Having already failed, the Rio Olympics may now succeed

Paulo Sotero – The Financial Times, 07/25/2016

Desfile olímpico de alunos da rede municipal do Rio

A um ano dos Jogos Rio 2016, alunos e professores da rede municipal, participam de desfile olímpico no Parque Madureira, na zona norte da cidade (Tânia Rêgo/Agência Brasil)

Judging by media reports and official statements, this year’s Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro were a flop well before the August 5 opening ceremony. But if history is any guide, the games stand a reasonable chance of being seeing as satisfactory by the time the estimated 10,000 participating athletes return home. Whether it’s the Olympics in Athens, Beijing, London and Sochi or the soccer World Cup in South Africa and Brazil, a disaster-to-success reversal has been the standard narrative of all recent major global sporting events.

The Rio Olympics, the first to take place in South America, may yet turn out to be a special case. With the threat of a terrorist attack seen as a real possibility after the July 21 arrests of 10 Brazilians identified by local authorities as sympathisers of the so-called Islamic State, the only catastrophes that can be discarded are hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis, which are rare on the Atlantic coast of South America.

Most forms of man-made disaster, including pollution, pestilence, engineering failure, crime, massive corruption, recession and political meltdown have hit Rio and Brazil as city and country raced against the clock to make final preparation for the games. Ample and mostly fair coverage of bad news by the local press was, as expected, amplified by the international media.

The foul state of the waters in parts of Guanabara Bay and Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, where some of the nautical events are scheduled to take place, and the Zika virus epidemic, have led doctors from around the world to call for a suspension of the games. A few renowned Olympians said they would stay away. In June, Rio’s acting governor declared a state of “public calamity” in order to free $800m in federal funds urgently needed to complete public works connecting Olympic venues, finish construction of housing for athletes and pay late salaries to public servants, including policemen. To dramatise the situation, some police officers staged a demonstration at Rio’s international airport welcoming visitors to “hell”.

Although violence in general and violence against women have trended down in recent years, the group rape of a young woman and the invasion of a public hospital by a narco gang to free a traffic boss have kept crime in the headlines. In mid-June, Rio’s mayor, Eduardo Paes, said in an interview with CNN that Rio’s police, controlled by the state government and not by him, were doing a “terrible” job. A few days later he said, quite accurately, that “the Rio Olympics are a missed opportunity” for Brazil to showcase itself on the global stage as a rising power.

That is what former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva had in mind when he travelled to London in 2009 to lobby the International Olympic Committee to award this year’s games to Brazil. Today Lula is a diminished if not disgraced politician. He faces two federal criminal investigations and is manoeuvring to stay out of jail. In mid July, the former president was indicted by the attorney general for attempting to obstruct a federal investigation on a massive corruption scandal involving state oil giant Petrobras, which is headquartered in Rio. Exposed in 2014, the Petrobras case has added fuel to a governance crisis that has crippled Brazil’s public finances, compromised investors and public confidence in the economy and thrown the country into its worst recession in a century. Seen as the economic disaster’s architect, Lula’s successor and protégée, Dilma Rousseff, was suspended in April by the House of Representatives and will likely be removed from office at the conclusion of her impeachment trial in the Senate in the weeks following the Olympics closing ceremony.

The scandal led to the arrests of more than a hundred businesses executives, senior bureaucrats and shady political operatives. A slew of former and current elected officials are under investigation or have been indicted, among them a former speaker of the House of Representatives, the current president of the Senate, two dozen members of Congress and ministers appointed by both Rousseff and her former ally and vice-president, Michel Temer, who took office as acting president in May pending the resolution of the impeachment process.

Against this depressing backdrop, Brazilians are not exactly looking forward to hosting the world’s greatest sporting festival. Support for the games has dropped from 92 per cent in 2009 to less than half of that today. Among cariocas, as the 6.5m inhabitants of Rio are known, barely 40 per cent say they are interested in the games. Tens of thousands of Brazilians from other parts of the country who had planned to attend have opted out because of the economic crisis, which has left more than 11m people jobless. Likewise, the number of foreign visitors will probably be much lower than the half a million that were once expected in Rio during the Olympics.

Ironically, such abysmally low expectations may help create a positive perception once the games get under way. With a security apparatus of 85,000 in place, Rio will probably be one of the safest places on the planet in August – in the absence of a terrorist attack. The myriad problems facing Brazilians will not prevent them from welcoming visitors and making sure they enjoy the music, the dance, the beaches and the nightlife Rio offers in abundance. With the first signs of investors’ confidence on the horizon and economists predicting a return to economic growth in 2017, a disaster-free Olympics could even help the country restore some of its lost self-esteem and project virtues the Brazilian people and some of their institutions have displayed in the face of unprecedented crisis and chaos.

Such efforts could start with the show that will precede the opening ceremony and the parade of athletes marching behind their countries’ flags before the lighting of the Olympic torch. Stealing a page from the London Olympics, which opened with a memorable display on the UK’s challenges and achievements, producers could add a scene featuring cars of the Federal Police and actors representing federal law enforcement officers, prosecutors and judges to symbolise the country’s ongoing offensive against systemic corruption and the impunity of criminals in high places, which is supported by nine out of ten Brazilians. The scene would certainly be well received.

So should peaceful rallies that both sympathisers and critics of Rousseff say they will organise to amplify their views before international audiences watching the Olympics. Compared with the scenes of hatred and violence from around the world seen daily on television, the civil manner in which Brazilians have been demonstrating their frustrations and dealing with their differences has been quite refreshing. It should be celebrated along with the Olympians who will gather in Rio to, once again, show humanity’s better face.

Paulo Sotero is director of the Brazil Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center of Scholars in Washington, DC.

Brazil’s Olympic Greeting: Welcome to Hell

Beth McLoughlin – U.S. News, 07/18/2016

RIO DE JANEIRO — In Brazil’s oldest favela of Providencia, Diego Deus lives with his wife and 6-month-old son. He can walk to work at the Museum of Modern Art, a gleaming new addition to the city’s port zone that has been redeveloped in advance of this summer’s Olympic Games.

Unemployment has been steadily climbing in Brazil, a country in its worst recession since the 1930s, but Deus is one of many Rio residents who has found work directly or indirectly as a result of the Games. Proud of his neighborhood, he resisted being moved when 200 people were evicted to renovate Providencia.

“They wanted to take my house out [to build a cable car], but I resisted,” Deus says. “I don’t see myself living anywhere else. It might seem strange to say it, but I feel safe here, I can go out and leave my door open. People look out for you.”

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Leader of Brazil’s Rousseff Impeachment Resigns From Top Job

Associated Press – The New York Times, 07/07/2016

RIO DE JANEIRO — The man who led efforts to impeach Brazil’s suspended President Dilma Rousseff resigned on Thursday as speaker of the lower house of congress, but kept the congressional seat that could help shield him from corruption charges.

Brazil’s top court already had suspended Eduardo Cunha from his duties over allegations of obstructing justice and corruption, including holding Swiss bank accounts worth millions of dollars in bribes.

Cunha kicked off the proceedings against Rousseff in December 2015, accusing her of violating fiscal laws, which the embattled leader denies.

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Brazil’s suspended president denounces indictment as a ‘political farce’

Reuters/The Guardian, 07/06/2016

Brazil’s suspended president Dilma Rousseff has told the senate commission considering whether to permanently remove her from office that the case against her is a farce, arguing that her alleged misdeeds were no more than “routine acts of budgetary management”.

In a letter to the commission read by her lawyer on Wednesday, Rousseff also promised to fight to carry out her mandate until the end of 2018.

“Everybody knows that you are judging an honest woman, a public servant dedicated to just causes,” she said. “I’ve honored those who voted for me.”

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Supreme Court Justice defends political reform in Brazil at event in Washington DC

Henrique Gomez Batista – Globo, 07/06/2016

Justice Dias Toffoli, from Brazil’s Supreme Court (Supremo Tribunal Federal), stated this Wednesday morning, during a presentation at the Wilson Center’s Brazil Institute that he believes that the “Car Wash Operation” investigation is doing a good job. When questioned on his opinion of Judge Sergio Moro, responsible for the “Car Wash” investigation in Curitiba, Toffoli repeated his opinion and stated that whileMoro has done a “good job” he is not responsible for the “judicial transformation in Brazil”.

He stated  “It is not the one judge changing the history of Brazil, but rather civil society in general”

Justice Toffoli reminded the audience that the  “Car Wash Operation” has come this far due to prior modifications of the constitution, which were approved by many politicians who are being investigated, such as the law that allows the use of plea bargains. Toffoli also emphasized that these changes started under Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s government.  It was during Cardoso’s government that the law of Fiscal Responsibility was instituted which gives the Public Ministry the transparency and liberty to elect the new Attorney General of the Republic.

“Obviously, there is also the Mensalão case, which saw big name politicians and business executives become indicted, giving further legitimacy to the rule of law,” he said.

Toffoli also defended the habeas corpus that some Justices granted during the Car Wash investigation by saying that it is a normal part of the legal process. Toffoli also defended a legal reform to end the “coalition presidentialism”, by emphasizing that the best thing for the country would be to adopt the district vote in the Chamber of Deputies, as opposed to the current proportional system implemented in the country.

Original Article (Portuguese) can be found here…

Translated into English By Julia Fonteles and Therese Kuester

How to Get Brazil (And Latin America) Completely Wrong

Brian Winter – Americas Quarterly, 06/22/2016

It’s been yet another rough week for Brazil’s international image, with an Olympic mascot shot dead in an absurd accident and another national political figure dragged into scandal. But the biggest blow of all came from Declan Ryan, co-founder of the Irish budget airline Ryanair, who told an Argentine newspaper that he was considering expansion into every South American country “except for Brazil, where there is lots of corruption.”

This is precisely the wrong lesson to draw from Brazil’s struggles – akin to believing that the house that gets the most exhaustive inspection must also be the most rotten one on the block. It’s telling that Ryan made his comments (which became huge news in Brazil) while announcing an expansion into Argentina, where the corruption under 12 years of Kirchner rule is only now coming to light. Just last week, a former Argentine secretary of public works was arrested while trying to hide $9 million in cash in a monastery. Ryan preferred tolaugh that story off.

As regular AQ readers know, the negative headlines about Brazil result from a positive process – the independent prosecutors who have uncovered evidence of systemic graft and fraud, and sent some of the country’s most powerful people to jail. This does not mean Brazil is South America’s most corrupt country – it may mean, instead, that it has its healthiest (or most active) legal system. But the mistake Ryan made is surprisingly common, and it provides a golden opportunity for investors who are savvy enough to see the truth.

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Brazil’s corruption probe means a boom time for lawyers

Samantha Pearson – Financial Times, 06/20/2016

With its concrete beds and squat toilets, the Complexo Médico-Penal is probably not where Brazil’s top construction and oil executives had pictured spending their retirement.

Normally reserved for mentally ill prisoners, the prison lies at the end of a potholed road on the banks of the Iraí reservoir in the southern state of Paraná. From the outside, a dilapidated brick archway at CMP’s entrance gives it the appearance of a rundown farm. However, an aerial view reveals its sinister layout, with the cells arranged in the shape of a giant machine gun.

For most of the past year, it has been home to Marcelo Odebrecht, head of Latin America’s largest construction group; João Vaccari Neto, former treasurer of the leftwing Workers’ party, Brazil’s largest political party, and other suspected ringleaders of the vast corruption scandal at Petrobras, the oil company.

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