Brazil Is Tired of Being Scolded

Postado em: 27th Maio 2014 por Vanessa Barbara em New York Times, Reportagens
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(Flavio Morais)

Flavio Morais

The International New York Times
May 27, 2014

by Vanessa Barbara
Contributing Op-Ed Writer

SÃO PAULO, Brazil — By now, Brazil should probably have been grounded for life, without video games or dessert.

Last month, a vice president of the International Olympic Committee, John Coates, said that Rio de Janeiro’s preparations for the 2016 Summer Olympics were the worst he had ever seen.

Before that, Sepp Blatter, the president of FIFA — the Federation of International Football Associations — claimed that Brazil was further behind in its preparations for this summer’s World Cup than any previous host nation, even though it had had seven full years to prepare. Then, in March, FIFA’s secretary general, Jérôme Valcke, declared we could risk being “the worst organizers” of the “worst event.” He had previously said that Brazil needed “a kick up the backside.”

Well, that was harsh. Brazilians, long treated as obedient children on the world stage, have always submitted to the superior wisdom of foreign authorities. Fifty years ago, after President João Goulart was deposed by a right-wing military coup, the American presence in our political scene was so conspicuous that a humorist announced a mock-campaign for the United States ambassador: “Enough of middlemen — Lincoln Gordon for president!”

Later, in the ’80s and ’90s, we quietly complied with the austerity and debt restructuring programs imposed by the International Monetary Fund — even if they meant the undermining of our national sovereignty and the suffering of the poor. We didn’t even complain when Rihanna came here for a concert and supposedly asked for everything yellow to be removed from her dressing room.

We’re famous for being an easygoing nation that happily gives away some of its oil field exploration rights to foreign companies. We’re friendly, acquiescent and cheerful. We like to please.

But there’s a growing feeling that FIFA and the Olympic committee are taking the demanding parent act a bit too far.

We try to behave ourselves for Mommy FIFA, especially in front of visitors. When she wanted beer served inside the stadiums, we amended our laws to allow it. When she asked for tax exemptions for herself and for her service providers, we consented. When she required that we ask her permission to host traditional street festivities like São João’s during the event, we complied.

So far we’ve spent around $12 billion to please her, of which more than 85 percent comes from public funds, including tax exemptions. We’ve evicted citizens from their homes to build stadiums and related infrastructure, and created strict security zones around the venues. We’ve diligently repressed those who protested against the mega-event, firing tear gas on unarmed people and attempting to charge them as terrorists. We’ve tried to convince ourselves that this is going to be a huge economic opportunity, despite lots of evidence to the contrary. And yet FIFA is never satisfied.

It’s no use complaining to the International Olympic Committee, since it’s playing the role of Daddy in this family drama. He also disapproves of everything we do: He complained about construction delays, criticized the pollution in Rio’s waterways and said we were even worse than Greece, before the 2004 Summer Olympics. “Your older sister had better grades,” we heard him say.

It’s as if they were both expecting a classical pianist and all they got was a punk rocker who knows only three-chord songs. Well, if they wanted punctuality, maybe they should have chosen the Germans or the Swiss to host their events. We Brazilians are slightly different.

Last month, Mário Gobbi, the president of the Corinthians soccer team (which owns Itaquera Stadium, one of the World Cup venues), claimed that delays were part of the Brazilian way of life. “I don’t know of any renovation or construction project that went on schedule,” he said in an interview.

I’ll give one example: The subway system in Salvador, a city in Bahia state, on our northeast coast, has been under construction since 1997. The government has spent more than $450 million for four miles of tracks, which will be ready to operate on June 11, one day before the World Cup opening. (Two years ago, the Federal Court of Auditors found evidence that $180 million of the project’s money had been lost to overbilling and embezzlement, but the matter is still under investigation. Bahia’s Court of Justice has also indicted a number of businessmen for illicit association, formation of cartels and bid rigging.)

Another: 22 years ago I worked on a petition to clean up the Tietê River, in São Paulo. Today, $1.6 billion and more than one million signatures later, it still stinks.

In Brazil it takes 13 bureaucratic procedures — required signatures and forms and the like — and 107.5 working days to open a business, according to a recent report from the World Bank. Construction permits take 400 days to get issued, and you need to wait 58 days more just to get electricity flowing.

It once took a man in Bahia four years to schedule a common diagnostic test called a uroflowmetry at a public hospital.

So FIFA and the I.O.C. can scold all they like: We still won’t be finished until the last minute. And when it is finally done, there will be budget overruns and even a few workplace accidents. As Mr. Gobbi warned, nonsensically, when celebrating the end of construction on the Itaquera Stadium: “Among the dead and wounded, everybody survived.”

We’ll do it our way. There’s no use giving us a time out. There’s no use calling Uncle Sam, either; he wants nothing more to do with this crazy family.


Vanessa Barbara, a novelist and columnist for the Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo, edits the literary website A Hortaliça.

  1. Ignacio disse:

    Vanessa dear, “we’ll do it our way” is not good enough. Being proud of delays, of corruption, of disorder, and generally accepting “our way” is a sad state. In the best of cases it leads to more inefficiencies; in the worst it leads to more misery and can be lethal. I don’t agree with scolding anyone except little kids, but if you do not want to be scolded you must behave like adults.

  2. SERGIO ALVES disse:

    Mrs. Barbara, you are a barbarian! What a poor serve you render to your country! You should be really better taking care of your vegetables to get the few ‘”patacas” for your addictions. Your views are a shame for Brazil, just reinforcing the old stereotypes, not adding a word to make the country be better undrestood by the world. How can NYT open a space for such badly written article? Shame on you, Mrs Barbara, please go back to your graden instead of misunderstanding what is going on in your own Yard!

  3. Irony, people. Irony. It’s a nice figure of speech.

  4. Flavio Calichman disse:

    Prezada Bárbara, li o artigo no site do NYTimes e discordo completamente das suas colocações. Vou fazer uma crítica construtiva: se você realmente teve a intenção de ser irônica, isto não transparece de modo algum no texto; assim como eu, quase a totalidade dos leitores que comentaram no NYT também levaram a sério o que está escrito ali (leia os inúmeros comentários postados). Há um enorme número de pessoas se esforçando, trabalhando duro em todos os setores da sociedade e da economia para que o Brasil seja um país melhor, mais evoluído, mais maduro e mais responsável; o seu artigo foi na mão contrária de todo esse esforço, das aspirações de modernidade, de dignidade e de evolução que tantos de nós compartilhamos. Seus artigos no NYT costumam ser muito bem escritos e interessantes, uma pena que não tenha sido assim dessa vez!

  5. Tom disse:

    Your attempt at irony failed. If you were trying to communicate a point, I think it got lost.

  6. Lu V. disse:

    Great piece, Vanessa. Maybe some people will look up and learn what Irony really means.