04 October 2013

The Bursting Brazilian Bubble

Brazil, Brazil, Brazil! We´ve been hearing it for years, again. Brazil is the Latin American development model. Brazil is the new home for “sustainable” capitalism to plant a billion genetically modified seeds to generate green economies of scale. Brazil is the emerging soft super power. Brazil is the safe port in a global shite storm of locked up consumer markets. Brazil´s ethanol, Brazil´s oil, Brazil’s water, soybeans, timber, coffee, cacao, açai. The World Cup in Brazil! Brazil´s educated workforce? Brazil´s creative entrepreneurialism? Brazil´s progressive political reforms? Brazil´s infrastructure?

The Rio de Janeiro teachers have been on strike for two months, making demands for better pay, a viable career plan and an end to the market-oriented dogma of merit-based pay. The embarrassment of Rio´s public education system is not reflected in the dedication of its teachers, but in the lack of decent infrastructure, a poorly functioning state apparatus (with lifetime sinecures for untrained, politically appointed administrators), and an executive that would rather pay Woody Allen “whatever he wants” to make a movie in Rio than to pay teachers a living wage. The result is as predictable as it is pathetic: tear gas, pepper spray, truncheons and rubber bullets to clear Rio´s Cinelândia. Pop, pop, pop.

For those keeping score at home, Eike Batista has lost $34.5 billion and is being ridiculed in the national and international media. So sorry Eike. Perhaps you would like to return the Maracanã to the public from which you stole it? Pop. There is a great deal of speculation about whether or not Eike´s Olympian hubris and chicanery can be understood as a metaphor for the most recent Brazilian economic miracle. The Economist isn’t particularly optimistic and the continuing protests around the country are a good indication that the population isn’t satisfied. There clearly needs to be some political reform but the main opposition candidate for next year´s presidential elections, Marina Silva, was barred from registering her political party through a series of dirty tricks that were likely orchestrated by the ruling Workers´ Party. Pop.

The World Cup has faded somewhat from public consciousness but it is a nagging, persistent and troubling stew of discontent. After the Confederations´ Cup, ticket prices for Brazilian league matches, already the most expensive in the world, have gone even higher. While some attendance figures have jumped, others are pretty low indeed. 8,136 people paid to see Santos x Fluminense at the Maracanã. (Remember Santos, Libertadores Champions in 2011?). Pop. The Botafogo x Fluminense clássico in Rio the other night only had 19,562 fans – and this was with prices reduced to R$40. The average price for tickets in the Minerão in Belo Horizonte is R$50 and in Brasilia´s Mané Garrincha R$66.

The top down imposition of a sport business model where fans are transformed into clients, players into pets and stadia into shopping malls was predicated in part on the promise of Brazil´s ever expanding consumer economy. This time next year, FIFA will be in Russia, the hundreds of government agencies created to deliver the 2014 Cup dissolved and the resounding silence of “legacy” will rattle through the intestines of white elephants.

The persistent chant of the teachers in Rio has been this: “Da Copa, da Copa, da Copa eu abro mão, quero meu dinheiro para saúde e educação!” (I give up the Cup, I want my money for health care and education). FIFA, of course, doesn’t like to hear this and may be too busy trying to tunnel out of the Qatari hole they have dug for themselves to notice what is going on in Rio.

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