It must be strange for people who are used to see Brazilians as a smiley and youthful nation, proud of its country’s sporting exploits, to learn that most of them are hating to host the Olympics and the World Cup. While the costs are astronomical and no one knows for sure who actually benefits from these soulless mega-events centred on big business, very few countries get the privilege of hosting them and doing so usually is a matter of big national pride. Brazil seems to be an exception, and the question that comes to mind is why.
Ask the average Brazilian and he will give you the standard answer: The anger is because the government decided to throw money on these useless events instead of investing in hospitals, schools and infrastructure. You will also hear accusations of corruption together with some strange complaints about the ruling Workers Party’s (PT) programs for instituting financial help packages for poor families who send their children to school and for allowing Cuban doctors in the country to work in areas where urban middle class doctors refuse to go. What also will strike as strange is that the discontent took years to surface and that the apparent lack of investment in infrastructure has been happening since the 1970’s and only now have Brazilians awakened to this fact.
However, whoever bothers to study the numbers closer will be surprised at what they reveal. The 8 Billion Reais ( 3.6 billion US dollars ) spent of the construction of stadiums is tiny when compared with the 825 Billion Reais spent in the health system since the works began while the investment in education only in 2014 is predicted to be 115 Billion Reais. This is without taking into consideration that there will be a return on the investment in the both mega events, not only with the selling of tickets and with tourism but also in jobs and in the construction of infrastructure related to the events and the rippling effect that economic activities always have.
Havinf got this out of the way, the question remais, where does this anger come from? Ask an angry Brazilian if he would be happy if the Olympics and the World Cup would happen under another government and he will most probably say yes. He will also say probably say that, as a matter of principal, he has nothing against these mega-events taking in his country; what he doesn’t like is the government that is handling it nor the way it is doing it. Which kind of government would he like instead? Not sure, but definitely not this hateful PT one.
Based on the above, we can say with a degree of certainty that the problem is with the Government and not with the events per se. If this is so, we have to ask ourselves what is so evil in the ruling party that makes people take the streets, and almost dedicate their lives on a political crusade against it? Corruption? Well… this has been a national institution for at least the past eight decades, and is due to the way the Brazilian economy works. The engineer of this mechanism was the dictator Getulio Vargas who started ruling Brazil in the 1930’s, and who stayed in power for more than twenty years. His strategy was to set up a strong interventionist government that would support the country’s development together with local capital. Simply put, this means that the government would come up with big projects such as setting up oil companies, constructing roads, building hydroelectric plants, ports etc… which would open opportunities for Brazilian and sometimes for international investors as well as generate jobs and stimulate the economy as a whole. In broad line this is similar to the American President Roosevelt’s New Deal and to the Marshall plan in post-war Europe. This all sounds great in paper, and Vargas set it up with the best of intentions, but the system would generate unlimited possibilities for corruption.
The reason for this is that the result is that the most important economic deals in Brazil are related to the government and who is heading it makes a huge difference in terms of which project will go ahead and who benefit from the, ultimately who will get rich and who will not. It is important to remember this and that although the PT is a left wing government and defends state intervention, this system was in place long before it ever ruled Brazil.
Some people will also blame the police brutality, not only towards the protesters but also, and mainly, towards the poor population on a daily basis. The police is there to serve the state so, according to this way of thinking; the exaggerated use of force would reflect the willingness of the PT to transform itself in a left wing dictatorship. This is worthwhile examining; the brutality of the Brazilian police dates from before the PT’s ascension to power, actually of its older members experienced this brutality when they were in the opposition. The public security forces’ ethos is an inheritance of Brazil’s slavery past and has traditionally been brutal. Also, with the exception of the elite Federal Police, they are under the control of local governments. In this context, they are almost self-serving organizations with a history of protecting the local powerful, and that are very hard to control from the outside. In fact, their greatest fear is being supervised by outsiders who could make them respond for their excesses, or at least limit them. As a corporation, they are by no means immune from corruption and tackling them is a touchy business that any government is the world tries to avoid. In any case, it is very hard to sustain that the interests of the police and of the PT are the same, and it would be insane to suppose that the Brazilian police would collaborate in installing a Left Wing dictatorship in the country.
The strongest argument against the Government is that it is using both the Olympics and the World Cup as a political card. There is an undeniable truth in this, but we point out that any political party in the world would. If things go well the opposition will look stupid and Dilma’s popularity will be restored. We do not hear this accusation so much because the opposition is using these mega events as much as they can to do anti-PT propaganda. They are actually using all the weight they can to promote an anti-Government crusade that now resembles a public lynching. The attacks are constant in almost all the media, social media included, and are vicious.
There is a war going on against the World Cup and the Olympics. The opposition is frustrated in realizing that the Government has absorbed most of the punches and is still set to win the upcoming elections despite the economic downturn and all the PR efforts against it. This discontent has set a wide portion of the Brazilian society to want these two mega-events to fail. They prefer the country to look bad in the eyes of the world and investors to run away, rather than to give support to a government that may damage some of their private interests. This reminds us of the story of the genie who comes up to a man and says. “Tell me what you desire and it will be yours, but bear in mind that your enemy will have double”, the man responds “Take out one of my eyes”.
So what is it in this government that they dislike so much? It is our view that what angers the middle class is that after more than ten years in the government the ruling party has privileged the poor rather than business. This is serious, as it was the more instructed Brazilians who put the PT in power and not the lower classes. These voters feel entitled to policies in their favour. While there has been an undeniable improvement in the standards of living of the poorest segments, in many cases over-taxation has made the middle class see their standards of living lower. One issue that is emblematic of this anger is that now households must treat domestic workers as office workers and must pay regular taxes to employ them.
As in most countries under left wing governments, people are paying high taxes but are not seeing this money return to them in services or any other benefits. The construction of big stadiums and the hosting of big events has been an easy target to catalyze this anger.
For us there are deeper layers to this war on the Olympics and on the World Cup. Internationally this is a moment of great changes. We have seen the US and its allies fail to impress the world with their invasion of Iraq and their intervention in Afghanistan. Although they have moved away from their failed tactics of direct intervention, it seems obvious to us that they have tried to cling on to their receding supremacy by using indirect pressure. By this we mean that they have incited and made allegiances with locals to carry out their strategies. The recent examples are plenty, some with happy endings and others with tragic consequences: Libya, Tunisia, Turkey, Syria, Iran, Egypt, Ukraine, Venezuela… What all of these countries had in common was the threat of abandoning the American “mentoring” and ended up having “spontaneous” uprisings, which were supposed to be sympathetic to the Western dominance.
In a time when Brazil has abdicated its status of being one of the darlings of global investors to become closer to emerging Russia and China via the BRICS, it would be reasonable to expect that the West would react. Brazil is by no means an insignificant country and its success or its failure, the paths it chooses, will affect the world’s power brokerage and relevant on how the international economic machinery develops. It is reasonable to believe that it would not only be the Brazilian political opposition who would benefit from a possible failure in the two biggest sporting events in the World?
In its quest to “deliver the goods” Brazil has two unlikely allies FIFA and the IOC. Both of these organizations are aware that over-commercialization is turning their events dull and are making a great effort to maintain a business as usual approach for the events to be a success. The IOC has already threatened to make the next Olympics in London, which is highly improbable, but FIFA is the one who has more to lose, if a world cup in Brazil, the country of football, is a flop they will not be able to do much to keep the audiences for the next one.
All in all, the heated debate on the advantages of a state administered economy versus one ruled by “business” that will happen in Brazil during the interlude of FIFA’s World Cup and the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics promises to be more interesting than what will happen inside the stadiums.
So what are they frustrated about? Are they as selfless as the activists who protest with an end in sight, whatever that end is? Or do wealthy Brazilians voice their criticism out of sheer boredom?
My answer is that rich Brazilians are frustrated for being Brazilian. And they poison the tone about…
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The Hotel Sol de Ipanema faced the beach almost on the corner of Rua Montenegro (which has since been renamed Rua Vinicius de Moraes), and it was a convenient landmark where my friends and I could all meet up at the beach. One Saturday morning, Edu and I were sitting by the sea in front of the hotel when we saw a lanky but toned guy in his forties wearing a crochet thong and playing beach tennis. His presence and his scandalously minuscule bathing attire drew our attention and, after looking at him for some time, Edu turned to me and asked, “Hey, isn’t that Gabeira?”
Edu was referring to Fernando Gabeira, one of the former exiles who had been involved in the 1969 kidnapping in Rio of the American ambassador, Charles Elbrick. In his best-selling autobiography, O que é Isto, Companheiro? (“What is this, Comrade?”), in addition to the insider’s revelations of the mythical world of a so-called “terrorist” organization, Gabeira declared in his book that during those “heroic” days he was actively bisexual, something scandalous for the left and for the right alike. Riding a wave of fame, Gabeira launched an alternative path for opposing the system that he termed the “politics of the body”. What he really meant by this is still debated, but a political statement that seemed to prescribe being true to yourself and engaging in a lot of sex as a path to revolution went down well in Ipanema.
Rio’s beaches had, and still have, an unofficial schedule and a territorial partition that allowed one to say, “Tell me when and where you sun bathe and I will tell you who you are.” At dawn, the fishermen from Copacabana now shared the coast with surfers, yoga and Tai Chi aficionados, while joggers and cyclists paraded on the promenade. Later in the morning, as when I was a child, the ownership of the beach shifted to families, encompassing children, mums, grandmas, nannies, dogs and all other sectors of Brazilian domestic life. Around midday, they went home and from then on the more interesting people who stayed on gave Rio’s beaches sub-divisions further definition.
In Ipanema, there were unofficial spots for bodybuilders, Jiu-Jitsu fighters and yuppies. Other stretches became known as an extension of the gay scene, there was a surfers’ point, an area for the favelados, one for white-collar workers, another for sex professionals (not coincidentally the same as that for tourists), and an area reserved for football players and their groupies. Then there was Posto Nove, the beach outpost attracting followers of 1960s and 70s lifestyles and ideologies.
After the Pier, the surfers point in the early 1970s, had lost its usefullness, trawlers and cranes had done the job of demolishing the structure. From then on the Nove inherited the status of being the beach’s permanent Woodstock, the prime meeting place for artists, musicians, actors and intellectuals – both those already established and also those who never would. With the recent political freedom, came the flags of the newly legalized leftist parties flapping above the beautiful people. Meanwhile the boys from Batista’s improvised bar ran back and forth to serve beer, snacks and the tastiest caiprinhas found on any of Rio’s beaches.
There was a tacit understanding between the police and the beach-goers that they didn’t trouble us as long as we didn’t create trouble for them elsewhere on the beach. However, during election campaigns things sometimes changed when traditionalist candidates would push the police to clampdown on pot smokers, but when raids occurred, the crowd would boo them away and arrests were rare.
A typical day at Posto Nove was like being at a club or at a laid-back rock concert. Whether or not we had met before, we would chat between us about women, football and politics, and when the sun grew too hot or if the conversation became boring there was always the sea enticing us. As the day wore on, we took long swims, did some body surfing and played beach tennis. When the sun started to go down people began leaving the beach. By five in the afternoon the oceanfront was much emptier and the atmosphere became more intimate and serene. The milder sun, the afternoon breeze, the peace that came after a day spent in the open air and the beauty of the place and of the people made the Nove a magical spot.
The beach sessions would end with everyone giving the sun a standing ovation as it slowly disappeared over the horizon. After that, we all went our separate ways, normally going home for a nap before heading out to one of the parties or gigs that we had talked about on the beach earlier in the day where our free-spirited, suntanned and youthful carioca tribe would reconvene.
I was heading home from a rock concert at one of the main venues in Rio at the time, the Teatro Tereza Rachel in Copacabana. It was around midnight and I heard someone in the crowd say that John Lennon had been shot dead. No one knew whether to take him seriously, although everyone went home thinking about that disturbing possibility. The following morning, the newspapers confirmed what we had heard. Everyone was in a state of shock. Television reporters interviewed ordinary members of the public in the streets and famous artists, all of whom had tears in their eyes. For me, this final breakup of the Beatles seemed to interconnect with the extreme situation that I had experienced at the Noites Cariocas and another news that had also shocked us – the imprisonment of a couple of school friends for cannabis possession. On top of this there was Sarah’s dramatic split with her long-time fiancé. It didn’t make much sense, but the ripples from a wave of changes seemed to be affecting everything.
In the wider context, the Brazilian middle class had started to wake up to the fact that the lack of an alternative to the military-led government was a problem. The imprisonment, torture and then murder under the guise of “suicide” in 1975 of the distinguished journalist Wladmir Herzog in São Paulo triggered an unprecedented wave of indignation and numerous well-known political, cultural and religious figures expressed their dismay in newspapers across the country. On the other hand, now that no one could reasonably fear there was a risk of Latin America’s largest country becoming a Soviet satellite, the status of the Brazilian generals abroad was changing. Political movers and shakers in Washington as well as key figures of multinational corporations with economic interests in the country began to see Brazil’s brutal and corrupt military dictatorship as an unnecessary embarrassment.
Sensing the changing mood of their former supporters both inside and outside the country, the military took measures for appeasement. The most significant gesture was to grant amnesty to most political prisoners and to permit exiles to return home. Even if this move helped the military to remain in power, the policy of abertura politica – or political opening – was a victory for the opposition.
Overnight, the political dissidents went from being a virtually taboo subject to being courted as celebrities and hailed as heroes. They were in the press, on chat shows and their memoirs became best-sellers. Reading them we found out that they were regular upper middle class guys like us who had got carried away by the political turmoil of the times. In their books, we learned that some of them had spent periods training as guerrillas in Cuba and elsewhere abroad, before discretely infiltrating Brazil, where they took up arms, robbed banks and kidnapped important people. After the successful clamp down of their organizations, the ones who survived and went into exile were obliged to re-think their positions and to consider their next moves.
In a similar way to the artists, after the festivities for their return died off, they settled back in Brazil with more practical agendas. Many of the former exiles, as well as militants who had managed to survive in Brazil, used their popularity to progress within mainstream politics. José Genoíno, Fernando Gabeira and Carlos Minc, for example, became senators or ministers, while eventually Dilma Rousseff would be elected as president. Other non-guerrilla exiles also returned to Brazil, taking centre-stage in the re-democratization process. These included the veteran politicians Leonel Brizola who would become the governor of the state of Rio de Janeiro, the architect Oscar Niemeyer and the anthropologist Darcy Ribeiro as well as other more centrist politicians such as the sociologist president Fernando Henrique Cardoso and the future leader of the PSDB, José Serra.
Although we admired most of these people, for my generation their presence opened up issues of identity. If we had not been active in the organised resistance but shared similar views on the dictatoraship, recognised the social unfairness around us and also wanted a better and fairer world, should we conclude that we were useless ? Had everything already been done? It was clear, that for them the fight was over. However, it was disappointing to see the people who we considered as legends using their past unashamedly to reach career advancements. Without understanding how a democracy works, to us, it seemed that, as ambitious political figures, they were keen to join something that, at least ideologically, we were resisting. The big unanswered question was how could we make a difference, and how should we position ourselves?
Because the dictatorship had simplified attitudes, the abertura politica brought new challenges. Until that moment, being for or against the regime placed everyone within an uncomplicated framework: depending on which side of the fence you stood, you could blame all the evils of the world either on the generals or on the communists. With the end of the military government now on the horizon, people were no longer confident as to where they stood politically and it would take some time for the country to achieve a state of political maturity.
It seemed obvious that the military would cling to power for as long as they realistically could. Everybody knew that by the time they handed back the power to the civilians, the economy would be on the ropes. For Brazilians at large, there were two pressing questions: in what state would the military return the country to the civilians, and what would our lives be like once the mounting economic crisis kicked in?
While Brazil’s economic well being looks promising in the short and in the medium run, things have been strange in the political arena. Earlier this year, during the Confederations football Cup, there was a raging wave of protests while, under the surface, there is political unrest that may erupt during the World Cup.
Any uninformed person would jump to the conclusion that the protests come from the hungry masses who are discontent with the government for privileging big contracts instead of spending money on hospitals, education, housing etc… It is true that many are not happy but no, this is not where the anger is coming from. The discontent is coming from the middle and upper middle classes. The typical protester is a young, white male with a good level of education and no economic upheaval to deal with.
In other words, the protests are coming from the right rather than from the left. In general, the vast majority of the Brazilians, the working class, do not have strong reasons to protest, a proof of this is that there are very few working class people in the protests. The statistics show that there has been an improvement in their standards of living; more jobs, more education, more consumption… the list is long. They have benefited from the policies of the current left wing party, the PT, that has been in power for around a decade and that will most probably win the next elections.
So what are the protests about? Ask the average middle class Brazilian, and he will answer that they are about corruption in the government, more specifically among members of the PT. This is where the argumentation gets bizarre, they do not mention corruption in other parties, which in many cases is more severe than in the PT and if you listen closely, they will describe corruption as an exclusivity of the Lula and the Dilma governments, a clear fallacy for anyone who knows anything about Brazil.
There will also be the technocrats who will say that they are annoyed at the enormous presence of the State in the economy. They will defend Brazil adopting an economic model closer to the precepts of Wall Street and of the City of London: leave everything to private enterprise; they have the most qualified people and they know what they are doing. However, this is not what the protest are about, the young people in the streets do not carry neo-conservative nor monetarists flags. These arguments are only being heard now when the economy is beginning to dip. It was not so when Brazil paid their gigantic external debt, fixed the hyperinflation that corroded Brazil in the 80’s and in the 90’s and when it became the darling of international investors. In fact, the last time anyone heard these voices was when they gave terrible advice to the military regime in tackling the economic crisis. Everyone knows that if it were for these people Brazil would never have climbed out of that hole.
The question still begs an answer, what are the protests about? It is our understanding that they are about anxiety and powerlessness in the middle classes. The moralistic crusade, the hatred towards the left, the privileging of the technical over the democratic process reverts us to the rise of fascism and Nazism in the 1930’s. The country that the PT constructed during its large mandate has helped the rich to get richer and has taken a huge portion of Brazilians out of poverty. Meanwhile, the PT’s traditional voting base, the urban middle class, has not received the benefits of the economic growth. In many ways, they feel betrayed and are now worried about what will happen after the World Cup and the Olympic Games.
Justified or not, the poison is in the air. The protests were violent and there may be an escalation during the World Cup, when the embarrassment for the Government and the international exposure will be at its greatest. There are many questions: No one knows what this new right wants, not even themselves. All we know is that there is a lot of irrational anger and that they want the PT out. Apart from this, there is no party behind them nor do they have any leadership or any defined goal. Never the less problems may arise when some better organized group or power will appropriate this energy and use it for nonconstructive purposes.
We find it strange that in a time when the western economies are going down the drain, some commentators still retain their colonialist ways of thinking that they know what is best for ex-emerging countries. The fact is that while the neo-liberals are try desperately to cling on to their failed theories, China and Russia are showing themselves more powerful than the west not only in economics but also in geo-politics. Strangely enough we don’t read articles in renowned magazines telling them what to do, after all they do not follow the neo-liberal hornbook, they are not democratic and at least Russia is as or more corrupt than Brazil. We also note that the “bastions” of laissez-fair and of incorruptibility applauded their government’s when they deplete their population’s wealth to save banks involved in a sort of corruption that overshadows what happens in Brazil by miles.
Despite all the boo-ha Brazil is still growing more that the west, and if there are no missteps they will continue to keep away from the Economist’s recipes for disaster and will follow, who knows?, the Chinese example. Actually it is good to note that China has now long surpassed the US as Brazil’s main commercial partner and that, by the way, Germany, who is leading the European recovery is by no means a neo-liberal place. There the government plays a big role harmonizing its country’s issues rather than attending to the issues of companies that “cannot fail”.
Anyway bellow goes an excellent article exposing who the Economist represents, and, in our view, who is sinking the West:
The institutional arrangements within the money management systems of global capital relentlessly seek ways to achieve maximum return on investment, and the structural conditions for manipulations—legal or not—are always open (Libor scandal). These institutions have become “too big to fail,” their scope and interconnections pressure government regulators to shy away from criminal investigations, much less prosecutions. The result is a semi-protected class of people with increasingly vast amounts of money, seeking unlimited growth and returns, with little concern for consequences of their economic pursuits on other people, societies, cultures, and environments.
One hundred thirty-six of the 161 core members (84 percent) are male. Eighty-eight percent are whites of European descent (just nineteen are people of color). Fifty-two percent hold graduate degrees—including thirty-seven MBAs, fourteen JDs, twenty-one PhDs, and twelve MA/MS degrees. Almost all have attended private colleges, with close to half attending the same ten universities: Harvard University (25), Oxford University (11), Stanford University (8), Cambridge University (8), University of Chicago (8), University of Cologne (6), Columbia University (5), Cornell University (4), the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania (3), and University of California–Berkeley (3). Forty-nine are or were CEOs, eight are or were CFOs; six had prior experience at Morgan Stanley, six at Goldman Sachs, four at Lehman Brothers, four at Swiss Re, seven at Barclays, four at Salomon Brothers, and four at Merrill Lynch.
People from twenty-two nations make up the central financial core of the Transnational Corporate Class. Seventy-three (45 percent) are from the US; twenty-seven (16 percent) Britain; fourteen France; twelve Germany; eleven Switzerland; four Singapore; three each from Austria, Belgium, and India; two each from Australia and South Africa; and one each from Brazil, Vietnam, Hong Kong/China, Qatar, the Netherlands, Zambia, Taiwan, Kuwait, Mexico, and Colombia. They mostly live in or near a number of the world’s great cities: New York, Chicago, London, Paris, and Munich.
Members of the financial core take active parts in global policy groups and government. Five of the thirteen corporations have directors as advisors or former employees of the International Monetary Fund. Six of the thirteen firms have directors who have worked at or served as advisors to the World Bank. Five of the thirteen firms hold corporate membership in the Council on Foreign Relations in the US. Seven of the firms sent nineteen directors to attend the World Economic Forum in February 2013. Seven of the directors have served or currently serve on a Federal Reserve board, both regionally and nationally in the US. Six of the financial core serve on the Business Roundtable in the US. Several directors have had direct experience with the financial ministries of European Union countries and the G20. Almost all of the 161 individuals serve in some advisory capacity for various regulatory organizations, finance ministries, universities, and national or international policy-planning bodies.
Estimates are that the total world’s wealth is close to $200 trillion, with the US and European elites holding approximately 63 percent of that total; meanwhile, the poorest half of the global population together possesses less than 2 percent of global wealth. The World Bank reports that, 1.29 billion people were living in extreme poverty, on less than $1.25 a day, and 1.2 billion more were living on less than $2.00 a day. Thirty-five thousand people, mostly young children, die every day from malnutrition. While millions suffer, a transnational financial elite seeks returns on trillions of dollars that speculate on the rising costs of food, commodities, land, and other life sustaining items for the primary purpose of financial gain. They do this in cooperation with each other in a global system of transnational corporate power and control and as such constitute the financial core of an international corporate capitalist class.
Western governments and international policy bodies serve the interests of this financial core of the Transnational Corporate Class. Wars are initiated to protect their interests. International treaties, and policy agreements are arranged to promote their success. Power elites serve to promote the free flow of global capital for investment anywhere that returns are possible.
Identifying the people with such power and influence is an important part of democratic movements seeking to protect our commons so that all humans might share and prosper.
The full, detailed list is online and in Censored 2014 from Seven Stories Press
Peter Phillips is professor of sociology at Sonoma State University and president of Media Freedom Foundation/Project Censored.
Brady Osborne is a senior level research associate at Sonoma State University.