05 February 2014

Tired Resignation

It should be clear by now that Rio de Janeiro does not have the capacity to host its own population, much less a never ending series of mega-events. During a week of record heat there have been widespread power outages, water cuts, transportation breakdowns and absurd scenes of violence. All this while Lord Mayor Paes is off in South Africa taking over the the C40 mayors´ conference from Billionaire Bloomberg. The list of insanities in Rio these past weeks has combined with the incredible heat to make me even more irritable than usual when talking about the city. But let´s go by parts.

First, the city has been made hotter and hotter by its horrible architecture, dedication to the car and lack of connectivity with the water. The most recent horror in the infinite list of heat creating buildings is by the recently deceased Oscar Niemeyer. The picture says almost all you need to know about this new monstrosity at the Fundação Getulio Vargas on the Praia de Botafogo. A big black glass box reflects
Hotter than Hades, uglier than sin. 
afternoon sun onto a treeless esplanade of white concrete. The red sculpture out in front is a reminder that Niemeyer was an expert at creating heat islands unfit for human circulation. Even if it were humanly possible to deal with the space, the kind folk at FGV have made sure that no one can enter it by erecting fencing on the access routes and posting private security 24/7. This kind of building and urban design is so common in Rio as to go unnoticed most of the time – but then no one asks why we have power outages after we cut down all the trees and cram ourselves into air-conditioned boxes that cut off external air circulation. I know ol´ Oscar was a decent enough fellow, but he has really made life a living hell for generations of Brazilians. With one of the most iconic views in the world, he opted for a building with no windows! The heat index in some parts of Rio was 57 celsius yesterday.

Second, violence, violence, violence. Brazilians love them some violence. MMA is one of the most popular sports and much like American Football can be considered a cultural representation of how the country functions. Remember when Eduardo Paes had his bodyguards hold back a disgruntled citizen so he could punch him in the face? This is an interpersonal reflection of the obsession with MMA and the normal way that people in Rio try to resolve their anger. Get on a city bus and see what I mean.

Another example? On one of the wealthiest streets in Flamengo there has been increasing insecurity due to a number of robberies committed by young kids. Part of this insecurity comes from the abandonment of the Edificio Hilton Santos which was previously occupied by live people but has been turned into yet another festering element of Eike Batista´s crumbling empire. The area in front of the building is deserted, and poorly lit and overgrown, making it an ideal place to steal cell phones and wallets. Of course, the police are never anywhere to be seen, busy as they are sitting in their cars with the engines running to escape the heat. So a group of middle class vigilantes decided to take matters into their own hands. They chased down a young black kid, stripped him naked, cut his ear with a knife and locked him to a light post with a bicycle lock – around his neck.  The case has been alternatively celebrated or decried in government and media. Just what Rio needs are gangs of upper-middle class men acting as judge and jury over the lives of poor black kids. Oh wait, that basically describes the justice system anyway.

More violence? How about the invasion of a hospital by armed gunmen who robbed patients in their beds! How about the invasion of the Morro do Juramento by the Rio Military Police that left 6 “suspects” dead. The motive was payback for shots fired against the UPP units in the Complexo de Alemão. The Guarda Municipal of Rio continue to beat up street vendors in the city center in preparation for the World Cup.Want more? How about the video showing police beating up a fan in the bathroom of a stadium. Or the 100 Corinthians fans that cut through the fencing around the team´s training site and invaded practice, throttling several of the players. There are widespread reports of inhumane conditions for Haitian workers at the Manaus World Cup stadium. Yesterday there was yet another death on Rio´s BRT Transoeste line.

Add to this the power outages and water shortages all over Rio de Janeiro and one wonders what the city´s top executive is being lauded for in South Africa this week.

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