04/08/2017 11:19

Aercio Barbosa de Oliveira¹

August marks a year since the Olympic Games were held in the city of Rio de Janeiro and, once again, social organizations, people’s movements and many researchers got it right: the Olympics and megaevents in general helped boost the income and wealth of very few people.

Protest during the Olympic Games opening ceremony in Rio. (Photo: Rosilene Miliotti/FASE)

Those who visited the city during the games, went to arenas to watch competing athletes and participated in some of the hundreds of shows and cultural activities could hardly avoid positive feelings and thoroughly enjoying the immediate events. Even ardent critics of sports megaevents had ambiguous reactions to such a contagious wave of enthusiasm. The city and State governments at the time – recalling that Dilma Rousseff at the opening, like Michel Temer at the closing, were both booed – tried to make hay from the population’s majority approval of the Olympic Games. All too soon, though, their misleading propaganda and information came to light, clearly exposed by facts.

Recent corruption revelations from Operation Carwash and related investigations have confirmed earlier warnings. In Rio de Janeiro, absurdly over-priced contracts for the 2007 Pan-American Games had already come out. Now a series of megaevents, “crowned” by the 2016 Olympic Games, have left extravagant legacies to part of the formal political system and to top building contractors, like those responsible for demolishing and rebuilding Maracanã Stadium in exchange for “donations” by public authorities of land in areas soon to gain value through real-estate speculation.

Protest during the inauguration of the VLT light-rail train in Rio. (Photo: Rosilene Miliotti/FASE)

Despite all due presumptions of innocence, the evidence obtained through plea-bargaining agreements with felons and accomplices seems likely to be close to the truth. One revelation, for example, was the Urban Consortium Operation (OUC) financial transaction, in Rio’s downtown port area, known as “Porto Maravilha,” involving public funds from the Length-of-Service Guarantee Fund (FGTS), the Stock Market and considerable slush funds from our corrupt and decrepit political system.

The revelations show those contracts’ first concern as anything but the public interest. The outcome has implicated both public and private players who filled the bank accounts of politicians and their parties in order to stretch the profits of contractors like OAS, Odebrecht and Carioca, and in all likelihood of other collaborators as well.

The facts thus exposed underline the degree to which urban renewal through megaevents did nothing but shore up the profits of building contractors, hotels, realtors and transportation equipment suppliers for the subway, light-rail vehicles, cable cars, etc. Urban mobility projects, in fact, were nothing but attacks on the population and its intelligence. Take, for example, the disproportionate amount of money spent on the subway’s Line 4 (from Nossa Senhora da Paz station, in Ipanema, to Jardim Oceânico, in Barra da Tijuca), compared to investments in passenger trains from the Central do Brasil station to poor suburban areas in northern Rio de Janeiro and the Baixada Fluminense or even to passenger ferryboat systems. Even today, authorities push forward with the Transbrasil building program along Avenida Brasil, seen as a blatantly outdated approach to improving urban mobility in Greater Rio de Janeiro.

Successive governments have invested in high-profit, short-term public works to spend as much as they can on promoting real-estate speculation. To that end, Rio de Janeiro became the scenario for a mega-symbiosis between public funds and private interests, with the Growth Acceleration Program (PAC), the discovery of the off-shore Pre-Salt oil basin and the city being chosen to host mega events that stretched from 2007 to 2016. The sky was the limit for jacking up the profits of major economic and financial agents. Supposedly public interests were privatized through a well-aligned collusion among federal, State and municipal authorities.

Protest during the Olympics opening ceremony. (Photo: Nuria Luz/Jogos da Exclusão)

Following the final mega-event, the 2016 Olympics, the legacy for the population of Rio de Janeiro has been the militarization of their State. As a result, people who live in favela shanty-towns and poor, distant suburbs continue to be murdered and left without rights. Youth, and especially the black youth, find their freedom of movement suppressed. Families evicted from their neighborhoods to make way for major economic investments have seen their lives fall apart both emotionally and materially. Many of the buildings put up for the events, such as sports arenas, have been abandoned and left to crumble. A financial imbroglio involving the State Company for the Port Region’s Urban Development, the federal bank Caixa Econômica Federal, the government of the City of Rio de Janeiro and the “Porto Novo” Consortium (private contractors OAS, Odebrecht and Carioca), has left the OUC section of the city’s port entirely disowned. Urban mobility continues to be a mess for Rio and Greater Rio, as subway Line 4 is underused, most of the Supervia suburban trains are in a precarious state and people who have no choice but to drive or take a bus down Avenida Brasil face traffic jams every day due to unfinished public works.

In short, the only legacy favorable to the people’s movements and critical urban thinkers has been their experience organizing, mobilizing and researching to confront such wide-spread violations and exclusion. The movements’ struggles to defend rights were coherent and contentious, as in the campaign “Rio 2016 – The Exclusion Games.” We refused to bow to the megalomaniac delirium of the Lula and Dilma Rousseff governments, which accused us of being both voices of doom and childish Chicken Littles. Our criticism was aimed at how those mega-events would be, and actually were, carried out. It did not take long, unfortunately, for history to show how right we had been. Even before the Olympic Games came to a close, the media, Congress and part of the Judiciary had teamed up to strike further blows to our rights.

On the balance, there were more violations than victories during the mega-events. Yet significant progress was made, for example by the residents of Morro da Providência, in downtown Rio de Janeiro, who blocked evictions, and families who stayed put in the Vila Autódromo, in western Rio. More than ever, social mobilization allied with the production of academic and popular knowledge was fundamental in allowing us to confront widespread violations and suppressions of rights.

Hopefully, the lessons of those megaevents will be taken to heart by progressive, people’s parties that take office in the future, while motivating us to keep the social struggles alive.

[1] Program Coordinator, FASE Rio de Janeiro.