Cleaning house in Rio

Extensão do metrô

Metro Line 4 construction, 2014 : what part of any of Rio’s transformation was actually for the people of Rio?

Two former governors arrested and sent to Bangu prison in less than two days. Anthony Garotinho and Sérgio Cabral. So many questions:

  • How long will they be staying? Will they get away with their crimes, as many Cariocas suspect will be the result, in the final analysis?
  • Who else will be going to jail? A GloboNews reporter yesterday quoted a source close to the plea bargainers as saying that Sérgio Cabral’s arrest is “just the beginning”, that other governors and former governors are also in trouble.
  • What other funds have been thrown around here? The R$ 200 million cited so far seems, to this blogger, to be a relatively small amount. It looks like corporate tax breaks were part of a kickback scheme, too. What wasn’t?
  • Given the 5% kickback scheme on state-contracted construction since the late 2000s, how likely is it that city-contracted construction was crime-free? In other words, will Eduardo Paes, on his way out of office and into a Columbia University classroom next semester, be detained too at some point? Cariocas joked yesterday about giving him a scare by pressing his doorbell today at 6 a.m., as the Federal Police are wont to do.
  • How on earth will the state of Rio now gather itself together and organize its failing finances, with Governor Pezão — perhaps about to go to jail — losing the little support he had for proposed budget cuts? Jorge Picciani, who heads up the state legislature and helped keep it under the Governor’s thumb, is also named in Lava Jato plea bargaining.
  • How will the peace be kept in Rio, with police wages at risk?
  • What key politicians, if any, will be acceptable to Brazilian voters for the 2018 presidential race?

The arrests provide, as this excellent analysis by Rogério Jordão points out, a glaring connection between corruption and the state’s financial crisis (of course, the fallen price of oil also has something to do with it). We’re likely as a result, to see more civil unrest, particularly invasions of government buildings.

Garotinho’s stopover at a public hospital and his efforts to avoid jail (he’s now at a penitentiary hospital) have met with Cariocas’ derision, laughter and laudable attempts at a humanitarian view of his would-be plight.

O Globo had been preparing a series of articles on the 2006-2014 Cabral administration. With his arrest, the paper quickly presented valuable in-depth coverage.

One question that does have the start of an answer is what went wrong in the Brazilian political environment, to allow such corruption. The state legislature and state accounting court seem to have played along with the executive branch’s fun and games. The media, the fourth power, as far back as 2010 reported on much of the story now put together by the Federal Police. But the reporting gained no traction until now.

Tough to know exactly why this is, but it might have something to do with the tight alliance among municipal, state and federal politicians and the media that was so determined to turn Rio around, starting in 2008. The difference between a tight alliance and promiscuity is but a blurred line. And during the Cabral era, promiscuity seems to have been given very little thought, at least by some.

Rio’s bonanza (and its long history of clientelism and corruption) fed carelessness for the stewardship of democracy overall and, more specifically, public policy. The stalled and abandoned Complexo do Alemão cable car system, which the state built for R$210 million in federal funding (and which probably involved kickbacks), without asking residents if they wanted it, is a perfect symbol of what went wrong.

It’s horrible to wonder if anything at all was built in the last decade with Rio’s citizens as a priority — rather than politicians and construction companies.

Here’s a useful analysis — with a warning and some advice, by O Globo columnist, Miriam Leitão.

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 Cleaning house in Rio

  1. Do I sense a bit of mea culpa? hummm

  2. Michael Royster says:

    Julia, there’s a lot of surmise in your article, which is normal because even though everyone now suspects that deep-rooted corruption has always been a staple of Rio’s government, there has not been much proof till now. I would differ from your analysis in only one respect. It seems to me that the public transportation works engendered by the Olympics were intended to benefit the public, and do in fact benefit the public. Linha 4, BRT, VLT, even the bicycle paths are long-delayed improvements to the chaotic Rio system controlled by the private bus companies and taxi magnates who line the pockets of Rio’s vereadores.
    The problem, which is not limited to Rio, is that voters throughout Brazil continue to vote for people they know to be crooks. The sense that only crooks can get anything done is deeply ingrained in the people of Brazil, because … well, because it’s been true for 500 years.
    There’s a little bit of hope from the Lava-Jato, because any number of people are beginning to think that maybe, just maybe, the great and the near-great who have been ripping off the people are really, truly, actually, going to face jail time. That makes people wonder whether they ought to vote for people they believe to be honest–although those are hard to find these days.
    Tribunais de Contas at every level are bad jokes–their members are appointed with the task of whitewashing anything their appointer did, and blaming all the opposition to their appointer. There has never been a single action taken by any municipal, state or federal Tribunal de Contas–and that includes the findings that pedaladas are impeachable.
    So let’s see whether the city of Rio will somehow manage to muddle through with Crivella in charge. The state is bankrupt, the federal government is bankrupt, so it’s a challenge.

  3. Rio real says:

    Mike, there is proof, as these plea bargains must be backed up by proof in order to be accepted. As for the Olympics and the works they engendered, I have doubts now that go all the way back to the reason for the Games per se. We will soon see just how sustainable the new transportation infra is. You are right about the Tribunais de Contas; at least the technical staff are very good and maybe their work will have more weight at some point, than it has until now. Honest pols are indeed hard to find and, in the absence of a Trump type (Bolsonaro may come to the rescue) it is impossible to say what will happen in Brazilian politics in the next several years. Good luck to Crivella!!

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