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.