Rio games hypocrisy might not hold much longer

Friday, May 27, 2016

The overthrow of Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff in an institutional coup by right-wing forces has been justified by allegations of corruption — even though issue Dilma is being impeached on is use of a relatively normal government spending mechanism.

Critics say the old elite is hell-bent on imposing harsh neoliberal measures to benefit the rich — and the politicians impeaching Dilma are themselves heavily implicated in corruption.

Below, US sports writer Dave Zirin reports from Brazil on the nature of those impeaching Dilma by taking a look at developments ahead of the Rio Olympic Games in August. It is abridged from Edge Of Sports, where Zirin has a series of pieces on the coming Rio games and the right-wing coup.

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For months, the disconnect in Brazil has been stunning. High-profile judicial inquiries into government corruption have implicated the nation's most powerful construction firms. Yet the US$10 billion concrete and cement extravaganza otherwise known as the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio — celebrated by the same politicians under investigation and built by the same firms whose executives are being trotted off to prison — has remained largely untouched.

Given the history of corruption that follows the games from country to country, this was, to put it mildly, curious. Corruption in Brazilian politics is so widespread that of the 594 members of Congress, 318 are reportedly under investigation or face charges over the issue. The idea that the Olympics would be immune is the equivalent of thinking that a lumbering elephant could somehow dance amid raindrops and keep dry.

The Rio Olympics, because of the federalised political system operating in Brazil, have been under the oversight not of the capital city of Brasilia but of Rio de Janeiro. And Rio is controlled by the PMDB, the party of acting-president Michel Temer, the coup-supporting vice-president installed by Brazil's Senate to replace Dilma.

Under this state of affairs, one can easily see the Olympics serving as a ceremonial backdrop to celebrate the new people in charge.

Yet this Berlin Wall of political spin that Brazil's media has built between the Olympics and corruption has been breached. AAP reported on May 3 that Rio's city council has — at long last — set up a commission to examine corruption in the Olympic build-up.

Given that many of the firms involved in Olympic construction have already been implicated in broader scandals, the only way this commission will find nothing is if it is blindfolded. Tragically, the blindfolds have already been whipped out.

Four commission members hail from the PMDB. Their first action was to vote to award its two top roles to party members.
It took civilian deaths and huge public outrage to even get a commission such as this off the ground. In April, a brand-new seaside bicycle path, one of the Olympic legacy projects, was knocked down by a wave, killing two people. The bike path arrived six months late and was over budget by more than $2.5 million.

Making the matter even more outrageous, the firm that built the path, Concremat, was founded by the family of the city's tourism director, Antonio Pedro Viegas Figueira de Mello. He served as PMDB Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes's campaign treasurer during his first run at mayor in 2008.

Concremat has also been under investigation since December for skimming money off non-Olympic contracts for months.

Even if this commission is a sham, however, an important line has been crossed. The fiction that corruption infects every aspect of Brazil's political world except for the Olympics has been pierced. Even if the compromised commission only casually pulls on the loosest of strings, it could all come apart.

Already the Olympics in Rio have been a horror show of displacement, debt and police violence against the city's poorest residents. If it is found that these crimes have been committed in the name of mafia-like construction skims, the political calculus where everything is somehow Dilma's fault could be dramatically upended.

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