Life and Death in Rio: Marielle Franco

IMG_0887Source: author’s photo of Veja magazine cover

I arrived in Rio on Mar. 14, 2018 the same day that Marielle Franco was assassinated. Unless you reside in Rio, Marielle was not well known. Certainly she was not the national figure that she has become since her execution. Elected to the Rio City Council with 40 thousand plus votes, she was the 5th leading vote getter and seen as a woman of great political potential. She was different from traditional politicians. Ms. Franco was born in the slums, was mixed race, and open and comfortable in her homosexuality. She received her BA from Rio Catholic University had master’s degree and had published on race, gender and human rights. On the left of the political spectrum, she courageously spoke against political and economic inequality, crimes perpetuated against the poor and black and to a significant extent against police brutality in the slums. On the night of her execution, she was returning from a meeting of black women about discrimination, struggles and the means to empowerment. In sum, she was a rising voice seeking to be heard in the cacophony of Rio’s decadent and corrupt political environment.

Political assassinations have gradually become more common in Brazil but most are related to local disputes often among feuding and traditionally powerful dominant families. Marielle’s assassination reminds us more of the killings of Chico Mendes or Dorothy Stang in the more remote regions of Brazil with the almost total lack of institutionalized systems of law and order. While Rio is certainly a crime center and notoriously dangerous, almost all of the weekly double-digit death toll is that of young black men somehow caught up in territorial disputes over drugs, arms and the control of other criminal activities. The situation in Rio reached what many considered its limits in February of this year after an even greater crime surge during “Carnaval”. President Temer, looking to gain some political advantage, declared a military intervention and the Army assumed control of public security in Rio. Given the timing, Marielle’s shooting must be viewed as a serious challenge to the Army and, indeed, the President declared that the attack was aimed at Brazil’s democracy.

Brazil is formally a political democracy with regular elections and an active and fairly open press.  Brazilians regularly reject control although many long for an imagined but totally unreal security of the authoritarian rule by the Generals (1964-1985). On the other hand, all types of inequalities undermine Brazil’s formal political system and almost all institutions are tainted and function as might be expected in a poor underdeveloped country. The elite corporations depend upon extractive industries and a highly protected internal market that barely requires increased productivity or an informed and competent workforce.

As in the United States where mass killings fail to mobilize the electorate or create a critical mass for change, it is unfortunate that this most recent stain on Brazil will have much effect. True, there have been some important public manifestations and protests here and even abroad, but still Brazil is typically more passive than aggressive. Public rage can set a tone and the streets can grab the attention of the political class but thus far the beaches are more crowded than the squares. People are upset but outside of the social media channels, there are few suggestions that this tragic death will change anything. Thus those who planned and hired this hit have sent their message. They have intimidated, they have stated their case for the status quo of uncontrolled crime, violence and malfeasance which strain, stain and sustain Brazil’s political status quo.

Some suggest that Brazil’s violence has metastasized and will eventually lead to the death and collapse of the system. The problem with this view is that fails to account for the resilience of accommodation. People continue to accept criminality, inequality, stupidity and corruption as the norm. Live with it or leave.

Urucubaca, Systems and the Brazil Problem


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!

Teotihuacan, Mexico e Brasil


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.

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.