural facilities there and to put an end to all removals in Rio de Janeiro. The meeting had two potentially positive outcomes. One is that the Vila Autodromo appears to have escaped the mayor’s bulldozers. This hugely important victory has come after years of unseen struggle and more than a decade of organized fighting on the part of the residents of the Vila Autodromo. The collective actions of residents, social movements, academics and media actors managed to block autocratic and truculent moves on the part of the city government.

The second important element of the conversation with the mayor was the “tombamento” of the Escola Municipal and the Museu do Indio. This was not the work of one international organization (as Meu Rio would have us believe), but rather the concerted work of hundreds of people and dozens of organizations over many years. Tombamento means that the buildings cannot be destroyed. However, Paes made clear in his decree that the function of the buildings was not guaranteed, just the buildings. So it is possible that the school will be removed and the building maintained, just as it is probable that the Aldeia Maracana (the indigenous community) will be removed and the building turned into a whiskey bar for Snoozman and his IOC buddies. The mayor is clearly under pressure to respond in some way to the continuing battles raging in the city and his move to meet with the Comitê, as well as his semi-capitulation, is a sign that things can be achieved with direct social action on the streets. However, Paes’ move should be understood as entirely political, likely reversible and totally incomplete. He will continue to hear loud and insistent knocks on his door.

The city as a whole appears as if it is going to implode. Three weeks ago, just after the Pope took his millions of poopers out of town, a water main broke in the West Zone killing a 3 year old child. Other problems with the sewerage system have also appeared. Is it a coincidence that after millions more users enter the system for a few weeks that things start to blow apart in strange places? There appears to be nothing done about sewage treatment in the Zona Sul, so how bad must it be in Barra and other “forgotten” parts of the city. Neither the public nor private sectors are capable of delivering quality services.

The goons that parade about in Military Police uniforms began throwing rocks at protesting professors in front of the state assembly. Seriously? Protesters have occupied city hall for nearly two weeks. Cabral (Governor) and Beltrame (Sec. of Security) do not appear to have much say in how their troops behave. There has never been any meaningful reform of the police, the Rocinha UPP disappeared a resident, and Brazil’s former golden boy, Eike Batida, has pulled the plug on his UPP funding. For those of you watching from the North, because CNN is not covering any of this does not mean that the social movements have gone away since the end of the Confederations Cup. The Brazilian marketing machine is running in high gear, as ever, and there are some that continue to believe in the magic potential of ill-conceived projects to deliver long-term benefits. Believe it or not, one professor of architecture is calling the clattering abomination in Cuiabá an Elefante Dourado (Golden Elephant). Just to be clear, the public paid for the construction, maintenance and destruction of the old stadium, the construction and maintenance of a new one, and will have to pay elevated prices to go to games and events. Portugal has decided to tear down a number of the Euro 2004 stadia because their maintenance costs are too high. The Brazilian parade of White Elephants will eat everything we have and leave gigantic, steamy piles for unskilled, unhealthy, uneducated people to clean up until they are destroyed. The post-Cup future is golden indeed.

The situation has become so obviously bad that even people like João Maximo, who wrote an obsequiously apologetic introduction for a 60th anniversary book of the Maracanã in which he basically clamored for its deform, has become predictably nostalgic. Why? A Fla x Flu with less than 40,000 people is considered a big crowd. Minimum ticket R$80. Brazil continues to have the most expensive tickets in the world in the most expensive stadiums ever built for a World Cup. But please, ignore all this, close your eyes and wait for the milkmen to come with an extra pint of kool-aid.

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