Rio protests: the city begins to dialogue; the state gets more defensive

Rio’s mayor, Eduardo Paes, is coming to be known as “Paes volta atrás“, or a backtracking kind of guy. The governor, Sérgio Cabral, has taken a different tack, digging in his heels.

Just how effective their approaches are, in the face of popular demands and mounting violence, with Pope Francis about to kiss the soil of the Marvelous City, remains to be seen.

Both politicians are in their second terms and are digging out amid the ruins of Rio’s historic alliance among the three levels of government, but that’s about all they have in common. Paes, an authoritative yet worldly character whose detractors say he has favored construction companies, real estate developers and bus company owners, will be in office until January 2017, thus presiding over the Olympic games. Cabral, with a reputation darkened by allegations of corruption and personal gain, whose administration is responsible for a largely successful public safety policy at the heart of the city’s turnaround, hopes to elect his vice-governor as successor next year. But the state’s number two man, Luiz Fernando Pezão, has little appeal.

Paes has an easier row to hoe: even before the June protests, he’d at last begun to listen to Rio’s urban planners and architects, adapting his plans to some of their input. However, his administration has clearly prioritized large-scale infrastructure investments over the nitty-gritty of social services provision, favela upgrades and community participation — and this won’t change. Paes is also cooperating with an investigation of the bus companies’ finances.

Because the Rio police are a state-run entity and the governor is an easy target for anti-corruption protesters, Cabral is, since June, a man under siege, with rallies and marches focusing on both his apartment building in Leblon and his palace in Laranjeiras. The result have been a series of violent and questionable clashes, the last of which took place Wednesday night in Leblon and Ipanema. Thursday morning, police officials vowed to crack down, saying agreements with human rights groups had not been effective.

It’s impossible to know what’s truly happening, since local coverage is without nuance and has failed to provide concrete information on just who the looters and vandals are and what they’re about. For example, the so-called Black Bloc is mentioned as responsible for attacks on police and public property, without reference to the fact that a Black Bloc movement has played a role in the Egyptian protests. Meanwhile, Facebook is an endless, uncurated source of information, difficult to grasp and filter. While Globo mostly decries the vandalism carried out by masked young men, some personal accounts cast doubt on police behavior. There are reports of police, intelligence agents (ABIN) and vandals infiltrating protests and spurring destruction.

The governor blamed opposition politicians for the violence. Opposition politicians, except for Marcelo Freixo, who engaged in a Twitter debate with the military police, have stayed fairly quiet. No one speaks of pacification, but some observers hint that those negatively affected by it are behind the violence. There is fear that the pressure on Cabral will ultimately award votes to politicians such as former governor Anthony Garotinho and former senator Marcelo Crivella, both eyeing his post. Senator Lindbergh Farias, a young and progressive opponent, co-author of an op-ed piece on political reform in today’s O Globo, could  reap the most benefit from the current chaos, next year. But he’s got his own corruption allegations to worry about, underscoring one of the core challenges the protests present, nationwide: who represents Brazilians now?

A recent protest slogan declared that Public Safety Secretary José Mariano Beltrame’s honesty would only be proven once he arrests the governor, his boss. Beltrame, who has denied any interest in politics, boasted an unblemished image until June. He is ultimately responsible, together with the governor, for the police violence that included the shooting deaths of nine residents of the Maré favela complex and one police officer. After that incident, a military police commander said he didn’t know who had given the order to invade the favela.

The state-versus-protesters/vandals scenario is a frightening backdrop to the Pope’s visit for the World Youth Day (actually a week), beginning this Monday, as Rio receives millions of young pilgrims and emerges once more into the international limelight. The terms “curfew” and “state of siege” have been heard; on arrival, the Pope plans to take a ride downtown in his papamóvel,  and then head over to a formal reception at the governor’s Guanabara Palace, where Cabral and President Dilma Rousseff are to greet him.

Yes, a protest is planned there, according to Facebook.

While the main event, an enormous mass, is to be held July 28 at the edge of the city in Guaratiba, there will be a presentation the night of July 26 of the stations of the cross, in different spots along the Copacabana beach.

Security forces will be out in huge numbers, as many as 20,000. But, given what’s taken place here in the last six weeks, anything is imaginable — including young people of a wide variety of backgrounds and beliefs, running from the cops.

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About Rio real

American journalist, writer, editor who's lived in Rio de Janeiro for 20 years.
This entry was posted in Brasil, Transformation of Rio de Janeiro / Transformação do Rio de Janeiro and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Rio protests: the city begins to dialogue; the state gets more defensive

  1. ARvWD says:

    Shared this on … FB. The sense of the mood in Sao Paulo seems to be that the protests are over and little has changed. The key question continues to be, as you say, who is the real voice of Brazil, who represents Brazilians now? There is NO faith that ANY politicians are even willing to do that job.

  2. PTRio says:

    I cannot understand the strategy, if there is one, of the police in dealing with the protesters and vandals. Police seem to be harassing and attacking the peaceful protesters while ignoring the vandals. What happened in Leblon/Ipanema Wednesday night was disgraceful. The response? Form a committee. Brilliant. By the time that committee is formed, staffed, conducts investigations and finally reports, this City will either be in ruins or long past the violence. Either way, a committee is not the answer. The answer is a strategy for dealing with the violent element while protecting the rights of the peaceful protesters. That responsibility falls on the shoulders of Beltrame. He devised a strategy to pacify the major favelas in Rio, and did so with remarkably little bloodshed. Yet right now there is no strategy for dealing with the vandals other than letting it happen. Or, is that the strategy? Yes, 15 people were detained Wednesday night, most released before missing a good nights sleep. They will be back. I fail to see how the O Globo and other media are so easily able to video the vandals in action (with no police in sight) yet police are unable to do anything?

    I love this City, the most perfectly imperfect City on Earth. Yet I am very sad and disturbed by what is taking place, both on the streets and in the current government.

  3. jeff sher says:

    Why has there been such violent suppression of demonstrations? To put the question in context, consider the comments by Sepp Blatter of FIFA a couple of days ago at a meeting in Germany. In effect he said that he was not happy that the Brazilian government allowed the protests to continue throughout the Confed Cup. He put the Brazilian government on notice that they have a year to make sure it doesn’t happen again at the World Cup. For good measure he added that if Brazil has social problems, that’s not FIFA’s problem.

    The arrogance is astounding but the message is clear. If Brazil wants to be included in the club of leading nations that is allowed to host major international events (which these days seems to be mistaken as a sign that a nation has real power and influence), they have to get their people under better control. You can have your poverty and inequality and poor public services, but we don’t want to see it or hear about it. The degree to which you are able to conceal the reality of conditions in your country is the degree to which you gain status in the club.

    Who craves this status? The rich and powerful of Brazil. Look at the aftermath of the demonstrations. Has the Brazilian Congress done anything yet to address the issues raised by the protestors? Very little. In fact they will do as little as they can, just enough to keep dissent from exploding into full expression. It is easier, and far less threatening to established interests, to build up the police/military force. How many security personnel will be used to protect the Pope? 35,000? Really? Is the Brazilian government that afraid of its people? Is this just a dress rehearsal for the events to come?

    The coming of these great sporting spectacles mark a possible turning point for Brazil. These modern day Roman circuses have become emblematic of the great problems of inequality and injustice facing every nation on the planet. The host nation raises momuments to its own greatness (or vanity), which does little to benefit its people. The games leave, the monuments fall into disuse and disrepair (ask China).

    Brazil’s choice is this: If you want to be just like London (site of the 2012 Olympics), what do you do to assure a pretty picture while the spotlight is on your nation? Increase security and cover over your blemishes, or actually try and solve the social problems you don’t want the world to see?
    Brazil’s answer will reveal what kind of country it wants to be. Just like London? London has the advantage of having raised the living standards of its population through hundreds of years of exploitation of countries like Brazil. (Although London itself is now convulsed with protest as the middle classes are eviscerated by modern finance capital and globalization.) Is Brazil going to pretend to be just like the great colonial masters? As in, o, we’ve finally arrived. We’re just like they are finally.
    Or is Brazil going to be a different kind of nation, present a different face to the world, and stage its own visionary spectacle of what the world could be.

    • Rio real says:

      Yes, the elite will try to put the lid back on, but it’s off. There’s no way back, and the demands will keep coming. Which augurs well for Brazil, but means we’ll have more chaos in the short term.

  4. jeff sher says:

    Yes a real honest to god social movement with a clear vision of the kind of country most brazilians would like to live in is the only possibility – but it will have to be sustained. Power never relinquishes power voluntarily. Like Franklin Roosevelt said during the Depression in the USA, paraphrased, I agree with all the changes you are pushing for. “Now make me do it.”

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