Not this Nation
Ah, Dave Zirin, this blogger has to argue with you.
Right-wing and left-wing aren’t useful terms when it comes to Brazil. Politics here revolve not around ideology, but people. The alliances are fluid, constantly reevaluated and remade. Politicians switch parties the way dieters switch menus. Plus, there is what the public sees and then, what we don’t see (as we learned, so painfully, from last week’s wiretaps.
Rio mayor Eduardo Paes, now with the PMDB (having cast off two other parties) is certainly good at samba, as Piauí magazine described in a recent profile. But the things he said in the tapped phone conversation with ex-president Lula? Who knows if his career will ever recover. His disdain for the poor was evident as never before. His words also revealed a problematic relationship with PMDB governor Luis Fernando “Pezão”, himself seriously ill in the hospital, named, yet so far not prosecuted, in the Lava Jato investigation. So it’s not like the two of them are smoothly running Rio, Dave.
You write “Paes and Pezão of the PMDB oversaw a process where Olympic facilities were bid upon by “consortiums” of real estate firms, like the Rio Mais (More Rio) syndicate, which included Odebrecht as well as the companies Andrade Gutierrez and Carvalho Hosken.”
The process was completely up to the city, not the state of Rio. This is why, by the way, Guanabara Bay never got cleaned up, as officials had promised the Olympic Committee. The state was in charge of that.
There was only one consortium. Not of real estate firms, but construction companies. And they didn’t wait until the last minute to complete the work. There are problems, but they are pretty much on schedule.
I don’t know if there was or is Olympic hanky-panky but if you look at the documents involved you can see that the three construction companies had a good deal, on the up and up: Rio GAVE them the land, (probably under-)valued at R$ 1.2 billion, to build the Olympic Park on, which they get to develop after the Games, with a change in zoning rules such that they can go as high as 18 floors, instead of twelve. The city also pays them R$ 462 million for the work done, and forgave a tax debt of R$ 7.6 million, owed by Carvalho Hosken.
Would you overbid or delay construction with a deal like that– struck based on a study done by the companies themselves, with no governance to speak of (more on this here)? I do think the Olympics serve, first and foremost, the construction companies involved in Lava Jato. But the absence of Olympic contracts in the scandal, so far, may not mean the PMDB is being protected so it can take over Brazil.
Meanwhile, in his battle to stay out of jail, Eduardo Cunha, the Rio congressman and speaker of the house in Brasília, has far from solid support among other PMDB party members. Despised by Brazilians across the board, he’s been accused of tax evasion, illegal payoffs and using congressional investigations to pressure businesses to pay up. If, as Dave imagines, the Brazilian right and business interests have their way– with the PMDB taking the reins as president Dilma leaves office — there are likely to be many problems as politicians and business sort out their interests and those outside such circles pressure for their own needs and wishes. The process would never end.
Which brings up another weakness in the right-wing coup argument: it’s not like Brazil is about to return to the year 2002. Under Lula, Brazil changed fundamentally. Yes, many of the thirty or forty million who left poverty thanks to his policies are now falling back into it. But in my experience reporting on Rio over the last five years and in my daily life as well, I have seen many Brazilians move out of invisibility and into visibility. It’s hard for foreigners (and many upper class Brazilians) to appreciate this, because they can’t imagine what it’s like for a person to live life as a second-class citizen.
This is key and the internet has been a huge factor. Just last night I attended the launch of the new app “Nós por Nós” (Us by Us), which allows the user to document human rights abuses, streaming video and/or audio to a safe destination in case his or her cell phone is destroyed or taken away. It was developed by the Forum de Juventudes, or Youth Forum, which is connected to groups of favela residents from all over metropolitan Rio.
Presente, the group cried out, fists in the air, remembering young men and a mom killed by Rio police.
If we get an oppressive right-wing government, it won’t be easy to take any of this away- particularly young people’s sense that they have the right to defend themselves from the police, to use social media, to create support networks, to dream and realize those dreams.
It’s easy to characterize social classes and institutions in broad strokes. Reality can defy description. But there are all sorts of people among the millions who left poverty and there are all sorts among the traditional middle and upper classes, too. Not everyone who receives the Bolsa Família income transfer sits at home watching television and eating potato chips, feeling grateful and beholden to Lula. It’s part of human nature, particularly for young people, to want to learn and to feel useful. Many Brazilians took the money and went places with it. They work hard, they value hard work and they think people who steal should go to jail. They aren’t going to want to put up with a PMDB government that feeds off everyone else.
Brazilians are wary of all politicians now. Depending on how many of them go to jail, those left to run for office will be under special scrutiny. Thank God that so far, there’s no local version of Donald Trump, telling people not to worry, he’ll take care of things. More than ever before, Brazilians are debating the current crisis, paying attention, learning about what the Supreme Court, the Federal Police, Congress and the Attorney General do. You can hear newfound words popping out of conversations on the street and in the bus.
Catherine Osborn’s piece did get into some interesting virgin territory. It tells us that the Students for Liberty’s Brazil chapter has more than a thousand members. But that’s not many, compared to the electorate, (142 million) or even the total number of those who marched in yellow and green March 13 (around three million). Where, by the way, a minority was calling for military intervention. If Brazil becomes more conservative, the Koch brothers won’t be behind the change; studies show this often happens as people climb the socioeconomic ladder. Even so, in Brazil ideology has yet to fully replace personalist politics based on the exchange of favors.
Globo isn’t monolithic, either. Yes, it tends towards maintaining the status quo. But, like Brazil’s politicians (particularly the PMDB), its bonds with society are flexible and self-serving. And the “Fox News-on-steroids media giant”, as you call it, is a shrinking source of news for Brazilians, as independent and social media eat away at it. The moment isn’t one of brainwashing, but one where we are all struggling to survive the recession and make sense of a plethora of sources of information.
This is a tall order for most people, particularly given Globo’s longtime virtual monopoly, and the 1964-1985 military government. Brazilians have good reason to believe in conspiracy theories, but they are just that, theories. Let’s take a deep breath and see what’s yet to happen with Lava Jato — and so much else.