Urucubaca, Systems and the Brazil Problem

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Urucubaca is a wonderful word often use in Brazil. Sometimes it is just a lack of luck but it also implies the existence of an evil eye and the casting of a spell. The solution is to be cleansed and pay tribute to otherworldly figures.

Brazil’s current situation might represent the lack of luck. President Dilma is in New York paying her tributes, anxious to escape impeachment. If she could only bring the Orixas and other gods to her rescue, she might have a chance but…the spell she suffers under is a heavy one and it looks like her urucubaca may be too strong.

While she is out of the country, Brazil continues to suffer. Yesterday, April 21, a holiday for getting to the beach and relaxing, the beautiful cliff hanging new bike path connecting Leblon to Sao Conrado collapsed in a high tide with strong waves. At least 2 people were killed and others were injured. The “ciclovia”, described by mayor Eduardo Paes, as the most beautiful in the world was suppose to be another showcase of Rio’s readiness to host the Olympics.

Today in Sao Paulo, another building collapsed and killed at least one person. More urucubaca.

The problem however goes beyond bad luck and, in reality, is systemic. Brazil has a long-standing aspiration to world-class status. The World Cup, the Olympics and 2010 Economist cover were all supposed to be indicators of the country’s success in achieving that goal. Like construction projects that sometimes fail, the aspiration has crashed and the country is keenly aware of the distance it must travel from its current reality and its future as a relevant power. Instead the system languishes and declines and Brazil moves from dream to nightmare.

In the rush to succeed, many have cut corners and resorted to the famous or perhaps infamous “jeitinho”. Brazilians have always been good at improvising and while they love to plan, the need to get, achieve, gain, win and take advantage has put to waste the good intentions. Instead of speaking of the “Brasil maravilha” (wonderful Brazil), the feeling is not even a miracle can provide respite.

The news today in Rio reports a close association between the mayor and the builder of the collapsed bike path. In technical competence and experience, Brazilians know better and have a long, solid and indeed outstanding record in building reinforced concrete structures. There is great pride in its stadiums, in Brasilia, in the Rio-Niteroi Bridge and basically anywhere you find Niemeyer project or a Brazilian engineer or architect. But the mixture of tradition, personal relationships, opportunity, greed, cronyism and closed door back slapping have deepened and entrenched a long standing practice of illicit innovation associated with outright corruption.

Now, it seems that outright avarice has penetrated too deeply. Jacques Warner, Dilma’s former chief of staff once commented, to the effect, that those who had never previously tasted honey, when they do so for the first time get sticky fingers. Perhaps the comment was a Freudian slip or made in a careless fashion but it can be taken to reflect disgust and disappointment with how the PT took over the State apparatus to its private advantage. The State no longer provides minimum basic services in health, education and security but instead has become the source of income for interests that have taken over its mechanisms. Bribes get approvals and the consequences are readily apparent. Things collapse and not only physical structures.

President Dilma rails against the coup. She affirms her personal uprightness but she has allowed and turned a blind eye to all of the malfeasance at the top and we see the results. In quality control, the term “stacking of tolerances” is used to illustrate how minimum errors can lead to major mistakes. Dilma has allowed the slippage to accumulate to a point that she can no longer control.   While it is not clear what technical errors resulted in the tragic deaths on the collapsed bike path, it is transparent that President has failed. She refuses, as does her party, to take responsibility for the crimes, mistakes and errors that have happened on her watch. Thus, she reaps the consequences of impeachment, in spite of no direct proven personal criminal activity on her part. Simultaneously, people suffer and die with the collapse of Brazil’s physical, political and management structures and systems. Urucubaca indeed!

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Teotihuacan, Mexico e Brasil

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Acabo de chegar do México e como mostra a foto tive a oportunidade de escalar as Pirâmides do Sol e da Lua. São monumentos que testemunham a civilização pré-colombiana e ao mesmo tempo lembram do ocaso e declínio. No topo, onde piso na foto foi local de sacrifícios. Os sacerdotes arrancavam o coração e outra partes do corpo de guerreiros conquistados na tentativa de agradar os deuses.

Pisando no México, não podemos deixar de fazer comparações com o Brasil e o momento brasileiro me parece que tem uma mistura de antropofagia e sacrifício. Ha agora uma espécie de corrida para entregar e sacrificar. As delações tomaram um ritmo próprio e não ha um freio ate que chegue a um fim que ainda falta definir.

Não acreditava no impeachment da Dilma, mas a partir de hoje já temos sua renuncia branca em favor do Lula. Lula, por sua vez, assume um ministério, segundo a oposição para safar da justiça, ou de acordo com sua própria justificativa para defender as conquista sociais que sustentaram sua popularidade durante dois mandatos. Como em tudo uma mistura de justificativas “lógicas”.

Talvez não convém entender o momento no Brasil. Os fatos, as surpresas, e as interpretações estão chegando com uma rapidez que vamos precisar de muito tempo para desenroscar. Só nas últimas 3 semanas, passamos por 3 Ministros de Justiça e parece me que o Nelson Barbosa não vai emplacar nem um semestre como Ministro de Fazenda.

Se Dilma sair ou se Lula for preso, temos que esperar para ver. Sou totalmente contra uma ruptura institucional ou qualquer solução casuística. E’ muitas vezes preferível para as instituições e a nação que cheguemos as eleições de 2018. Entretanto, se houver uma mudança antes, a mudança tem que respeitar o processo legal baseado na Constituição sem as soluções nefastas que os militares e civis golpistas impuseram em 1964. Não enxergo,como o PT, uma nefasta e vasta conspiração de golpista “pero que hay brujas las hay”.  Todo cuidado e’ pouco.

Economicamente e talvez socialmente, o México no momento esta’ conseguindo superar seu passado um pouco melhor do que o Brasil. O Presidente Enrique Pena Nieto não e’ popular mas tem bem mais respaldo do que a Dilma. A economia, embora dependente da economia americana, avança ao poucos mas o México já supera o Brasil em quase todos os indicadores econômicos e sociais.   É’ curioso o vai e vem das duas maiores economias da America Latina. Todavia, `a Pena Neto falta legitimidade e forca da sociedade civil para enfrentar os narcos e crime organizado. Embora a recaptura de El Chapo ajudou um pouco, os cartéis dominam áreas significativas e seus tentáculos afetam muitos locais no interior e ate’ na Cidade do México. Grave também, Pena Nieto não consegue ou não quer desvendar o caso da chacina dos estudantes. Falando em chacina, fiz questão de passar em Tlalteloco para lembrar o massacre de 68 quando na véspera das Olimpíadas o governo Mexicano massacrou dezenas de estudantes e civis e depois tentou, sem êxito, encobrir o evento.

Graças a Deus, o Brasil normalmente não tem tantos assassinatos num só dia igual aos perpetuados pelos soldados mexicanos em 68 mas vejo que o Beltrame esta reforçando o policiamento no Rio diante o aumento de crime na rua. O resultado será a continuidade de fins de semana com invasões nas favelas e o recolhimento de cadáveres e vitimas. Brasil, Rio e São Paulo são geralmente mais violentos do que a Cidade do México embora quando as gangues mexicanas organizadas querem matar não tem receio de usar requintes de tortura e matar em grandes números. Todavia isso não acontece no Brasil. O que dizer: um empate. Esperamos que antes ou durante as Olimpíadas não ocorre nenhum desastre, principalmente provocado pela forcas do Estado. E’ a primeira vez que as Olimpíadas são realizadas na America Latina depois de 1968.   Será que o México estava melhor preparado ha 48 anos atrás? Ou o mundo mudou?

Fora um relativo equilíbrio na violência, México esta com um quadro institucional um pouco mais estável. Ha escândalos mas são menos “calientes” comparado com o Brasil. Talvez porque a justiça brasileira conseguiu gradativamente em algumas áreas um quadro de profissionais respaldados pela lei e pelo respeito aos procedimentos legais. A imprensa também embora dominados pelos grandes monopólios da mídia brasileira e’ ainda mais independente e menos intimidado do que a Mexicana. Matam mais jornalistas no México todo ano do que em 10 anos no Brasil.

America Latina, Brasil e México regiões de tantas aspirações e tanta possibilidade continuam aquém da expectativa. Adianta culpar as elites? Resolve algo culpando o capital e os banqueiros. Deve-se acusar a classe media? E’ a falta de educação e cultura ou herança do passado? São os problemas geopolíticos e o imperialismo? Muito pano para manga e muitas discussões a resolver.  Mas onde esta o quadro para ações coerentes e legitimas.

Vamos conseguir entender o mistério da realidade e do misticismo, do Sebastianismo, do Lulismo? Só os grandes autores tipo Gabo conseguem desvendar? Não sei se e’ possível. O Brasil de hoje demonstra como “gênios políticos” como Lula e muitos assessores inteligentes estão acabando de se enroscar. O triste final que pinta no horizonte, talvez seja uma bela alvorada mas falta tempo e paciência para aqueles que esperam.

Security and Safety at Rio’s Olympics

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I’m frequently asked if Rio is dangerous. While understandable, this question always bothers me. I have friends living in Rio who take all sides on the issue of safety. Their positions range from panic to mild paranoia.   Mild is about as good as it gets. It can be thought of as the normal urban dweller’s awareness and caution. People check out their surroundings, do not venture into certain areas, avoid exposing themselves to perceived danger and make sure that everything that might attract a criminal is dealt with in a fairly rational way. For example, people lock their cars and drive with the windows up. Women protect themselves as they see fit given the situation, which might mean not going out alone. On the mild paranoia side, this is standard behavior for any big city.

On the other end of the scale, I know people in Rio (Cariocas) who avoid going out at all costs. When they do go out, they have to engage in very strategic planning to make sure they are safe. This typically involves only using safe transportation, i.e. a personal car (the car may be armored) with a professional driver and advising friends and relatives of their plans and scheduled arrival and departure times in addition to using a cell phone with GPS locations, communication and emergency resources.

What passes for mild paranoia or panic is of course subjective. Some people, especially the young and sometimes the very poorest, have little fear either because they are fool hardy and feel invincible or have absolutely nothing to lose. The rest of us are somewhere in between. Fear often comes from lack of information, information overflow or sensationalism. Here is a link to the sensationalist Daily Mail (UK) that picked up this quite impressive and scary video: http://dailym.ai/1K5IZJu

The video is not staged but it is edited for its sensationalist effect. The reality is that yes there is street crime perpetrated typically by minors or young men and that awareness is needed. While bump, rob and run and theft of valuables are common, it is still the exception.

Here are some crime statistics and recommendations:

First, the good news: Intentional homicides per 100,000 are falling. The graph from Rio’s Institute of Public Safety (Instituto de Seguranca Publica) shows a decline in intentional homicides over the past 7 years. This information is for the state of Rio while the city of Rio de Janeiro shows a fairly constant rate of something over 1200 killings a year for the last 4 years.

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The US Department of State has a division dedicated to “Diplomatic Safety” that produces a summary covering different risks in the city of Rio de Janeiro including public safety, cyber crime and road safety. Here is the link: https://www.osac.gov/pages/ContentReportDetails.aspx?cid=19071

This report describes Rio’s overall crime rate as “Critical” and further states that “Crime is the principal threat to visitors in Brazil” and “ Low-level criminal activity continues to plague visitors and businesses alike. Drug-dealing, petty theft, and vehicle break-ins are common.” It also notes that assaults are common in beaches or parks especially after dark.

While the objective statistics and the US government evaluation do not paint an encouraging situation, the actual victimization of tourists during the Olympics may actually be less serious. There are a couple of reasons.

First, there will be enhanced security. Second people are being warned and often will be in groups. Third, many Brazilians will help tourists avoid trouble and have a good time. Obviously, if you want the excitement, it can be found. Here is a Brazilian App that is similar to Waze for crime. It can be downloaded to track crime: http://www.ondefuiroubado.com.br/rio-de-janeiro/RJ/

There are a couple of other things to take into account. Zika, Dengue and other mosquito-driven diseases are prevalent and one needs to be educated and informed.

The other great unknown is the possibility in today’s world of a terrorist shooting, bombing or assault of some kind. Brazil’s security apparatus has been collaborating with US and international agencies for a long time and are certainly aware of the potential of terrorism at a major event like the Summer Olympics. I trust nothing will happen and that perhaps as the Brazilian jokes goes: there are too many bureaucratic and infrastructure problems that impede business and terror alike.

Safe travels and enjoy the Games!  Hope to see you there.

 

Photo credit: DelsonSilvaAgnew

Going to the Rio Olympics: A Few Suggestions

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I have my tickets and I hope you do too. Brazil expects some 200,000 Americans and perhaps some 500,000 guests for the Games. That’s a lot of people and represents a substantial amount of money for Rio and Brazil.

If you are a permanent resident of Brazil, here is the site for purchasing tickets. (https://ingressos.rio2016.com/) There are a few tickets left. Just as in the World Cup, tour companies, ticket hackers and businesses jumped in early and scarfed up most of the seats either for corporate rewards and prestige or for future resale with a nice mark up.

If you are a US resident, here is the site for purchasing tickets. (https://www.cosport.com/) According to the Rio Olympic Organizing Committee, there is only one official ticket outlet. Nevertheless, if you Google ‘Olympic tickets’ there are hundreds of possibilities. A great majority offers legitimate tickets but a word of caution is always good.

Brazil is in the midst of a major political crisis accompanied by an economic depression. By August, when the games start, Brazil will be in its third year of negative growth and rising inflation.   It is also well known that street crime in Brazil is as bad and sometimes worse than New Orleans, Chicago or Baltimore. If you are fearful of nighttime escapades in those downtowns, you might want to think about how you are going calm your nerves in Rio’s urban jungle. Tourists can be prey, especially if you have a tendency to make yourself a mark. My recommendation is to leave the expensive watches, gold jewelry and other portable and more ostentatious valuables at home and go out with a group. Everyone in Brazil has a cell phone or two, so that is not a big deal but if you are careless your iPhone 6 might disappear and “find my phone” will not provide a remedy.

Adding injury to insult, Brazil is also the epicenter of the Zika crisis. This latest epidemic comes as the country finishes preparations for the games. Some sensationalists have proposed cancelling the games but, on the other hand, Carnaval has just ended and millions of revelers in shorts, bustiers, bikinis and flip-flops hit the streets in defiance of the aedes aegyptius mosquito. While real, Zika appears to be another of the many health worries in a shrinking and interconnected world. In the past, we have feared Ebola, chicken-driven influenza, Chikungunya, SARS, and a host of others. Zika creates panic because of its possible association with the occurrence of microcephalia. While the true impacts of the disease are still unfolding, it seems that Zika may be, in reality, less harmful in scale than say dengue fever or malaria, which follow the same transmission path.

So assuming you have tickets or can obtain them and you have gotten past the health, security, economic/social/political tension, you still need to find a place to stay. If you are with an organized tour group, most likely hotel reservations have been secured. If not, you may have trouble. Rio has lots of hotels but accommodations meeting international standards are lacking. All of the hotel rooms will be full and the Rio Olympic Committee has struck a deal with AirBnB in order to make up for the shortage. The issue with AirBnB will of course be location and if the accommodations actually meet the expectations of the traveler. Rio is a big city spread out along hundreds of kilometers of coast and mountains. So if you don’t know the neighborhoods and routes, you could wind up in the wrong place. Last year, drug dealers and bandits fatally shot a couple that accidentally drove into the gang lord’s turf attempting to follow instructions with a GPS application. Aside from possible danger, roads are normally clogged and traffic flows slowly.   Just as an example, from the Windsor Hotel in Copacabana/Leme to the Olympic Village, it is only about 12 miles. This trip could take as little as 25 minutes or as long as a couple of hours.   Also what are you going to do if inhabitants of Rocinha, a favela community that sits abreast of the route, decide to shut down the roadway as has happened in the past?

Getting around physically and maneuvering the cultural challenges of a big Latin American city are important considerations.  Buy hey, it is the Olympics and Rio.  Once you are there, aside from the sports events, Rio has lots and lots of attractions. The physical beauty is spectacular and trips to Corcovado and Pao de Acucar are almost minimum requirements for photo ops. Pedra da Gavea, Tijuca Forest and the Botanical Gardens are also high on the list of places to see and this, of course, goes without mentioning the beaches. But again remember to plan.  During the Games, waiting for the trams that take you up to Corcovado or Sugar Loaf may involve lines of more than 3 to 4 hours. No fun!

Eating, drinking, and hanging out are basic parts of Carioca (residents of Rio) life. But as a gringo, how do you know where to go? Obviously, there are tour guides, Yelp, books, magazines and more information than you can process on the Internet. Still, it is best to find and hang out with locals who can make recommendations and engage in these activities with you. So with 6 months to go, it is time to build your network through social media and see whom you might find compatible.

For people in the know and people with reliable contacts and set ups, the Games are going to be very special and an amazing amount of fun. But if you arrive and you are not well prepared, then the logistics and the confusion of Rio may sap away all your energy and you could come away feeling bad. Plan, be flexible and enjoy the Brazilians, the fun and the Games.

Boa Sorte or Good Luck!!!

 

Back from Brazil: A Few Impressions Before Year’s End

I recently returned from a little less than 3 weeks in Brazil.   I visited Brasilia, Belo Horizonte, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro while there.  Most of my travel was by air but I also traveled by bus. I noticed that in the last 10 years  Sao Paulo’s Tiete bus station, which handles more passengers than Sao Paulo’s international airport, is also cleaner, better organized and seems to have more resources.  We will see if this changes as some airports move from Infraero to private administration.  Created in 1972, Infraero is a government agency responsible for administering Brazil’s biggest commercial airports.

With the dollar buying about 2.3 reais, I found pricing in Brazil somewhat improved over a year earlier.  A 20 km (12 mile) taxi ride comes out to about 35 to 40 reais.  Cheaper than in the US.  For example a short ride from the Las Vegas Airport to Caesars Palace on the Strip is 17 dollars and less than half the distance.  Restaurants in Rio and Sao Paulo were about the same as those of equivalent quality in the US, although I think the sushi I had in Zona Sul Rio was a bit more expensive than sushi here in California.

The airports were busy but certainly working and all of my flights were on time.  The detail is that there are not enough gates so you wind up bussed to the plane on the tarmac.  And the baggage claim areas are undersized so there are people standing 3 to 4 deep on a normal flight and a normal day trying to get their bags. The baggage is transferred even more slowly than say here in San Diego.  So the conclusion is: Imagina na Copa:  Just imagine how it will be during the World Cup. The Confins Airport (Belo Horizonte) is undergoing a cosmetic remodel of the arrival areas for cars, buses and pedestrians but I did not see any addition to the total of only 9 gates.  Congonhas in Sao Paulo always seems to require 2 to 4 gate changes for a departure so you need to pay some attention.  Santos Dumont Airport in Rio seemed functional enough, except for the baggage claim (again) and the long taxi lines.

I did not witness any arrastoes (robbery sweeps on beaches or in restaurants), any protests, or acts of anarchy.  Public transportation on both the  subway and buses was normal (meaning overcrowded during rush hour, adequate off peak).  There is a lot of construction going on in Ipanema and Leblon (both in Rio) for subway expansion and this is causing some traffic issues but generally there is decent (for Brazil) segregation of the work sites from the public thoroughfares.

For me, this means Brazil will run a fun and successful World Cup.  However, media seeking groups will attempt to capitalize on the event for promoting specific agendas.  The construction projects or urban improvements, especially in Rio for the  Cup and the Olympics, are controversial but overall something is happening which in the end I think is good for both the old downtown around Praca Maua and the west side of the city in Barra.  Certainly, the developers and real estate people are having a hay day.

Brazil is certainly open for business. All of the dynamism and activity going on there is quite exciting.  Having said that, President Dilma faces a tough 2014.  Brazil’s base line interest rate just went up to double digits again today because of major concerns about inflation by the central bank.  The interest rate increase means the public sector has to allocate more resources to debt service and therefore has less for investment.  As a result, Brazil continues to seek foreign investment. There have been some cosmetic improvements to attract more investors. Still, many basic and cumbersome bureaucratic inhibitors remain in place.

Rio Close Olympic Stadium

Rio’s mayor announced this week the indefinite closing of the Estadio Joao Havelange, popularly known as the Engenhao.  The stadium was inaugurated in 2007 for the Pan American games and has been used regularly since then for football (soccer for Americans) and concerts.  After only 6 years of use, the stadium appears much older and run down. The main problem is that the roof could collapse given the right combination of wind and temperatures.  As things tend to fall down and kill people in Brazil, witness the hillsides in the rains and the collapsing building in downtown Rio. Mayor Paes’ decision, while not popular, is most certainly correct and prudent.

The international press, as it is wont to do, is reporting this as a major embarrassment to the local Olympic Committee, the city and the country as a whole.  The Brazilian press, on the other hand, is pretty much taking this in stride.  There are reports that it could be fixed in a matter of months.  There are comments that we still have over 3 years to the games, so no big deal.  In the meantime, the public sector and Clube Botafogo de Futbol e  Regatas, (literally a rowing club morphed into a football team) are left holding the bag.  After the first construction company dropped out alleging it could not finish the project in time, the Odebrecht Consortium took over but demanded it could be held responsible for project defects such as the problems with the roof that now have caused the closure.  So the public sector, read City of Rio, will pay the duck (pagar o pato, as we say in Portuguese.)  Botafogo is on the hook for rent and the loss of revenue since the stadium can not be used.

When the stadium was finished in 2007, there were many complaints about a shoddy finish and cosmetic defects.  Now the place could fall down.  Some will blame the PT, some will blame the PMDB party, which has run Rio.  But in the end, it is just Brazil.  Hopefully, and in all likelihood, the thing will get fixed in time for the Olympic Athletic Competition.  It may be done as a jeitinho brasileiro but it actually could get done right.  The old struggle between the modern and the archaic in the Brazilian context.