Nothing is gold, silver or bronze, in run-up to Olympics

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Free hairstyling at a favela community event: life does go on

The Games could come as a welcome respite to so much tragedy, in Rio and beyond Rio. They may inspire unity, sportsmanship and optimism, rare just now. They may pass relatively unnoticed, as the country noisily seeks solutions to political, social and economic gridlock. Or, the way things are going, God forbid, even worse catastrophes than have already befallen the Marvelous City could come to pass.

After last week’s holiday cycling path collapse, killing at least two, locals managed to laugh in the darkest manner: someone online suggested that ISIS could ignore Rio 2016 and just let events play out naturally.

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Listening to revved-up chamber music at the Morro dos Prazeres, by the Camerata de Laranjeiras

An Olympic official, asked a few weeks ago about the general lack of enthusiasm, said cities always experience a last-minute mood change, he’s seen it over and over again. OK, London in 2012 was still reeling from the 2008 recession, unthinkable when the city was chosen in 2005. But did it have zika, chicungunya and H1N1? Did it have Olympic contractors in jail? Did the UK not know who would be the president presiding over the opening ceremony? Was the country deeply divided, its institutions challenged? Was there uncertainty over completion of a financially troublesome metro line meant to get people to the Olympic Park? Was London hard hit by low petroleum prices, unable to pay teachers, police, retirees, health workers? Was its public safety program crumbling? Was crime on the rise? At the risk of having forgotten some awful item, this blogger will give it a rest here; maybe London wasn’t like this. Maybe Athens was.

Oh, there’s the new bus rationalization plan, which has left thousands in transportation limbo (and an unknown number of drivers and fare-takers, jobless). Not even locals can figure out how to get from A to B. How will tourists? Transportation is an Olympic legacy, by the way.

Looking ahead, the one almost certain Olympic prediction is that we should have fewer mosquitoes; it’ll be full winter and they prefer warmer climes. Unless climate change pokes up its unruly head…

Beyond insects, it’s helpful to think of the moment as a clumsy meeting of social inclusion and the internet with traditional social and political structures, in the middle of Brazil’s worst recession since 1929. Some observers think the traditional structures will triumph over a changing populace. Others point to emerging social and political movements and the pressure they’re bringing to bear. It’s like baking a cake with the usual ingredients, except the butter comes from goat milk, the eggs were laid by geese and the flour is wormy. How long to bake it, under what temperature? What ever will it taste like? Will it be a cake you’d want to put candles in and sing over?

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Open to new rhythms

Yes, the congressmen revealed their ridiculous — and dangerous– humanity, as they voted on impeachment. But this inspired thousands, if not millions, to question, at last, the longtime Brazilian penchant for family and friends over the common good. This preference is central to the game that has long kept traditional structures in place, reserving the best for elites. Rebuilding these into something more democratic won’t be as sweeping and sudden as the moonstruck tide that brought down a piece of the cycling path alongside Avenida Niemeyer. Instead, it will be as messy as this run-up to the Olympic Games– whatever way they ultimately play out.

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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 Brazil, Transformation of Rio de Janeiro / Transformação do Rio de Janeiro and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Nothing is gold, silver or bronze, in run-up to Olympics

  1. Laura Randall says:

    Beautifully done. Will you consider doing an issue of Rio Real about the different fates of the various immigrants to Brazil: from other Latin American nations, under government programs, such as for refugees, as consequences of Brazilian foreign policy, as from Haiti, from Portugual and other nations in economic trouble, from Japan–especially Brazilians (Brazilian-Jap[anese) returning after being in Japan for a while, and those who overstayed their visa in the U.S., who might not have family or friends after a long stay in the U.S., and their children, who might not speak much Portuguese, and according to a friend, “don’t know how to be Brazilian”? Best, Laura

  2. Rio real says:

    Laura, thank you. Your idea reflects your own broad interests– admirably broad. The blog is focused quite narrowly on the transformation of Rio. Maybe someday, when I feel I’ve got this under my thumb, I’ll branch out! best to you, Julia

  3. shotw2arrows says:

    Julia, I fervently thank you for the article “Crisis in Brazil,” by Perry Anderson, in the London Review of Books. (“game that has long kept traditional structures in place, reserving the best for elites”.)

    After I read the first few paragraphs of the article, I thought, “This is essential to understanding what Dilma did wrong to bring on the recession”. So I saved it in Favorites under “Brazil Economy”.

    But after I read the whole article, I thought, “If you look out your window and see someone being robbed on the street, you call the law. But if you read something that convinces you 200,000,000 people are being robbed by a few thousand, what do you do?”

    My answer was to write this thank note, and to urge everyone to read the article. I will send a link to it to everyone who is interested in justice and Brazil.

    Just a few months ago I wrote to this blog to say, in substance, “Lula is a hero to me, but I can’t forgive him for saying, ‘Mensalão, what Mensalão? I don’t believe there was one’”. My hero had done almost nothing to fight corruption.

    How naïve I was, how blind! Or course Lula knew about the Mensalão. He may not have been its mastermind but he didn’t forbid it. He saw it as a necessity, given the broken political system in Brazil, to get the votes needed to govern. Presidents Cardozo and Dilma made similar concessions to the reality of Brazil.

    The economic analysis of the “Crisis in Brazil” details, with numbers, the errors in Dilma’s financial program. The political analysis recites in painful but lucid detail the compromises, since the military dictatorship, that Cardozo, Lula, and Dilma had to make. They all come off as not exactly heroes and not exactly villains. Given the flawed post- dictatorship Constitution, the understandable drive by the elite to maintain its position, and an electorate that had never known true democracy, a pure hero was almost an impossibility.

    I am not saying that everything in the article is true. But for me, everything makes more sense now. My challenge is to verify or expose as false the allegations of the report.

    As to the future: the whole world will be watching the Olympics. The State – whoever is President – will try to insure that the Olympic events are not disrupted.

    The great question facing Brazil is whether the investigations of malversation continue after impeachment is decided. What should the people do if the charges against Lula, Dilma, Cunha, Temer, Calheiros, and several hundred lesser public servants are hushed up and buried?

    Would civil disobedience at the Olympics help? Suppose a dozen protestors carry a sign written in the international language, English, saying:

    “Brazil is not a true democracy because it does not pursue corruption charges against politicians”

    Suppose this group, headed toward the opening ceremony of the Olympics, is set upon by pepper-spraying police welding clubs, while the world press, and the world, is watching?

    In preference to that, grassroots groups against the acceptance of corruption MIGHT make a difference, without relying of the world stage of the Olympics. I believe this is Julia’s hope. But such groups must find a way to grasp power into their hands. They can’t be like the Occupy Wall Street protestors in the United States. OWS had no path to power – unlike the Tea Party movement in the US, which elected a large number of legislators and governors.

    Some people say it will be 10, 20, or 40 years before Brazil tames corruption and embraces the rule of law. They point to similar problems that all the BRICS are having.

    They could be right. But I believe they are wrong if they think that it is only necessary to wait, as you wait for a tree to grow. Patience is one thing; apathy, wishful thinking, and stoicism are something else.

  4. shotw2arrows says:

    Once Dilma is out the drive to corruption reform will peter out in investigation fatigue. literally hundreds of crooks will retain the power to continue their nefarious practices.

    According to a recent bit of news, the nightmare may have already started. The soon-to-be acting president of Brazil, Michel Temer, could become effectively immune to prosecution. According to the New York Times of 3 May16,

    “Rodrigo Janot, the prosecutor general, determined that the accusations against Mr. Temer were not substantial enough at this point to merit an inquiry…”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/04/world/americas/brazils-vice-president-michel-temer-wont-face-inquiry-over-petrobras.html?_r=1

    Temer was implicated in a plea bargain by senator Delcídio do Amaral. The Times article mentions another possible offense: “…investigators recently disclosed an intercepted text message describing a payment of 5 million reais, about $1.4 million, to Mr. Temer from O.A.S., an engineering company engulfed in the Petrobras scandal. Mr. Temer has acknowledged receiving that money, contending it was a legal campaign donation.”

    Amaral named dozens of others, including Dilma and Lula. Janot requested investigation of most of these. Why did Janot leave out Temer?

    Perhaps he did so in a commendable desire to see Brazil put its political and economic house in order. If we have a new president whose credibility is weakened by a criminal investigation, how can that president accomplish reforms?

    It was a commendable motive but terribly short-sighted. If Temer is immune from prosecution, he will find himself surrounded by a cloud of sycophants who will hide in his shadow – feeling that he will use his influence to shield them from investigation – and they will do all they can to protect their patron. Back to square one: Eduardo Cunha II, the sequel.

    Temer may or may not be guilty, but suppose, for the sake of argument, he is. Suppose Temer knows that once Dilma is impeached the country will want to move forward, so that prosecutors will decide not to investigate him. Then the motive of Temer and his allies to impeach Dilma, on legally shaky grounds, is obvious. Temer becomes president and avoids conviction. He can use his power as president to help his allies avoid persecution.

    Every Brazilian politician will get the message: if you’ve done some corruption, try to implicate someone else to take the heat off yourself.

    Now is the time for the public to rise up and demand that everyone, regardless of their position, be held accountable. Painful as it will be, that is the only thing that matters.

    The recent removal of Cunha may be simply at attempt do make the political scene in Brazil appear a little less absurdly corrupt. “We have cleaned house; now, let’s roll up our sleeves and Make Brazil Great Again.”

    The last couple of days has seen Brazil trump the greatest military power on earth in unbelievable political buffoonery.

    A little background. First, the Lower House votes to continue the impeachment process against Dilma. Then Cunha is suspended as speaker of the Lower House, to be replaced by Waldir Maranhão, a Cunha ally. At his first meeting as of the House as Speaker, Maranhão turns off the mikes and tell everyone to go home. Later, pressed by congressmen to lead the House, he asked for time to have a little chat with God.

    Then yesterday, May 9, he asked that the motion to impeach Dilma be annulled! Howls of protest from the Upper House, which vows, hell or high water, to continue with their action to suspend Dilma.

    Today, Maranhão rescinds the request he made yesterday. No reason given.

    When the press, especially the foreign press, reports these things, they never say that the Speaker of the Upper House, Calheiros, is also implicated in corruption, as is Neves, Dilma’s opponent in the last election, as are several HUNDRED members of Congress!!
    .
    .
    I urge everyone to read the NY Times article, if they haven’t already learned of this disastrous decision by Mr. Janot – a man who has done some much good for Brazil.

    It’s not about pro-Dilma or contra-Dilma. She is just one person. It’s total war against corruption.

    Only Brazilians can win this battle for their nation. The only solution lies in ACTION. All people of good will are asking just what action to take.

    “Time heals all wounds.” Time does heal minor flesh wounds; clean them, then leave them alone; nature is designed to heal.

    But nature does not heal deep puncture wounds, where the germs have dug in deep beneath the surface. Surgery may be necessary.

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