sábado, 13 de agosto de 2016
How Brazil’s Olympic dream died
How Brazil’s Olympic dream died
Yes, the games have been fun and successful so far. But when it’s over Brazil will go back to being … Brazil.
By ANNABELLE TIMSIT 8/14/16, 12:28 AM CET
When the announcement came in 2009 that Brazil would host the Olympic Games, then-President Lula da Silva ran around the room hugging his aides and friends with a Brazilian flag draped over his shoulders. That triumphant moment for Brazil—the perennially struggling nation that Charles de Gaulle once gibed “is the country of the future and always will be”— symbolized its role as the rising star of the “BRIC” bloc (Brazil, Russia, India, China) and the developing world.
Now, seven years later, the boycott of the opening ceremony of the games by Lula and his political disciple, President Dilma Rousseff, has come to symbolize a very different Brazil. Roiling underneath the success of the games as they hit their midway mark—including the visually stunning, sustainability-themed opening ceremony—is a country that is in deep trouble with no obvious way out. It’s not just that Rousseff faces an impeachment trial in the next few weeks, which the Senate confirmed in an overwhelming majority three days ago; and that her mentor Lula—perhaps the most influential Brazilian politician of the past quarter century—is under investigation for corruption and obstruction of justice in the giant Petrobras graft scandal.
It’s also that Brazil has failed to live up to the promise of the games, which were pitched as a chance for the country to reinvent itself and to revitalize infrastructure, transportation systems, natural basins and crumbling public finances. This all sounds great on paper (or in this case, on TV) but the national self-congratulations underway in Rio is belied by the reality on the ground. Those who know the country well say that its political, economic and social fabric has been deteriorating these past few years, not improving. And the Olympics themselves are a perfect symbol of that double standard.
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Consider environmental sustainability, so memorably highlighted in the opening ceremony, which featured videos of rising sea levels drowning coastline cities such as Amsterdam, Dubai, Florida, Lagos and, yes, Rio de Janeiro.
Rio’s Organizing Committee launched a sustainability management plan in 2013 aimed at making this year’s games the most “sustainable” ever. Instead, ecological scandals have been plaguing the country since the 2009 announcement. Despite promises from Olympic officials that the games would be a great opportunity to use public funds to clean up Rio’s water sources, the World Health Organization issued awarning that some of those sources failed to meet Brazilian water quality standards before the games and would be classed under WHO guidelines as “poor or very poor.” Athletes have been advised not to drink the water, which is full of viruses, bacteria and feces. And this problem is not, as many would like to suggest, a natural byproduct of the fast modernization required of any Olympic host city: As early as 2011, periodic monitoring showed that the Urca and Bica beaches were unfit for swimming for 95 percent of the year, Leblon and Arpoador for 50 percent of that time, and Ipanema (where the highest concentration of tourists will settle for the duration of the games) 40 percent.
Meanwhile, in the Guanabara Bay, the site of sailing events during the games, raw sewage and trash float on top of the water, readily apparent. Despite securing more than $400 million for cleanup efforts, officials say that only about 50 percent of the sewage that flows to the bay is treated.
Then there are the carbon emissions that appear to betray the Olympic promise of a “clean games.” Olympic officials boasted of forest restoration in areas of the Atlantic Forest in Rio state as well as sustainable architecture aimed at reducing residual carbon emissions from the games. The opening ceremony featured videos of the earth’s temperature spiking over time and how drastically the Antarctic ice sheet has dwindled in recent decades. But coming from a country that is home to about one-third of the world’s rain forests and whose government has steadily been encouraging deforestation through the building of megadams in the Amazon basin, the warning sounded hollow.
In fact, the Rio Olympics is simply not on any legitimate ground to be giving the world a lesson in sustainability. Among the many scandals plaguing the games is the situating of the Olympic golf course in a section of the city that overlaps with the Marapendi Environmental Protection Area, a coastal habitat for highly diverse native vegetation and animal life, some of which is unique to Brazil. It was built there even though Rio already has two regulation golf courses, sparking protests all over the city, with activists denouncing it as an “ecological holocaust.”
Of course, none of this political and ecological turmoil has been mentioned much during the games or the opening ceremony, which was presided over by interim President Michel Temer—who, by the way, has also been accused of corruption in the Lava Jato scandal.
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Societal tensions have also played a huge role in the ugly reality behind the glamorous sporting events now underway in Rio. Racism is one of the toughest problems facing Brazil’s ethnically diverse population. Afro-Brazilians are routinely abused by the police and are often the first victims of the violence of the favelas. The Brazilian government could have used the games as an opportunity to build sustainable public housing and reduce violence in the streets. Instead, it forcefully displaced hundreds of families living in favelas ahead of the games and spent more than $200,000 erecting opaque boards on a wall to hide Maré, a complex of 16 favela communities, from incoming tourists’ view.
Meanwhile, the Brazilian police remains one of the most brutal police forces in the world; according to ThinkProgress, although Brazil’s population is 50 percent smaller than that of the U.S., its police forces have killed the same number of people in the past five years as American police have in the past 30 years.
And then, of course, there is the problem of public corruption. The Olympics are costing Brazil $12 billion, one of the highest figures in Olympic history; in trying to convince the world that it could manage that number, the city of Rio claimed that most of the costs would be put up by the private sector. But according to independent research, nearly the opposite has happened: A flood of public money is being returned to Brazilian billionaires, who own the land that will host Olympic attractions, in the form of tax breaks, government loans and land transfers.
How did that happen? Rio’s charismatic and popular mayor, Eduardo Paes, tried to use the Olympics as an excuse to modernize his city. But in doing so, he ceded land rights and development concessions to private companies with plans to gentrify, not just develop, Rio. One of those businessmen, Carlos Carvalho, who owns the land in Barra where the Olympic Village was built, got into trouble last year for tellingThe Guardian that he wanted to turn Barra into “a city of the elite, of good taste.” In a very Brazilian twist, Carvalho was revealed to be one of the top donors for Paes’s 2012 reelection campaign.
And after the games are over, all 31 of the Village’s 17-story towers will be transformed into luxury condos. There are no plans to dedicate any of this land to affordable public housing. The plan to modernize Rio, then, came with strings attached, and a desire to give precedence to luxury development that has snowballed into a social cleansing project.
The games have also suffered from a lack of coordination between the different levels of government. The mayor’s office and the state government have been trading accusations over the ecological problems and other scandals plaguing the games. At the end of the day, both the cleanup of pollution in Guanabara Bay and the coordinated response to rising crime in Rio are the responsibility of the state-level government, not the city, and in the vacuum, no one has taken responsibility for cleaning up the mess.
It would be difficult to name anyone who is even in a position to take this political and fiscal responsibility. President Rousseff, long seen as a strong and steady leader, is hated by a vast section of her country’s population. In fact, she has the worst approval ratings for a Brazilian president since 1992. Accused of spending money without congressional approval and taking out unauthorized loans from state banks to boost the national budget ahead of her reelection campaign, it is looking increasingly likely that she will be impeached in the weeks following the Olympics, and replaced by her vice president, who is no stranger to corruption charges himself. Meanwhile, former President Da Silva is being charged with alleged obstruction of justice, the first step in a process that will lead to a trial for Da Silva’s role in the infamousLava Jato scandal. He could spend the rest of his life in federal prison.
Knowing all this, it’s no surprise that neither politician chose to attend the Olympic opening ceremony. In fact, Dilma told Radio France Internationale that she had no intention of taking “a secondary position” to her mentee-turned-replacement, Michel Temer. The question of who will take up the mantle and lead Brazil through its post-Olympics development, for now, has no answer.
The situation is not all dire. The Olympics have resulted in some improvements for the people of Rio, including safer infrastructure and an expanded subway system. The Brazilian government has also enacted some innovative measures to try to counter negative carbon effects. But an Olympic Games meant to serve as a unifying political and societal celebration of Brazilian culture has actually reduced the quality of life of many Brazilians and re-emphasized socio-economic and cultural fault lines. And that is the reality all Brazilians will return to when the fun and games are over.
Annabelle Timsit is a researcher for Politico Magazine.