Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Brazil Reality Show

  If the recently elected pope is Argentine, God is Brazilian. During a private audience, Dilma the president of Brazil good-humoredly reminded Pope Francis of this fact. God is Brazilian is the title of a 2003 Brazilian film. Visitors to Brazil are also reminded of it. Brazilians are thankful for being blessed with a rich and well-endowed country, marvelous weather, great music, and beautiful women among other pluses. The Argentine pope should pay attention. Dilma may have taken the opportunity of meeting the pro-poor people pope to promote her government know-how in reducing poverty. She might even have offered to co-operate with Francis’s multinational Catholic corporation to fashion family allowance schemes. Pope Francis needs to launch similar schemes to regain the upper hand over the populist policies of the followers of the late President Chavez of Venezuela. Thanks to its bolsa familia schemes, Brazil has managed to notably reduce abject poverty without creating a cult-like devotion among the beneficiaries. Statistics indicates that Brazil is the most populous Catholic nation in the world. This record may not hold for long as the Evangelists grow at the expense of the Catholic flock. The Evangelists are aggressively converting souls in the big cities’ favelas. Their message predominantly appeals to the urban poor and the emerging lower middle class. This Evangelical church is increasingly politically outspoken. Its gospel is so conservative that a large number of the recently converted no longer want to march with the samba schools during Carnival. They feel that Carnival is evil. Non Evangelists complain of the forceful proselytizing drive of the pastors. One Assembly of God pastor, Marco Feliciano who is also a congressman is making headlines. Thanks to shady dealings and back scratching among members of the House of Representatives, Feliciano was elected to chair the Human Rights Committee of the House. Feliciano has a left a track of racist, sexist and homophobic Tweets; he is unrepentant and for good measure not ashamed of collecting large amounts of money from his flock. To ensure that money is quickly paid into the church account, he customarily requests the credit card pin of the church-goers. His church was the first in Brazil to collect 10% tithing through credit card payment. Feliciano lives in an ostentatious house and has six imported cars. Since his election, endless demonstrations have prevented the Committee from doing any work. Following the public outcry, the House’s fellow members are trying to figure out how to remove Feliciano without losing face. On the other hand, Pope Francis has gained “pope star’ status in Brazil. He is expected to come to Rio in July 2013 to attend World Youth Day. This Catholic youth festival may attract as many as 2.5 million visitors and out stages both the Word Cup (2014) and the Olympic Games (2016). Thanks to these two events, Rio is enjoying an overdue urban renewal. The city is relishing its new status as the “place to be”. The downtown harbor area is being totally spruced up. Donald Trump is projecting a couple of showy corporate towers. The subway is being extended so commuters can zip from their homes in the expanding western suburbs of Barra to the downtown business centers. In the meantime, all these construction sites make the life of Cariocas painful. On the bright side, the city is bubbling with events and projects. Notably, two outstanding museums have opened. One is dedicated to Latin American art (Casa Daros) and the other to Rio’s culture (Museo de Arte do Rio, MAR). When both Sugar Loaf and Corcovado hide in the clouds, the frustrated tourists will have worthwhile alternatives. Rio is no longer only relying on its natural beauty; it is becoming a city of culture to emulate Paris or New York City.


To host the soccer World Cup, Brazil agreed to upgrade and even rebuild several stadiums before a June 2013 deadline. So far, only one, the Minerão of Belo Horizonte is fully completed; the others are unacceptably behind schedule. Red tape, corruption, over optimistic planning and plain incompetence are the main causes for the delay. Shockingly, the laggards are the principal venues: São Paulo Itaquerão and Rio Maracana stadiums. To add insult to injury, the Brazilian soccer team is far from being in top form; so far, it has only managed draws against less prestigious teams. It is very vexing for the host country. The structure of the legendary Maracana stadium is old-fashion. It had to be partially rebuilt to offer the level of comfort international fans deserve. Infrastructure around the stadium has still to be built. Everything was more or less going according to plan until an embarrassing glitch popped up.


Not everyone in Rio is pleased with this frenzy of urban renewal. For decades, without hindrance, a native Indian community from the Amazon had been squatting in a 19th century derelict building, the former Indian Museum. To enhance its legitimacy, the community renamed itself the Maracana tribe. This rebranding was not sufficient to avoid eviction from the site. The Rio municipality wanted to raze the building to make way for a parking for the stadium. The Indians refused to leave willingly. The tug of war lasted for weeks and attracted media attention to both Indians and building. During the final scuffle, the police used tear gas and the Indians bows and arrows. It was an unbalanced fight and the urban Indians were forcibly removed from their home. The Indians lost the battle, but the historic building won a new breath of life. It will be refurbished to become another museum, that of the Olympic Games.


The Maracana tribe has been provided with temporary accommodations in a less urban part of Rio. In Brazil, museums have more support than Indians; a local politician even stated that the Indians’ place was in the forest!

PS. Pictures freely downloaded from the Internet O Globo).