02 September 2016

Scorched earth

Success. We knew the word was coming, as it always does after billions have lined the pockets of private industry and the population has been exposed to the delights of global consumer culture, while slaving to pay the rent, catch a bus, protect their kids from police invasions, buy beans, work all day, catch a bus, repeat. What are the metrics for success? 

Re-invention. A way to say that the commodification and privatisation of urban space allows for the development of projects that never would have happened otherwise. But who planned these projects, how, when, using what criteria? 

If only the event is capable of creating the urgency and necessity to develop projects on a monumental scale and even though we may have to accept the reduction of democratic participation, the transfer of lands and money, the consolidation of elite privilege, etc...isn't it worth it to have a had the world focus on the city for 16 days? Isn`t the legacy of the party enough to sustain us even though those spaces are not fit for daily purpose? What has been re-invented for whom and under what conditions? What is the post-Olympic city? What was the pre-Olympic city? What is the non-Olympic city? What was life like during the 16 days of the Olympics, for whom, under what conditions? The question of was it worth it is almost irrelevant as now we have to hold people accountable for the piles of bullshit they laid on and to find creative ways to use what was left behind. 

These are questions that do not have easy answers and over the history of this blog, I have traced the outlines, contours, and vectors of Rio as it clattered to the end of a mega-event cycle that began back in the mid-1990s. Now that the construction projects have stopped and the dust is settling, there may be a chance to re-evaluate what happened, but the past is as uncertain as the future in Brazil. The differing interpretations of what happened this week in Brasília are enough to make a geographer weep with exhaustion. 

What has become clear, without a shadow of a doubt, is that the Brazilian event cycle connected with the sinusoidal crises of confidence, repression, progressive politics, violence, liberty of expression, party and hangover that define the Brazilian episteme. Rio was under contract for big events from 2003-2016, the 13 years of PT rule. There was a sense of optimism during this period that began crashing just before the 7-1 and disappeared ever more quickly after that. Ironic that the week between the Olympics and Paralympics has seen the finalisation of the impeachment process. With the floodlights burning out, Brazil seems likely to take a long jump backwards. 

The Temer government and its media lamba-sacos have made their intentions clear: no more attempts at egalitarian wealth redistribution, consolidate the inviolable power of the white landed class, ignore race and gender difference (indeed, ossify the existing structures), and violently repress any and all who get in the way of the new project. While there are massive structural reforms that need to be undertaken in Brazil to reduce bureaucracy, restructure the economy, open space for investment, and deal with the massive urban crisis exacerbated by PT policies, there is a sense that the social agenda of the far right is going to dominate the political debate. The 2014 elections ushered in the most conservative congress since the dictatorship, and that laid the rotten foundation for a haunted house of cards.  

Some have suggested that the events were a way for Brazil to strut its emergent self on a global stage, but it should hopefully be obvious that demonstrating a capacity to build and organize on a massive scale does not in and of itself bring lasting benefits. Cariocas should be proud that they can put on the world's biggest parties, but when the entire apparatus of the state is directed towards that end, it is not so surprising that it was an operational success for the primary stakeholders. The non-Olympic city is more segregated than ever and now that the state is broke and the city`s finances are only coming to light, there will be little money or appetite to diminish this distance. 

As I have said since the beginning, events carry opportunity costs that are too great for a society that has not resolved the basic provision of rights, the minimal delivery of public services, or addressed issues of race, income disparity, class, environment, gender, education, etc.  The PT made some remarkably positive strides in this direction but in pursuing the event agenda guaranteed that their social and political base would be excluded from the cities that they struggle to build and live in every day. Of course, Brazil's current crisis is much greater than the event cycle, but the fact that the Olympic Flame snaked through Brazil and was met with more protests than any other torch relay (in a national context) in Olympic history, at the same time that the Rio de Janeiro power base of the PMDB was undertaking a scorched-earth political campaign is a coincidence too obvious to ignore. 

As the Paralympic flame is set to be lit in Rio under an unpopular and illegitimate government, we can only hope that things will not turn out to be as bad as we expect them to be. Hopefully we will learn a lesson from Rio 2016 and not set the bar so low as to consider anything but total disaster a metric for success. 

1 comment:

Dr Purva Pius said...
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