What’s happening? Shell-shocked in Rio de Janeiro

What a tangled web exclusion weaves

The tangle, meant to favor some, exclude others: that’s why it endures

Riorealblog was created almost six years ago. Many times this blogger considered revamping the mission statement (at right), but ended up leaving it as is, a testimonial to more hopeful (and innocent) times.

In August 2010, no one dreamed we’d find ourselves in such a tragic situation on the eve of the Olympic Games. It seemed, then, that the alliance of federal, state and city government truly meant to tackle some of Rio’s worst problems, and that local citizens, with a healthy dose of skepticism, supported the attempt.

We’re discovering, day by day, the extent to which Brazilian elites played the game using a deck stacked with inside information and traded favors. How could we ever have thought of the Brazilian jeitinho as a charming cultural trait? Or that bureacracy was due to backwardness? But of course, the red tape and legal tangles are meant to keep out intruders and favor those with the connections to cut through.

The stacked deck allowed the powerful to compete unfairly, skimping on education both for themselves and the less favored. Perhaps the lack of formal preparation at all levels explains the shoddy, last-minute feeling in Rio just now.

It’s a deeply flawed democracy, this one; not much use focusing on the latest so-called golpe, tip of an iceberg. So much more demands change.

In Rio de Janeiro, Olympic host, investigations, both police and journalistic, suggest that the common good is politicians’ and business people’s last priority. Why ever should anyone have stopped to think what would happen when oil prices fell?

Given the near-daily revelations, we must be prepared to believe the worst — that, for example, some top priorities may lie far beyond mere tax evasion, kickbacks, padded contracts or conflicts of interest — in the realm of international drug trafficking. In a recent El País interview, Nemesis: One Man and the Battle for Rio author Misha Glenny notes that Brazil’s bigtime drug traffickers don’t live, as did the object of his book, Rocinha’s don, Nem, in favelas.

“Those who [supply rich markets] tend to be middle- and upper-class people with legitimate businesses, usually operating in the areas of transportation and agriculture,” he told the Portuguese-language version of the Spanish site. And who might they be?

For this blogger, one of the most shocking accusations (part of a plea-bargain deposition) is that a construction company bribed the politically-appointed president of the state accounting tribunal during the remodeling of the Maracanã soccer stadium.

While the Brazilian media have long reported on scandals in Rio state’s legislative and executive branches, little is known about those responsible for checking up on them — beyond a general sense that the accounting tribunal’s professionals have excellent training but their findings are sometimes overridden by political appointees at the top.

Those professionals questioned parts of the public-private partnership set up to build the Olympic Park in Rio’s West Zone — and were overridden, with the justification that the Park need to be built in time for the Games.

Without the Games, without the Park, the West Zone is not likely to have experienced the recent real estate boom. That boom has now resulted in an outmoded automobile-dependent urban sprawl of empty malls, apartments and office buildings, with increased costs in terms of city and state services.

Ongoing corruption investigations, nationwide, point to the need for a deep rethink  of Brazil as a whole.

For Rio de Janeiro to make a second attempt at reinventing itself, deep inward reflection will be on the agenda, with a shift towards the common good. Meanwhile, it might be useful to humbly look for cues in a place such as Detroit, Michigan.

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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.

7 Responses to What’s happening? Shell-shocked in Rio de Janeiro

  1. Michael Royster says:

    You mention Rio making a second attempt to re-invent itself, but it’s impossible for me to see how that will happen unless Brazilians elect honest politicians, something they’ve never done after the fall of the military dictatorship.

    • Rio real says:

      Never say never, Mike!

      • shotw2arrows says:

        I have no proof that Temer is guilty of anything. But taking into account the whole situation, the all-prevailing corruption, the massive culture of corruption, and the fact that Temer has appointed a number of ministers charged with corruption, my personal judgment is that Temer is likely guilty of at least some degree of malfeasance. If that is so, and if he is never brought to justice, I think any optimism is misplaced.

        I think it is unlikely that charges against Temer will ever be seriously considered, so long as Brazil appears to be making a reasonable recovery from the financial disaster. A victorious general is seldom called to account for war crimes.

        These are great days for Brazil but we can’t sit on our hands and hope. We can’t be like people who buy lottery tickets just hoping against all reason that somehow things will work out OK for them. We are called to do what we can.

        My computer is not working and a new one will arrive in a few days. I will try to write something worthwhile when it does. Meanwhile, thank you Julia for not turning a blind eye to reality – something many of us have done for too long.

    • Mark says:

      Which is exactly why there is a growing surge of support for a return to military control. Far from a majority opinion but just the fact it is being discussed speaks volumes of how bad the corruption is. In any true military people are held accountable. All very sad and depressing to me, I saw the temporary improvements under the PT and Lula…asked myself perhaps I was wrong about the socialists….now there are unbelievable taxes and even more corruption.

      • shotw2arrows says:

        Mark, I believe corruption would exist in Brazil under military rule, as it would under socialism, Communism, Fascism, or laisse-faire capitalism; as it did exist under the state-capitalism of the Cardoso-Lula-Dilma regimes. Soon, I will try to make the case the problem is cultural, and goes back centuries.

  2. agogo22 says:

    Reblogged this on msamba.

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