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Rio 2016: Games of Exclusion

MarianaDias Simpson18 August 2016

Two weeks before the Rio 2016 Olympic Games opening on August 5th, a poll confirmed the vibe felt on the streets[1]: 50% of Brazilians were against the mega event and 63% believed it would bring more harm than good to the city. Against a backdrop of political and economic crises, Brazilians were comprehending that hosting such a party was going to cost a lot. And that they weren’t really invited to join.

 

Protests gained force as the torch travelled throughout the country. Demonstrators managed to extinguish the Olympic flame several times. More often than not, the parade happened alongside protests against poor living conditions. Many of Rio’s public schools have been closed and on strike since March. Hospitals haven’t got the basic materials to function. In July, the governor declared a ‘state of emergency’ due to the state of Rio’s bankrupt situation. In a decree, he established that it was up to authorities to take ‘exceptional measures’ for the ‘rationalisation of all public services’ (i.e. cuts) in order to ensure that the Olympics happened smoothly, as the event has ‘international repercussions’ and any damage to the country’s image would be of ‘very difficult recovery’[2].

Video of attempts to extinguish the torch in protest in the periphery of Rio available on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=70q_FOICM-Y

 

Pretty much the opposite of what the world watched in the beautiful opening ceremony on August 5th, in the ‘preparation’ for the Games citizens watched favelas being bulldozes; Pacifying Police Units trying to silence funk music; the genocide of black youths sponsored by the state; the destruction of a natural reserve for the construction of a golf course; the closing of sports equipment where unsponsored athletes trained; imposed interventions; violence against protesters; corruption; and the absence of a social or environmental legacy for the city.

Jogos da Exclusão

Jogos da Exclusão

 

Resistance

 

The World Cup and Olympics Popular Committee of Rio de Janeiro is an articulation that has since 2010 gathered popular organisations, trade unions, non-governmental organisations, researchers, students and those affected by interventions related to the World Cup and the Olympics for the construction of a critical view of these mega events. Committed to the struggle for social justice and the right to the city, the Committee promotes public meetings and debates, produces documents and dossiers on human rights violations, organises public demonstrations and spreads information.

 

In the first week of August, the Committee organised a series of events in Rio de Janeiro under the title “Games of Exclusion” for the promotion of dialogue, cultural activities and protests (met with violence by the ‘National Force’ currently occupying the streets).

 

As part of the Games of Exclusion, the Brazilian Institute for Social and Economic Analyses (Ibase, in Portuguese) took forward a partnership started with the DPU last year to discuss the Olympic social legacy – or lack thereof – for Rio de Janeiro. Ibase aims to influence public debate for the development of the Rio we want: an inclusive, diverse and democratic city.

 

For the dialogue ‘Housing and Mobility: Connections with the city and impacts in favelas’, Ibase partnered up with community-based organisations from the favelas of Rocinha, Complexo do Alemão, Borel and Providência[3] to debate themes related to transport and mobility within favelas and the latest initiatives, such as the construction of cable cars, funiculars, and the legalisation of alternative modes of transport like vans and moto-taxis. Alan Brum, from the CBO Raízes em Movimento, questioned the priorities chosen by the government when investing over £200,000 in Complexo do Alemão: “Public policies and intervertions without dialogue are for whom? Our priorities are housing and basic sanitation, not a cable car”. The discussion, of course, went beyond favelas’ borders to explore dwellers’ access to the mobility interventions taking place in the city in light of the Games, such as a new metro line, BRTs, VLTs, among other actions.

 

White Elephant

The graffitti “The White Elephant and the Trojan Horse”, by Davi Amen from Complexo do Alemão, illustrated the dialogue promoted by Ibase Photo: Mariana Dias Simpson

 

 

These interventions have a direct impact in housing and public security, continuous sources of concern for those living in favelas. Since 2009, year in which the city was chosen to host the Games, more than 77,000 people were evicted and lost their homes in Rio[4], mainly under the excuse that these communities had to give room to expressways and Olympic equipment. In Complexo do Alemão alone, over 1,700 families are still being paid a ‘social rent’ whilst waiting for the delivery of new housing units. Their expectation, as Camila Santos pointed out during the dialogue, is that the benefit will stop being paid as soon as the Games end and that these family are going to be left empty handed with the state’s empty promises.

 

Since 2009, police forces have also killed more than 2,600 people in the city[5]. According to figures published by Amnesty International, there was a shocking 103% percent increase in police killings in Rio de Janeiro between April and June of 2016 in comparison to the same period in 2015, shattering any chance of a positive legacy to the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games. “Security cannot come at the expense of human rights and the fundamental principles of democracy”, defended Atila Roque, AI’s executive-diretor.

 

In the morning of August 12th, blood puddles were still visible in the favela Bandeira 2. A 14 year-old died and three people were hurt in a conflict between the police and drug dealers Photo: Carlos Cout

In the morning of August 12th, blood puddles were still visible in the favela Bandeira 2. A 14 year-old died and three people were hurt in a conflict between the police and drug dealers
Photo: Carlos Cout

 

In fact, the urbanisation of all of Rio’s favelas by 2020 was supposed to be the Olympic’s biggest legacy to the city and the most ambitious slum upgrading programme ever implemented. When launching the the Morar Carioca[6] programme in 2010, the city government promised to upgrade all of Rio’s favelas and to promote accessibility, waste management, public spaces and services, environmental protection and eco-efficiency, reduction of density, resettlements and housing improvements – “all with transparency and popular participation”[7]. However, the programme was cast aside by the government in 2013 as if it had never been proposed (and the fact was also completely overlooked by the mainstream media).

 

“What’s Rio’s post-Olympic agenda? We don’t want any more white elephants to show-off policies for favelas. We want to think about the city from the perspective of favelas. Favelas are a constituent part of the city. They present a different paradigm and show that diverse urban spaces may coexist, provided inequities are overcome and adequate living standards are universalised”,  concluded Ibase’s director Itamar Silva.

 

 

“What's Rio's post-Olympic agenda? We don't want any more white elephants and show-off policies for favelas”, questioned Ibase's director Itamar Silva at the end of the dialogue. Photo: Pedro Martins

“What’s Rio’s post-Olympic agenda? We don’t want any more white elephants and show-off policies for favelas”, questioned Ibase’s director Itamar Silva at the end of the dialogue.
Photo: Pedro Martins

[1]    Dafolha, July 2016: http://media.folha.uol.com.br/datafolha/2016/07/18/olimpiada.pdf

[2]    Quotes from the decree.

[3]    Raízes em Movimento (Complexo do Alemão), Rocinha sem Fronteiras (Rocinha), Comissão de Moradores da Providência (Providência) and Agência Internacional de Favelas (Borel).

[4]    Rio 2016: Jogos da Exclusão, Jornada de Lutas, Rio de Janeiro.

[5]    Instituto de Segurança Pública do Rio de Janeiro (ISP/ RJ).

[6]    Morar means “to live”; carioca is an adjective relating to someone or something that comes from the city of Rio de Janeiro.

[7]    SMH, 2011.

 


Mariana Dias Simpson is a DPU MSc Urban Development Planning alumni. She works as a researcher at the Brazilian Institute for Social and Economic Analyses (Ibase) in Rio de Janeiro and has worked with urban issues related to favelas, housing, public policies, poverty and inequality for several years.

What is going on in Brazil?

AlexandreApsan Frediani23 June 2013

Together with my Brazilian friends and family living in London, we cannot stop following the posts, videos, tweets and news about what is going on in Brazil since the demonstrations in the streets of São Paulo on June the 6th and spreading to the main urban centres of the country. We cannot also help starting most conversations we have at the moment by commenting on the latest news. Even after spending hours talking and reading about it, it is still hard to answer the question: what is going on in Brazil? While hopeful and excited about the level of social mobilisation around equitable access to urban infrastructure and services, we are also extremely worried about the more recent turn of the events towards a conservative agenda.

Picture 1: Demonstrations in London

Source: Alex Frediani

Source: Alex Frediani

 

The Excitement

Since the demonstrations that impeached the president Fernando Collor de Mello in 1992 we probably have not seen the public sphere so much dominated by political debates, rather than football or soap opera. Everybody is talking about it, everybody is having to position themselves in one way or another. This is also the result of a long-term mobilisation story around universal access to transport through free fares. After a series of decentralised actions (including the demonstrations in Salvador in 2003 in Florianopolis in 2004[1]), in the 2005 World Social Forum the Movimento Passe Livre, MPL (Free Fare – but also translated as Free Pass – Movement) was formed. A charter with basic principles was developed, which included independence, non-partisanship, horizontality and decision-by-consensus. National meetings were conducted to generate strategic plans. Local groups consolidated and political pressure was successfully exerted through studies and street demonstrations. During August and September of last year the MPL organised demonstrations in Natal (Rio Grande do Norte), March this year the movement took thousands to the street of Porto Alegre (Rio Grande do Sul). Then in the beginning of this month, the movement responded to the plans of increasing the price of bus fare in São Paulo by organising the demonstrations on the 6th of June, which brought 5,000 people to the streets.

For me, these activities provide examples of how social movements are contesting the commodification of city services. One of the major references of the movement is the engineer Lúcio Gregori (municipal secretary of transport of São Paulo between 1990-1992). Lúcio designed during his mandate the Project Free Fare, never implemented but which aimed at subsidising the cost of public transport through a reform of the progressive property tax. His argument is based on the idea that the high costs of the tariffs is prioritising the support towards automobile industry and bus companies over the movement towards sustainable and equitable cities.  By subsidising public transport and reducing tariffs, citizens would opt for collective transport services rather than individual cars, minimizing traffic and maintenance costs of roads. Importantly, Lúcio argues that financially the project free fare is viable, however it needs the political willingness that is not in place, hence the need for social mobilisation and pressure by civil society organisations.

Picture 2: Illustration used by MPL

Translation: A city only exists for those that can move through it. Source: http://tarifazero.org/

Translation: A city only exists for those that can move through it. Source: http://tarifazero.org/

 

However, since the initial stages, protests increased in amount of supporters but also concerns. Apart from transport tariffs, the various signs seen in the demonstrations have condemned a series of issues, including the costs caused by the forthcoming world cup[2], as well as the controversial constitutional amendment number 37, which would prohibit public agencies from carrying out criminal investigations. Such claims are important demands to keep Brazilian government under scrutiny and deepening public debates and democratic practices.

Picture 3: Protests in London with demands beyond bus tariffs

Translation: Brazil, let’s wake up! A teacher is worth more than Neymar (Brazilian footballer). Source: Alex Frediani

Translation: Brazil, let’s wake up! A teacher is worth more than Neymar (Brazilian footballer). Source: Alex Frediani

 

The Brazilian government responded to the voices of those in the street. In a televised announcement on the 21st of June, the president Dilma Rousseff called for meeting with activists, mayors and state governors to discuss about the demands of protesters. In particularly, urban mobility would be a major theme of deliberation. Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo mayors also responded by scraping their plans to increase prices of bus tariffs in the short term

The Worry

Apart from those exciting citizenship claims through debates of transport and urban mobility, we have also seen a series of worrying elements that we perceive to be counter productive to such claims. Firstly ‘violence’ has been unfortunately dominating a lot of the discussions. Just after the first protests since the 6th of June, the major media corporations did not hesitate to focus their news around the violence generated by a few protesters, therefore criminalising the activities in the streets. In the meantime, on-line various videos were shared by protesters and journalists showing the outrageous reactions of the police force using rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the peaceful crowds shouting: sem violencia – without violence. Videos also show police shooting people recording the events in the streets and in buildings.

When the activities in the streets of the country started getting momentum, the position from the major media corporations, especially Globo, changed radically. From criminalising uprising, they started to provide ‘reasoned’ arguments, mostly associated to corruption of current government, to legitimize activities. Many comments on-line have accused such shift to demonstrate an opportunistic attitude of the right-wing/conservative elite in Brazil, tapping into and co-opting events, shifting the agenda from urban mobility towards a debate on corruption with the intention to destabilise the PT (workers party) government[3].

Also worrying is how the mood of the crowd in the streets started to shift. As numbers increased and causes for mobilisation started to multiply, the national anthem has become a key shouting bringing protestors to a united voice. The article by journalists Camila Petroni and Debora Lessa of the journal Brasil de Fato[4] outline the dangers of the emergence of this problematic nationalistic mood, which often is associated to militarization and reminds us of worrying times of our history during the 60s and 70s military government. Therefore, many have argued that the demonstrations have become compromised, losing coherence, depth and clarity due to this attempt of the right to sabotage and co-opt activities. Others have argued that this is the nature of current uprisings: multiple, decentralised, unpredictable, difficult to explain as a whole, and evidence of a new form of networked society.

However profoundly worrying has been the reaction in the streets of São Paulo in the celebration following the announcement of the mayor saying that the bus tariff would not go up. Those who went to celebrate using their party or organization’s banners and shirts (i.e. PSOL – Partido Socialismo e Liberdade, Socialism and Freedom Party – that thas been involved with the MPL since its first steps) were kicked out from the marches. Protesters argued that they would not like such groups and organisations to profit from what has been the ‘people’s demonstration’[5]. This rejection to the role of such groups in the organisation, mobilisation and future dialogue with government officials is naïve and limits the potential of protests to move beyond an outburst of grievances and influence concrete policy and practices of governance. Furthermore, and even more worrying, those claiming to be of no-association and no-party have also been accused of belonging to organised right-wing and military groups[6].

As a result of such recent events, the MPL has said that it would not be involved in the organisation of future demonstrations. Journalists and bloggers are calling protestors to localise their discussions. As it happened also in Spain, the call is to consolidate the debate and critical thinking in neighbourhoods and hubs of dialogue. The editorial piece of the magazine Forum (which was created during the World Social Forum of 2001 in Porto Alegre) asked activists to replace in the short-term demonstrations with meetings to deepen the debate, work out differences and share perspectives before going again to the streets[7].

Next steps

The above description is one of the many readings of the situation. It is quite surprising that the media in the UK is not engaging with such reading and has not been trying to capture complexities and the contradictions of the schizophrenic nature of the uprisings in Brazil. It is impossible to attempt to make any analysis of what could happen, but I see exciting and worrying scenarios: if the progressive activists move out from the demonstrations by prioritising localised discussions, the conflict in the streets might end up dominated by right-wing groups, with dangerous prospects of militarization and confrontation with the current government. But on the other hand the confrontations with fuzzy purposes might phase out with time, and what is going to be left are the seeds for a much more constructive and profound mode of civil engagement. What is going on in Brazil? I am not sure, but definitely it is uncertain, exciting and worrying all at the same time…

Alexandre Apsan Frediani is a lecturer at the Bartlett Development Planning Unit and co-director of Masters in Social Development Practice.


[1] See documentary Impasse on-line about the movement in Florianopolis: http://impasse.com.br/documentario/impasse

[2] See videos that went viral on-line outlining the major arguments against the World Cup: ‘No, I am not going to the world cup’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZApBgNQgKPU and Brazilian ex-footballer and now politician Romario arguing that FIFA has established a estate within the Brazilian estate: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QMhL-K2kBxQ.

[4] http://www.brasildefato.com.br/node/13269

[5] See post by a demonstrator that got kicked out from the celebrations: http://socialistamorena.cartacapital.com.br/querem-desestabilizar-o-brasil-nao-vou-compactuar-com-isso/

[6] See list disseminated through facebook: https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=538407982884717&id=149047141820805

[7] http://revistaforum.com.br/blog/2013/06/editorial-contra-os-fascistas-a-forca-das-redes-e-dos-processos-democraticos/