By Patrick Haller
There has been doubt expressed publicly about Rio’s – and Brazil’s – preparedness to host the 2014 World Cup , 2016 Summer Olympics and the Paralympics, even amongst government officials. Romário de Souza Faria, a futbol hall-of-famer, now a federal congressman, told the Brazilian newsmagazine Istoé he expects that only 10 of the 12 stadiums around the country which are slated to host World Cup matches will be built in time, and he doesn’t expect Brazil to be 100 percent ready.
For all intents and purposes it would appear that officials have been doing their level best to make way for new facilities and infrastructure throughout Rio; but at what cost? And how do these efforts play to an international audience?
Rio’s favelas, or shantytowns, that have been a fixture of Brazil’s landscape for as long as anyone can remember have become a flash point as the city prepares for the big games. A November 2011 operation dubbed “Shock and Peace” was initiated to clear Rio’s Rocinha favela of drug gangs and to also occupy Rocinha in a demonstration of force.
In 2009 seven miles of wall was built around 11 favelas with the reasoning that the shoddy constructions were encroaching upon what was left of the Atlantic rainforest that surrounds the city. Human rights activists drew comparisons to Israel’s West Bank, and alleged that such measures are meant to keep favela residents from the rest of Rio – and by default, hidden from the international eye.
Additional actions included the destruction of the Favela do Metrô, which was located close to the storied Macarenã football stadium (home to the 1950 World Cup, which was renovated in 2007 for the Pan American Games and is undergoing a massive overhaul), the venue for the final World Cup matches and the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics. At the time it was believed that a parking lot was to be installed on the land which was once home to 1,000 people. This assessment was disputed by Jorge Bittar, Rio’s housing secretary, who said the destruction was part of a $63.2 million project to transform the area around the Maracanã in preparation for the World Cup, as if there was much of a difference.
A more recent indicator of Rio’s potentially troubled infrastructure planning is the January 25 collapse of three office buildings in the downtown area, which killed at least six people. While Rio’s City Hall stressed in its official statement that the tragedy “is entirely unrelated to the preparations for the 2014 World Cup, the 2016 Olympic Games and other events that are already part of the city’s calendar,” it did serve as a reminder that the city still has a long way to go before it will be ready to host some of the world’s biggest events.
“What they are spending on the renovation of the old stadium, the costs keep increasing, they could have built one from the ground up,” said one observer who asked to remain anonymous. Part of the overall problem with the entire process, according to this source, is that it has not been transparent and corruption is rampant.
Additionally, given the rise in household income many Brazilians have taken to the skies and air traffic has increased considerably over the last decade. It is expected that by 2014 the majority of Brazil’s airports will be pushed beyond capacity. If that is true, then it will impede the ability of the futbol fans to move about the vast country to attend different matches.
New Policing Policies
The police force in Rio, and much of Brazil, has the reputation of always being on the offensive. This warrior stance may be attributed to the types of challenges they face every day. A pilot program called the Units of Pacifying Police (UPP) has been created to train new recruits in less violent tactics and philosophy. Under the leadership of Juliana Barroso it is hoped that the reforms will stem from new recruits to the complete force of 39,000 military police. Barroso’s goal is to change not only the way police work, but also the way they interact with the people they are supposed to protect. Part of the new approach is to provide human rights training, and change the mindset of police always “combatting the enemy” to one of attending to the citizen.
As seen in Rocinha, part of the UPP approach is the establish 24-hour patrols of certain favelas in order to mitigate drug-related violence. Due to the success of such measures, President Rousseff has pledged to implement similar programs nationwide. While this all sounds good, recruitment requirements have been loosened – including the elimination of the vital psychological exam – and the police force is well-aware of its power to strangle the city as it demonstrated during strikes right before this year’s Rio Carnival was set to kick off. There is nothing to suggest that they will not try the same tactic ahead of the World Cup or the Olympics. Furthermore, although it is easier to train recruits from the outset, it is far more difficult to reform deep rooted methodologies within the existing police force. The shoot to kill policies that are part of the daily regimen will not be easily replaced with a kinder, gentler approach. Even though there will be significant training, remodeling and reinforcement provided to the fresh-faced recruits, what will they do when they are faced with the reality of patrolling Rio’s streets for low pay and working erratic shifts?
There is also a natural propensity amongst 70 percent of UPP recruits to be attracted to the action promised by working in a traditional unit, as was concluded by a survey conducted by Julita Lemgruber, a professor who is researching public security at Rio’s Candido Mendes University. This suggests that the rank and file would rather seek out violence, as opposed to becoming what Lemgruber terms “social workers.”
FIFA’s website makes no mention of controversial issues surrounding World Cup preparations, instead declaring that Rio is ready to welcome the world, even though there is still a tremendous amount of work to be done. Although the Preliminary Draw ceremony held on July 30, 2011 at the Marina Da Gloria stadium was replete with the pomp and circumstance expected from such a momentous occasion, and was executed without any major problems, this does not necessarily indicate that the rest of the preparations for the actual World Cup matches will go quite as smoothly. Indeed, FIFA officials and the Brazilian Congress are in a heated debate about whether or not to allow the sales of beer during matches. Something, FIFA contends, is expected by fans, but is refuted by the Brazilian Health Minister who insists that sales be banned in order to uphold dry-laws that were implemented after alcohol fueled violence reached a fever pitch in the country.
Officials and government are also wrangling over the availability of cut-rate tickets for seniors and members of indigenous groups, as is required by Brazilian laws. Fundamental issues such as these should have been worked-out long ago, or at lease been taken into consideration during the bidding process. Never mind FIFA, the Brazilian Congress has yet to pass a bill that will establish World Cup regulations, something the hard-nosed sports minister Aldo Rebelo is determined to get resolved.
Educating for the Future
Even though Rio is faced with many challenges and is undergoing large-scale social upheaval, efforts are being made to provide educational opportunities to the underclass.
In a recent article, Nearshore Americas reported that during his eight years in office, former President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva led programs that helped to “lift over 20 million Brazilians out of poverty and created millions of jobs.” These types of programs continue, as was discussed by our sister publication, Sourcing Brazil. The Rio de Janeiro City Hall, represented by the Municipal Housing Department, launched its Praça do Conhecimento (“Knowledge Square”) units in the Nova Brasília community in December 2011, at Morro do Alemão, in Rio. This social project focuses on culture and education supported by the Cisco Networking Academy program, which seeks to provide workers and students with IT training.
“I heard that you can get free wi-fi at Copacabana beach,” says Bruno Amorim, Press Officer for the Parque Tecnológico do Rio, when asked how wired Rio is. The technology park, anchored by the Petrobras research center that was installed in the 1970s, is located on the campus of the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, on the island of Fundão and acts as a liaison between clients and the human and technological resources of the UFRJ. In addition to bringing investment, business, science and technology to Rio, the University-Industry partnership will provide jobs, internships, and for people in the area, a better quality of life.
At this time there are only a few research centers and large companies operating within the park. There are some shared buildings where GE, for example, is working while its research center is being built. The three-year-old business incubator, which already shepherded 43 companies, currently has 20 startup tech companies from different areas, but most of them work with energy, ITC, and the environment. A structure called the Tower of Innovation is being built with the goal of housing 100 small innovative enterprises.
Aside from GE, EMC and Siemens have a presence there. The Park also has a very unique resident: Galilelo – the second fastest computer in Latin America, which is owned by the university. Some of the companies rent time to use it to process data. For example, one startup uses a math model and satellite data to track natural oil seeps by going back in time and space to see where that oil originated from at the bottom of the sea, enabling them to narrow the drilling area.
Some of the current participants in the incubator are: Net Commerce, developing e-commerce in the food sector; Wikki, focused on simulations and computational fluid dynamics for oil sector; Twist, which offers integration of informational systems; and Lets Evo, creating a link between designers and 3D printers and consumers.
Amorim said, “In the business incubator we are seeing some of the companies translating software into English so they can sell anywhere. Others build software and don’t sell it, but they sell the information they get out of it.” The incubator provides various services such as consulting, marketing, press, legal and strategic planning. “They [the participants] are mostly researchers – people who spent maybe 10 years in a lab building the products, and they know almost nothing about business management,” explained Amorin. “In 2010 the companies earned 160 million reals of income.” Part of the plan at the Technology Park is to have these companies move to a shared building on campus so that the innovative spirit thrives. This will also create an environment comprised of startups as well as major players.
Go Rio Go!
Rio is one of the world’s most dynamic cities, with many positive attributes and startling contrasts. With the World Cup and Olympics fast-approaching, there is anticipation that everything will come together even if it is at the last possible moment. But what will the legacy be of these momentous events? Will Rio be left much-improved, with stronger infrastructure, better public works, and lasting opportunities for an optimistic future? Or, will only a few truly benefit from the millions of dollars being funneled through a system with historic corruption problems? Fans of Brazil are hoping nobler goals will be achieved.
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