After two months of protests that started over price gouging in public transportation and spread to a variety of issues spanning the political spectrum, positive results are beginning to be seen in Rio de Janeiro, where governor Sérgio Cabral, once touted in the New York Times as a possible 2014 presidential candidate is now so unpopular that socialist former mayoral candidate Marcelo Freixo said that he doesn’t think he could even get elected as a condominium residents association secretary.
Sérgio Cabral (right) with businessman Eike Batista. (Photo by Brazil 247)
During the last week a series of measures was announced that seem to show a turning of the tide against the hegemony wielded by the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) and the Rio de Janeiro state and municipal governments over local residents.
First, after spending over $500 million rehabbing the structurally sound Maracana stadium – its third multi-million rehab in a dozen years - the plan to privatize and sell it off to a group of cronies for a fraction of that value has been stalled. The landmark status for the neighboring high school and Indigenous museum buildings has been upheld by the court system, so they can no longer be destroyed to create a parking garage. Furthermore, the federal government has blocked destruction of the public swimming pool and athletic track that made up part of the stadium compound. According to the privatization agreement, these are deal killers. The original plan was to surround the stadium with parking garages and luxury shops for the white, middle-class patrons who would now be the only ones able to easily afford ticket prices. The consortium that was poised to take over management of the stadium announced that it was going to back out, then changed its mind but still hasn’t closed a deal. It appears that the new, expensive ticket prices are keeping fans away and this might prove to be a deciding factor in blocking privatization.
Meanwhile, last Friday, the mayor’s office announced that after years of protests and construction of an alternative participatory development plan by local residents together with social movements and the Universidade Federal de Rio de Janeiro planning department, it will no longer raze the neighborhood of Vila Autódromo, which was originally marked for destruction in order to “beautify” the neighborhood for the upcoming “mega-events.” Since 2008, the mayor’s office has evicted tens of thousands of people, but it is hoped that this too will mark a turning point against a government that, until its popularity plummeted last month, felt like it could do whatever it wanted.
The much hailed program for setting up police stations in favelas that were previously controlled by drug trafficking organizations and paramilitary militias, called UPP, is also coming under fire. Drug trafficking gangs continue to operate within the pacified favelas, albeit without carrying machine guns around on the street, and a recent study shows that disappearances of residents has increased by over 50 percent in favelas after the UPP Units have been put in place. The disappearance of a construction worker and father of four, last seen being forced into a UPP Police car in front of his house in Rocinha, has turned into a national issue, as people are holding up signs all over the country during protests asking, “Where is Amarildo?”
Across the nation, people are rising up against the planned “state of exception” that FIFA demands take place for two months before and after the World Cup in 2014, coded into Brazilian law as part of the “General Law of the World Cup” of June 5, 2012. This “state of exception” will enable the government to bypass public bidding laws, provide tax abatement on all official FIFA-sponsored products and hire private foreign security forces to replace the local police protecting players and FIFA officials. In accordance with the Brazilian constitution of 1989, a “state of exception” can only be called in cases of war or natural disasters, making the FIFA law technically illegal. But popular and legal challenges to the Brazilian general “Law of the Cup” are mounting. During the World Cup in South Africa FIFA was able to leave the country with $2.4 billion in profits, while South Africans were left footing the maintenance bill for “white elephant” stadiums in towns with no major sports teams. It will be interesting to see how much FIFA is able to get away with this time around, especially since 2014 is an election year in Brazil.
Brian Mier is a geographer and freelance journalist who lives in Brazil and works as a policy analyst at the Centro de Direitos Econômicos e Sociais. He has a podcast, focused on news reported in the Brazilian alternative media, at http://progressivebrazil.tumblr.com/