From Dave Zirin's newest book, Brazil's Dance with the Devil: The World Cup the Olympics and the Fight for Democracy, available now. We'll be running excerpts throughout the World Cup.
One of the main focuses of World Cup and Olympics development appears to be creating physical space between the favelas and the wealthy areas. This process is slightly more complicated in Rio, where the favela plans operate on numerous fronts. In tourist zones, there is a full-court press to pacify, sanitize, and Disneyfy the favelas. The goal is to incorporate them into the city, open them up to the formal market, and slowly gentrify them. This process involves evicting the pesky people who have to live in the favelas, the favelados, who are being pushed out to the distant edges of the city and beyond. To connect these people to their jobs, a new bus line is being built—and its construction is also displacing people.
"Now we have BRT, Bus Rapid Transit," João said to me. (Yes, its name is in English.) "We don't need to spoil [the wealthy areas] with another favela. It means that rich people can live their lives without acknowledging the slums on the hill. . . . It will be like magic: the favela where one in five of us live disappears, and the people disappear as well."
This accelerated change from Third-World city to First-World economy is also fundamentally changing the time-honored ways Brazil does business, known as the "Brazilian cost"—a system involving patronage, bribes, personal connections, and, if you are so inclined, charity and a helping hand. As Larry Rohter wrote, "There is a growing tension between the old highly personal way of doing things and the new, which calls for impartiality." In neoliberal Brazil, the worst part of the Brazilian cost—the cronyism and corruption—remains, while the part that emphasizes the humanity of everyone involved, even at the expense of efficiency and the bottom line, is gone.
As Graça da Guarda, a guide at a local museum, said to me, "Our whole city is going to became just a venue for mega-events and the price we are being asked to pay is the price of evicting people. . . . Even when Brazil was at its most impoverished, when we had the highest poverty rates in the world, there was this thing called a legitimate middle-class existence. Now the mere thought of that is a joke." Not long after we spoke, during the stadium protests of 2013, the so-called "middle classes" hit the streets out of fear for their own survival. Their fears are grounded in the changing world around them. As the New York Times noted, Rio's mayor, Eduardo Paes, "is saying all the right things about combating sprawl, beefing up mass transit, constructing new schools, and pacifying and integrating the favelas, where one in five city residents lives, with the rest of the city. But as months of street protests illustrate, progressive ideals run up against age-old, intractable problems in this city where class difference and corruption are nearly as immovable as the mountains. This is a city divided on itself." The Times is correct that the city "is divided on itself," but it is incorrect to ascribe progressive ideals to Paes and the integration of the favelas. Instead, Paes's model of urban planning has far more in common with the Times's own backyard, New York's Times Square, and former mayor Michael Bloomberg's gentrification mission to build a city that can only be enjoyed as a "luxury good."
This effort to turn Rio into a Bloomberg-esque "luxury good" is seen not only in the spiraling real-estate prices, constant construction, and agita-producing upheaval, but also in the presence of police officers calmly patrolling these areas with body armor and machine guns. The most heavily armed of these watchmen are overseeing a four-billion- dollar redevelopment project surrounding Rio's port. This project aims to take a historic, ethnically mixed neighborhood defined by cobblestone and masonry and turn it into what is being called "Little Manhattan," a commercial real-estate hub anchored by something ominously called the Museum of Tomorrow. It speaks volumes that the Museum of Tomorrow will be lavishly funded, while a museum that aims to examine Brazil's past at that same port operates as a bare-bones operation and a labor of duty and love.
Dave Zirin is the Sports Editor at the Nation Magazine. He hosts Edge of Sports Radio on Sirius XM and co-hosts The Collision on WPFW with Etan Thomas. Brazil's Dance with the Devil: The World Cup the Olympics and the Fight for Democracy is his eighth book about the intersection of sports and politics. You can follow him on Twitter @EdgeofSports.
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