01 April 2014

Everything is going great

The violence that permeates daily life in Brazil is becoming more visible as if the stresses of preparing for the World Cup are making people, infrastructure and institutions crack. In the past few weeks we have had a series of horrors that I refuse to ignore. A woman (Cláudia Ferreira) was shot in the chest while going to get bread for her four kids. The police that shot her, who between them were responsible for scores of deaths, threw her into the back of their SUV and as they drove away the door opened and she was dragged hundreds of meters down the street in front of her friends and neighbors. There may have been more scandal about O Bobo´s terrible coverage of the incident than the incident itself. 

In another act of daily horror a BRT Transoeste feeder bus came too fast around a corner, lost control, jumped the road divider and killed three children and woman that were waiting to cross. The lack of urban planning and the general insanity of the bus system are responsible for this daily violence that people have to face in Rio. These people died because there are no over or underpasses and there had been no intervention by public authorities to reduce the public risk on what locals called “the corner of death” . When the Brazilian media reports on these accidents they are mostly interested in how long it takes for the traffic to start flowing again. 

Today is the anniversary of the 1964 CIA-backed Military Coup. The violence is getting to the point where I have heard numerous people declare that the only way “to bring order back” to society is to have a dictatorship. It would seem that many are getting their wish as the expansion of military counter-insurgencies continues in Rio.  The saudade for the military dictatorship always comes from the very people who benefitted from it the last time around and who are also benefitting the most from Brazil´s spiraling ascension (or decline) into a well-behaved global economic player. There are, of course, millions and millions and millions of Brazilians that have fought long and hard to bring about democratic conditions and the rule of law, but they are fighting an uphill battle against a rising tide of neo-liberalism. This rising tide has all of the delightful aromas and flavors of Rio´s barely functioning sewage system where when we spoon through the fetid stew we find that there are pervasive notions about the rights of individuals that would be more appropriate under the Talban than the PT. 

Haven´t heard about this one? A study by IPEA showed that 65.1% of Brazilian respondents, men and women, agreed partially or in full that women who dressed provocatively “were asking to be raped.” An anti-rape campaign emerged with the hashtag “I don´t deserve to be raped.” This is a necessary, logical and correct response. However, in a machista, violent, and conservative society the reaction was not long in coming: death threats, rape threats and intimidation forced the organizers of the campaign off social media sites. This was the same week in which reports came out about the daily sexual violence that women experience on overcrowded buses and trains in Brazilian cities. To confirm the general acceptance of this in Brazil, advertisements on the metro are promoting a drink called SYN whose mascot is an alien (read: gringo) that “abducts” Rio´s provocatively dressed, tipsy, black and mulata women. The message: rape away boys, most people think it´s ok. 

The World Cup would be a welcome distraction from the daily violence except that yet another worker has died in São Paulo and work on the stadium has again stopped (gasp!). There will probably be a few more deaths as the time pressures grow. No one is to blame as the World Cup functions like an extensive shell game of interests that leaves vacuums of responsibility, exposing the least protected to the greatest risk. Of course, the “real risk” is to the World Cup which is why the government puts on massive security performances to show foreigners that they are getting tough on crime and that critical infrastructures will be protected. The occupation of Maré this week was nothing more than that. The media in Brazil crowed about how the military were able to occupy the whole complex in 15 minutes without firing a shot. Never mind the year´s long notice that the occupation was going to happen. This triumphalist discourse ignores the fact that hundreds of thousands of shots have been fired in and at Maré over the years and that last year during the Confederations Cup, this same “pacifying” force massacred eleven people (some with bayonets). So while the World Cup will have little or no impact on Brazil´s economy (according to Moody´s), in a country where black kids are three times as likely to be shot as all other groups, it is extremely disturbing that we are spending R$1.9 billion on security measures that will increase the likelihood of their deaths. 

Brazil has come a long way since the end of the dictatorship in 1985, but there are many generations of work to be done to make this a more just and democratic society. Facing the legacy of the dictatorship on its 50th anniversary has to be more than just remembering how bad things were. The national leadership has only taken tentative steps towards truth commissions and is repeating some of the same tactics with their pursuit of draconian laws against social movements and protests during mega-events (including new “terrorist” laws). Part of the reason for the continuity of ideologies between the dictatorship and neo-liberal democracy is that the economic and political agents that dictate public policy in Brazil accumulated their wealth and power under the military regime. Granted, the PT has to work within the given structure but they don´t seem keen to change things as long as they can keep their hands on the tiller and in the till. With the World Cup hurtling at us like an unavoidable meteor it is important to remember that “the political use of football by dictatorships, military regimes and authoritarian governments dos not neutralize the spaces and practice of football for acts of resistance.

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