12 November 2014

A sad end

As I mentioned some months ago, I will be leaving Brazil for Switzerland in January of 2015, joining the Space and Organization Research Unit in the Department of Geography at the University of Zurich. As of January 1, I will be the editor of the Journal of Latin American Geography, so let´s got those manuscripts rolling in.

After spending six of the last ten years in Rio, I´m not encouraged by the direction the city has taken, nor indeed that of the country as a whole. The recently released homicide numbers are tragic and pathetic, but not surprising. One official said that Brazil could “celebrate the stabilization” of homicide rates. More than 50,000 people are murdered each year in Brazil, the vast majority poor, black men.

Elections may bring out the worst elements of a country´s character and the recent exercise in collective box ticking showed the real frailties in Brazil´s democratic system. The debates between the presidential candidates were spoofs, the questions typically irrelevant, and policy issues wholly ignored. The level of public discourse is pushed to the bottom by media conglomerates that use their platforms as blunt political instruments. The opposition candidate, a George W. Bush playboy type, ran on a law and order platform that would put the young black kids that didn´t get killed behind bars at an even earlier age. The wealthy coxinhas of the South got up their Reaganite hackles to attack the “undeserving poor” who have benefitted from the PT´s largesse. The moving of people from extreme poverty to absolute poverty is positive, but it does not and will not change the power structures in Brazil.

The PT is mired in corruption scandals that should touch the highest levels of power, but somehow always falls short. The emptying of moral authority has been exacerbated by the explicit use of state companies for personal enrichment and the consolidation of power. There may be a way back from the precipice but without electoral reform or a general revolt from the PT´s base, the gig is up. Pursue developmentalist consumerism based on automobiles, closed condominium residential landscapes, and mega-events at your own risk! Of course it is the powerful syndicates of the automobile industry that brought the PT to power in the first place, so this model should come as no surprise. Brazil has a fundamentally conservative, reactionary political class that is allergic to change. 

The World Cup was never talked about in the election cycle. Readers of HWE will know why, but the opposition couldn´t very well complain about privatization and the maddening profits of civil construction firms, banks, telecommunications, and media conglomerates, or the increased police presence, summary arrests, human rights violations, etc. If the PT can´t or won´t point to the positives of the World Cup as evidence of good governance, then who will?

Football in Brazil is more depressing than ever. And while Brazilians will always remember where they were for the 7-1, the day to day is equally traumatic.

OBobo has started an editorial line to convince people that  “Maracanã lotado” is less than the number of people murdered every year in Brazil. To me, this seems an attempt to install collective amnesia about public space and culture. Vasco put out some discounted tickets and had 42,000 paying fans last weekend and the babadores who write for Obobo clamored about how they had filled the stadium.  15 years ago, the capacity was 179,000. 10 years ago, the capacity was 129,000. Five years ago it was 89,000. Now, it´s around 55,000 because the police say that they can´t guarantee safety beyond that number. I have witnessed first hand the death of pubic and space and culture in the Maracanã. Not many Cariocas seem to care.

Years ago, I wrote about the Vasco Fiasco, where a youth trainee died from lack of medical attention and then tried to hide their other nefarious human trafficking practices. Yesterday, Vasco had another fiasco with the re-election of Eurico Miranda to the presidency (with senator Romário´s support). Miranda embodies the old school of the cartolas in a way that few others do. I met him ten years ago when he was president of Vasco and since then, nothing in Brazilian football institutions has changed. If anything, it is less transparent and more corrupt. Not many Brazilians seem to care.

Remember the Portuguesa-Fluminense debacle at the end of last season? To refresh: Portuguesa played an ineligible player with 15 minutes left in the last game of the season, were docked points and relegated, thereby ensuring Fluminense´s (and Flamengo´s) permanence in the first division. A police investigation has revealed that, as expected, Portuguesa sold their spot. Who paid? Who cares? This isn´t news, just business as usual.

The CBF just received 100 million dollars in “legacy” money from FIFA. This is the money that Blatter dropped out of the plane as he fled the Confederations´ Cup protests – but it was an already programmed cash transfer. If someone out there still believes that the CBF doesn´t know how to get around the independent auditor, or that this money is going to be used to benefit Brazilian society in a meaningful way, or that we should continue to listen to the never-ending stream of half-assed bromides coursing from the mouths of …eh – deixa para lá – I can´t even get upset anymore.


The day to day of living in a pre-Olympic city I am going to leave to other commentators. Following and commentating on the contortions of Rio de Janeiro and Brazil in this highly turbulent time has been very rewarding and frustrating. I may not have survived without the blog and the great feedback from readers, so thank you. If you want to find the non-blog pieces I´ve been writing over the past few years, please go to my academia.edu site. I will keep HWE up as an archive and have some spin off projects that I will announce in due time. For now, I´ve got to get a move on. Tchau.

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