As usual, tedious times and interesting events in Brazil. The stock market (BOVESPA) has gone on a tear and risen well over 30% since the beginning of the year. But Interim President is still struggling to get a handle on the economy, double digit unemployment, government spending and the long lasting recession. Some optimists see growth in 2017, but it probably more prudent to sit back and wait until the end of August to see if suspended President Dilma surprises everyone with a comeback. Or perhaps more importantly, if Interim President Temer can gain legitimacy. In the meantime, the Olympic Games officially start on Aug. 5 and most Brazilians are, for the moment, bored or upset. Even the mayor of Rio seems to have lost his enthusiasm. Newspapers and thrill seekers are searching every nook and cranny to find the presence of a terrorist with a group of 12 suspects arrested over the weekend. In the meantime, in Sao Paulo, kidnappers have taken F1 magnate, Bernie Ecclestone’s mother-in-law for ransom.
While it is not likely, a terrorist act is always a possibility in today’s world where just one distraught individual has the capability of creating major havoc. More likely, are the predictable missteps such as the one that resulted in the death of Juma, the Amazonian jaguar in the picture.
Looking beyond the Games and to the end of the year, here are the majors:
The Legacy: Rio’s planning for the World Cup and the Olympic Games started well over 10 years ago. The focus has been on monuments and transportation. Urban renewal of Praca Maua and adjacent areas shows promise. This old downtown area had been decadent for years and the new museums, parks, bike ways, light rail and some upscaling of business are positive on the cost benefit side. Barra da Tijuca and the Olympic Village are more questionable. The construction in western and most desired part of Rio will benefit the city’s upper and middle classes. It is true that private developers made tradeoffs to with the mayor to build the village but with the purpose of turning immense profits once the Games are finished. The public sector financed almost all of the infra-structure (subway, roads, water, sewage and security) for the wealthy while the slums are again left out except for questionable investments such as trams in the place of water and sewage. Some community mobilization and awareness took place around the removal of Vila Autodromo but it remains to be seen if there will be life after the Olympics for social movements. The spot light will be gone and it will be back to the day-to-day struggle.
On a larger scale, Brazil, in spite of the crisis, is among the few countries that have successfully hosted both the World Cup and the Olympics and the only nation in the Southern Hemisphere to have done so. The problems inherent in Third World Brazil are not going away. Inequality, violence, poverty, poor government management and a mentality that the state should solve everything are not changing. Still Brazilians will remember the Olympics favorably and will say: “We did it.”
The Economy: The international press is starting to promote Brazil’s bottoming out. After at least 3 years of clear economic decline, the cyclical nature of the market is bound to kick in. However, Brazil is only partially a market economy. While Temer has recruited his so-called “Dream Team” led by Finance Minister Henrique Meirelles, it remains to be seen if the current stock market rally will hold up if the government fails to rein in spending and the ongoing deficits send everything spiraling down again. Meirelles has talked a good game for international finance and the market but the government has not achieved any of the promised fiscal reforms. The question remains if the honeymoon will last beyond September.
The Polity: Dilma’s ousting now appears a foregone conclusion. At the same time, venal Eduardo Cunha has been ousted from the presidency of the lower chamber. Renan Calheiros, the Senate President, continues in spite of also being notoriously corrupt. Municipal elections will be held in October and it unlikely that there will be much renewal. Brazilians, at this point, are too cynical and tired. People don’t believe politicians but still vote for the same old figureheads that seem to offer a personal touch, an immediate promise of a job, running water, or a clean-up of crime and corruption and maybe a place in heaven as the so-called “evangelicals” often do. The rigid and expensive system favors the incumbents and those who gain a hold through having a large war chest and some form of notoriety. Reform depends on changing the Constitution and the politicians know that the status quo is probably more beneficial than tinkering. So nothing happens.
Civil Society: Before the World Cup, the PT government was caught off guard by major street mobilizations and protests. These continue in a diminished form. With the economy sinking, it is more important to make sure you keep your job or spend your time hustling than it is to go out to protest or promote. It may be the case that there will be a backlash against the government, if some sort of carnage occurs during or after the games, but barring this, people are tired and skeptical. At the same time, Brazil’s still growing access to the internet favors democratic participation and diversity of opinion. The problem is that just as off the net, Brazil’s low levels of education and paucity of critical thinking lead to the propagation of populist solutions that have immediate attraction but often long term negative implications. Fighting corruption continues to be a major theme but few make the connection between the need to build institutions, strengthen basic education and expanding and deepening popular participation through the formal political process.
The Olympic torch may be the light at the end of the tunnel. However, the torch will be moving on and Brazil may still have to face some years in the dark.