Mega-Events and the Neoliberal Production of Space in Rio de Janeiro
Locating the Favela
The term favela today describes any area that was initially built up through the self-managed construction of buildings and infrastructure, without legal claim to land. Understanding the role of the favelas as urban spaces with particular histories, and deeply tied to the spatial fabric of the city, can help to diffuse notions of these improvised communities as simply marginal or abject to space of civic participation. As active agents with their own modes of participation, and who make specific claims of ‘rights’ to the city, the moradores14 of the favelas frequently reference their own citizenship and civic participation. This section explores the historical production of these forces, and how it is that many of the moradores have come to see the Olympic spectacle not only an oppressive force, but also as an opportunity for civic participation from which they have been unjustly barred.
The term favela, now used throughout Brazil, originated in Rio de Janeiro with a squatter settlement called Canudos that appeared in 1897. The hill upon which it was founded had previously been referred to as ‘favela hill’, named after a skin-irritating plant native to the Northeastern state of Bahia. The first settlers of Canudos were followers of a preacher named Antonio Conselheiro, including, according to popular history, “landless farmers, freed slaves, disgruntled workers, and indigenous peoples” (Perlman 2010: 25).
Fig. 6. Morro da Providência, c. 1910
Early favelas were built on swamps or steep hillsides, where city infrastructure was non-existent, but residents lived close enough to access opportunities for work (eatrio.net).
The community was eventually broken up forcibly by federal troops in 1897, a conflict that resulted in the deaths of an estimated 15,000 residents (Perlman 2010: 25). It was the veteran troops from this siege, finding themselves out of work, who first settled illegally at the base of the hill and began referring to it as a favela. Morro da Providência, (“Providence Hill”) (Fig. 6) as the new favela came to be called, was from the outset a precarious place to live, receiving no services from the city and frequently experiencing evictions at the hands of civil and military police.
In the 1920s, the term favela gained widespread use as a descriptor for ‘squatter settlements, shantytowns, and all types of irregular settlements, or ‘subnormal agglomerations’ as they were referred to in census and planning documents” (Perlman 2010:27). The construction of favelas was banned by a 1937 building code, a moment which was also the first instance of their legal recognition. Throughout the mid-twentieth century, the role of favelas came to be increasingly seen as that of a ‘natural’ home for the urban poor, despite the fact that the settlements were, at least initially, illegal squatter settlements capitalizing on unused state, federal, and privately-owned urban land (Valladares 1983: 72).
Patterns of occupation have varied by city. In some cases, such as in Belém, organized groups have undertaken mass occupation (ocupações), whereas in Rio de Janeiro, occupation has usually been a more gradual and anarchic process. Institutional protections for moradores rights, as well as the provision of some government services, were provided during the years of authoritarian rule from 1964 to 1984 through the birth of organizations known as associações de moradores, (AMs) or residents associations. It was also during this time, especially in the 1970s, that the majority of favelas existing today were formed, as massive migrations from rural areas multiplied the number of urban poor.
Arias (2006:61) remarks that this period may have reflected the time “when local organizing reached the peak of its power in making demands on the state government.” He continues, “During this period, AM leaders resolved conflicts through systems of legal reasoning internal to favelas and presided over dramatic mutirão (cooperative building) projects that provided basic infrastructure to these places.” This view is disputed by Vargas (2006:62), who suggests that it was precisely during this time, especially following military crackdowns beginning in 1968, that the AMs were under the most direct influence by clientalist politicians and the state. Nevertheless, both agree that it was during the 1980s that drug cartels began to achieve control of the favelas.
The rise of narcotrafficking during the same period was deeply linked to political use of traffickers as bases for expanding political support, whereby AMs began to function as “intermediaries between traffickers, residents, and state officials” (Arias 2004: 3). It was through the coalition of narcotics traffickers and moradores, in which residents would frequently support the traffickers but resist police involvement, that the fragile links between the state and the urban poor began to disintegrate (Carvalho 1998:31).
Following the return of political democracy in late 1980s, the AMs came to serve increasingly as platforms for politicians to influence the votes of the urban poor. This change resulted in “improved urban services in favelas, but weakened the AMs and their statewide interest group as the government met many favelas’ most pressing infrastructural needs” (Arias 2004: 2). Clientalist politics, in which traffickers and politicians competed for the favor of the moradores, presided during this period, contemporaneous with large state-funded initiatives to provide basic services in the favelas.
As one of the most economically stratified countries in the Americas, Brazil’s urban demographics reflect massive poverty that is highly racially correlated. According to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), six percent of Brazil’s total population lived in favelas in 2010, while twenty-two percent of the roughly six million residents of Rio de Janeiro live in favelas or other ‘informal’ settlements. This makes it the city with the largest percentage of ‘substandard’ and ‘irregular’ housing communities in Brazil. The census reported that there were then 763 favelas in Rio, housing 1.3 million people. Favelas also reflect a disproportionate population of black or mixed-descent residents, as compared to the rest of Rio.15
The spatial makeup of Rio de Janeiro, and the relationships between the favelas and the rest of the city, bears several remarkable distinctions from other major urban centers of Latin America, including Brazil’s largest city, São Paulo. First, Rio’s topography is dramatically vertiginous and mountainous. Favelas are frequently built on formerly undevelopable, steep land, and are thus easily defensible by the narcotraffickers that today control many of them. Ironically, this same topography today makes them desirable real estate, especially those close to major centers of tourism, such as Vidigal, with its view of the Copa Cabana and Ipanema beach.
Second, Rio’s spatial makeup with regard to class and race is not stratified in the same ways as São Paulo and some other Latin American urban centers. Rather than being located primarily in the periphery, as in many of the world’s major urban centers, favelas exist throughout the city, often in close proximity to middle-class neighborhoods, shopping districts, and event sites for past and upcoming sporting events (Vargas 2006:65) (see Figs. 7, 8). Close proximity between private capital and legally marginal settlements means that conflicts over the use of ‘public’ and ‘private’ space come to the fore as favela residents are evicted to make space for capitalist development.
Fig. 7. Location of several large Favelas in Rio, c. 2013
Many of Rio’s favelas lie in close proximity to centers of tourism and commerce. Those closest to these centers experience the greatest threat of eviction in connection with infrastructural development projects (bbc.co.uk).
I focus in particular on several large favelas that are the center of controversy surrounding police ‘pacification’, gentrification, and expulsion of residents as preparations continue for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic games.16 These include Metrô-Mangueira; Complexo do Alemão, the site of a new state of the art gondola; Rocinha, Rio’s largest favela at 69,161 residents, serving as one of several centers of resistance and protest; and finally Morro da Providência (Fig. 9).
All of the above have been subject to a trifecta of demolition, eviction, and police occupation. These are just a few of more than a dozen favelas that are experiencing demolitions and evictions, and of the 40 slated for police occupations.
Not all areas termed favelas are easily glossed as slums. As Holston (2008) notes of São Paulo slums, legal rights of property ownership may be attained over time, and the term is also not always synonymous with poverty. Through gentrification, some favelas come to house residences with private pools and terraces, a far cry from the improvised structures stereotypical of the favela. Vidigal is one example of a favela becoming a center of relative wealth, as its commanding views of Copacabana beach have made it highly sought after real estate, especially during the influxes of capital investments that have accompanied large-scale city events.
Fig. 8. Overlap of planned “Olympic Zones” with favelas
This map portrays the spatial coincidence of Olympic development with dozens of favelas, as well as ‘built up’ (urban) zones, c. 2010. The proximity of the Maracaña stadium to Mangueira and Metrô favelas is noteworthy (Rio2016.org).
Hostels and restaurants have sprung up amid real estate speculation as tourists increasingly view the favela as a ‘cultural center’, as one article in the Rio Times on tourism puts it (Bazely 2010). With the November 2011 “pacification” by state police forces, a new round of opportunist investors have sought to turn the favela into a hotspot for foreign tourism. Rocinha, in particular, has emerged as ‘paradigmatic’ of the tourist favela since the early 1990s, with upwards of three thousand tourists visiting per month (Freire-Medeiros 2009). I leave the details of the coupled issues of pacification, gentrification, and infrastructural violence for later, but wish to emphasize that while the vast majority of favelas remain poor and isolated from urban infrastructure, usually receiving little in the way of basic sanitation, transportation, and other public services, they reflect a great degree of heterogeneity in terms of poverty, violence, and commercial value.
Though its use is not unproblematic, I find the term favela appropriate to describe my object of study. Those who reside in the favelas frequently consider their position as members of these communities an integral aspect of their urban identity.17 The stories of individual moradores are diverse, and include recent immigrants to the city as well as longtime residents, whose families have been improving their residences for generations. Nonetheless, most residents claim deep historical ties to these areas, and consider their neighborhoods, far from marginal, as legitimate neighborhoods of the city. However, they also link their location to certain forms of inferior social status, and sometimes frame this status as a hindrance to “becoming gente”18 (a person, a somebody) (Perlman 2010:318). Favelas as imagined communities (Anderson 1991) constitute frameworks for the participation and creation of diverse notions of personhood that are rooted in a particular history of place.
Fig. 9. Morro da Providência, c. 2013
Police occupation of the favela began in 2010 with an initial count of 208 military police personnel. (Envolverde.com.br).
The favela represents a distinct social organization of space, as a physical and imaginative structure with its own particular history that sets it apart from other forms of ‘informal settlements’. A favela is an area of land that is claimed based on a land seizure.19 A loteamento (subdivision), on the other hand, is another form of ‘informal’ housing settlement based upon a land purchase with some semblance of legal title, though both options are usually ‘illegal’ or ‘irregular’ (Holston 2008: 170).
For migrants of the 60s and 70s, favelas provided distinct advantages and disadvantages over loteamentos. While loteamentos offered a legal basis for owning or renting land, favelas provided less long-term security but were more affordable, allowing limited income to be allotted to food, medicine, or school instead of building shelter (Perlman 2010: 126). Visually, loteamentos are distinct from favelas, because they are subdivisions of a pre-arranged set of streets within a bounded space, while the masonry buildings of favelas are arranged according to a largely improvised street plan, often seeming to teeter precariously as multiple additional floors are added over time.
Squatting on seized land means that favela residents have no legal claim to the land itself, though their ownership of structures they build has often become legally recognized through the state initiatives of clientalist politicians (Holston 2008: 208). Thus, while residents have no reliable mode to prevent eviction from these lands, the law (most recently, the Lei Orgánica Município of 1990) putatively guarantees certain rights, including relocation following an eviction, fair compensation, and rights to democratic participation.
Cleaning up the City: Mega-Events and the Removal of the Urban Poor
The moradores of the favelas take on contradictory symbolisms in their associations with the games. For the municipal and Olympic authorities, they stand as failed civic participants, blemishes upon the sanitized spectacle of the games, and obstacles for removal. To advocacy groups they are taken to be the sufferers of some of the most grievous consequences of exploitation of the urban poor. I suggest that the experiences of those living within the favelas do not map neatly onto either of these tropes, and are both heterogeneous and contradictory.
As civic participants, the visibility of moradores is, indeed, frequently marred by their lack of substantial voice in the mass media, as they are frequently spoken of (and for) in the third person. Thus, attaining political visibility and recognition appears as a crucial goal for moradores whose material perdurance is jeopardized by urban development. Recent public hearings regarding evictions and demolitions frequently foreclose on the opportunity for significant representation, or democratic participation of favela residents. In protest to this lack of participation, residents often reference the legal rights of citizenship, and the assertion that forced removals have deprived them of these rights, alongside being barred from sharing in the putative economic benefits of the Olympics.
Despite serving as the primary impetus for present renovations, the Olympics and World Cup are not only decried within the favelas, but, importantly, are also viewed as sources of national and municipal pride, and opportunities to become modern, global subjects. It is perhaps for this reason that the sense of betrayal among residents of the favelas appears so poignant. I strive to understand the branding and spectacle of the mega-event as drawing upon and producing spaces not only of abject resistance among the poor, but also those of civic pride and participation in global interactions. I ask how the ideology of mega-events is deeply entwined with historically produced discourses of national and civic pride, and plays upon these connections to foster an environment of receptivity to risky and destructive development projects.
The term ‘mega-event’ is something of a misnomer in that it paints a false portrait of both physical and temporal scale (Gaffney 2010). Currently, a frequently cited definition of the term in social science literature derives from Roche (2000). He suggests that the mediation of international events through news, television, and contemporary social media participate in their constitution as “large-scale cultural events, which have a dramatic character, mass popular appeal, and international significance” (in Horne and Manzenreiter 2006). While not entirely untrue, his definition is misleading in two ways.
First, the notion of the ‘event’ unfairly emphasizes the momentary nature of processes and outcomes that are in fact years in the making, and create permanent impacts upon the host city’s urban geography. Second, the assertion that their relevant scale is the ‘large’ or ‘international’, while partially correct, elides the role of immanent micro-politics of development (Pun 2005) that occur at the level of the neighborhood and household, involving histories outside of the global scale of political economy. The scaling of sporting spectacle as global and momentary thus serves to produce moradores and their histories as either obstacles to progress or objects for development. Both narratives work to produce their invisibility as active civic participants.
The infrastructural development projects that accompany the Olympic games and other international sporting events have a long history of dispossessing the vulnerable and marginal residents of urban spaces, through forced evictions and police raids that have resulted in arrests, extortion, torture, and deaths during events throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Since the founding of the modern Olympic games in 1896, diverse critics have argued that the distribution of financial benefits of the games disproportionately benefits wealthy investors. However, the dimensions of tensions and conflicts surrounding the games have varied substantially.
Before detailing the contemporary context of evictions, I want first to give a brief history of favela removals. In Rio de Janeiro, the legacy of forced removal of slum-dwellers dates back to the infancy of its favelas as squatter communities, and was a standard means of dealing with the undesired presence of a criminalized sector of the population. The city’s first great modernist renovation took place from 1902-1906 during the Pereira-Passos era, and involved mass demolitions of much of the city’s urban center. During the demolitions, owners with legal claim to residences received cash compensation, but the poorest received none, and definitions of the public good were frequently defined in terms of profit. As Fischer (2008:36) notes, city planners of the era prioritized ‘civilizing’ the population, honing Rio’s international image, and lining the pockets of exporters and real-estate developers above representing the needs and desires of most cariocas. This was achieved by displacing the urban poor in modernist renovations that privileged industry and commercial enterprise.
In the 1960s the removal of favela residents, and physical eradication of their built environments, occurred on a scale never-before achieved by the state, through the novel use of military forces in an effort to ‘clean up’ the city. Around 100,000 people were removed from favelas between 1968 and 1975 and put into ‘housing projects’. During this time, it is reported that over 60 favelas were destroyed, “some of them simply being burned down by the military, which, in order to guarantee the elimination of those communities, prevented firemen from responding to calls (Zaluar, 1985: 66; Mendonça and Benjamin, 1997: 53)” (Vargas 2006: 62). The relocation of residents during this period occurred in ways that produced urban space as increasingly stratified with regard to class. Undesirables, usually poor and black, were forced to the urban periphery, as regimes of spatiality and separation were produced according the criterion of the administration (Benmuri 2012:208).
The 1980s were accompanied by a new program, Promorar, one of the first experiments with ‘upgrading’ the slums as an alternative to large-scale favela eradication (Perlman 2010: 273). Favela upgrades became an important focus for Rio de Janeiro’s government leading into the 1990s, as parts of attempts to ‘integrate’ the favelas into the city. However, these attempts did not result in the bridging of the dramatic gap between favelas and surrounding areas. Rather, the dramatic disjuncture between the favelas and the rest of the city as zones of poverty, violent death, and illegality, has largely continued. Attempts to integrate favelas into the city have led to displacement of the urban poor, rather than equitable economic circumstances, and violent tactics for limiting the movement and participation of favela residents have continued to this day. As I describe in chapter two, these processes of control frequently involve the use of military police force.
Alongside the municipal history of evictions, the Olympics as an institution possess a legacy of forced removals in diverse parts of the world. The context for this role is found in their progressive development as processes of urban transformation. Muñoz (2006) describes the progression of Olympicized spaces throughout the twentieth century as following the model of archetypal constructions of ‘Olympic villages’, presented as part of the 1932 Los Angeles and 1936 Berlin Olympic Games. These were the first of such villages to exist as dwellings specifically for athletes, at the same time that they provided areas for “entertainment, rest and bodily care, and leisure” (Muñoz 2006: 176).
The Olympic villages of the 1960s games in Rome and Mexico, seemed, in turn, to modify this model by introducing the notion of Olympic urbanism as a ‘regional conception’, in which residential zoning came to be conceived as part of permanent and wide-reaching changes to the architecture of the city. The end of the twentieth century brought an extension of these effects with ever-increasing scales of construction projects, and the notion of a “global market of places, cities and urban images” (Muñoz 2006:184). It was, in part, the progressive expansion of the role of the Olympics that has formulated them as the justification and site of massive urban renovations, including evictions.
Whitson and Horne (2006:84) point to the tendency of Olympic events, as evidenced by their history in Japan and Canada, to result in massive profits for “construction companies and suppliers, engineers and architects, local security firms, media outlets, and anyone professionally involved in the promotional economy that now surrounds any Olympics (advertising, marketing, public relations).” Such a view is consistent with the observations by anthropologists, investigative journalists and activists in the present-day developments in Rio de Janeiro that the interests of private industry seem ideally situated to either influence, or directly control the decision-making apparati of the Olympic Public Authority (APO), and the IOC, while marginalizing and disenfranchising the urban poor. Indeed, the forced relocation of slum residents has been a frequent occurrence in mega-events of the latter half of the twentieth century.
As Greene (2003:186) points out in his case study of 1988 and 1992 mega-events in the cities Seoul and Santo Domingo, “poor neighborhoods and squatter communities did not enjoy the benefits of the international celebrations in Seoul and Santo Domingo. Rather, the urban poor were systematically removed or concealed from high-profile areas in order to construct the appearance of development.”20 In Greene’s example, removals are largely based in a logic of visibility, whereby the urban poor must be hidden from view of the global audience, or of foreigners whose opinion of the city must not be spoiled by glimpses of an unsightly underbelly. However, the visibility of poverty also takes on a simultaneous alternate configuration in Rio’s favelas, as they are commodified as themselves objects of spectacle. As I detail in chapter two, the romanticization of the favela is linked to processes that sanitize it and facilitate its gentrification. Thus, a politics of visibility is in play which serves on the one hand to conceal the ‘failure of modernity’ in favelas, at the same time to commodify urban space through their carefully managed viewing.
Present-day removals in Rio are also imbricated with such a politics of visibility, as the favelas in closest proximity to Olympic zones are targeted first for police occupations or renovation and development geared towards privatization and gentrification. Since it is not feasible to remove all the favelas, the ones deemed to impinge most upon the appearance of Rio as a modern global city must be prioritized for ‘clean up’. This entails military police occupation, as visible evidence of security. Evictions and demolitions of houses thus occur at the same time that ‘Pacifying Police Units’ (UPPs) occupy neighborhoods in efforts to drive away drug cartels, and establish ‘safety’ for the duration of the games, and for new market investments in neighborhoods.
Assessments of the total number of displaced in Rio are contested. The Comitê Popular Rio do Copa, a non-profit based in Rio, states that over eight thousand people have lost their homes to demolitions in preparation for the World Cup and Olympics, and that in all forty thousand are expected to be destroyed. The local advocacy network Popular Committee for the World Cup and Olympics estimates that 170,000 favela residents will be evicted across all of Brazil by the time of the 2016 games, including over 30,000 in Rio de Janeiro (see Fig. 10).
Fig. 10. Sites of Eviction and Relocation, c. 2011
The map portrays evicted communities, communities at risk of eviction, and proposed relocation sites, produced by the Institute of Urban and Regional Planning (IPPUR), Brazil. English Key: Removidas: Communities which have undergone removals; Sobre ameaça de remoção: Communities where homes are at risk of removal; Reassentamentos: Resettlement locations; Favelas; Logradouros: Public areas; Bairros: Neighborhoods (http://www.apublica.org).
Fig. 11. “Olympic City; for whom?”
Graffiti in the port zone c. 2012. A photo is featured of construction in progress on the new port complex (apublica.org).
Fig. 12. “All this, why?” Graffiti in the port zone, c. 2012 (A Pública).
Fig. 13. Demolition in progress in Morro da Providência, 2013
House demolished in connection with the PAC infrastructural projects. Signs from the municipal government state, “Keep children away from machines and equipment.” “Attention: Demolition area. Keep out” (A Pública).
Watchdog NGOs and investigative journalism based in the US and Brazil (i.e., Rio on Watch, a pública), have reported a number of perceived abuses and illegalities. Among them are accounts of evictions and demolitions as occurring with little or no warning to residents, homes being demolished in the absence of their occupants, residents continuing to live among the ruins, and the imposition of psychological pressure to accept low monetary settlements. The experience of trauma and the abruptness of the demolitions are frequently foregrounded in these observations. Alongside these activist accounts stand ones on the APO’s development site that claim to reflect happily relocated subjects, satisfied with the city’s provision of new housing and monetary settlement.
The material effects of removals on communities have been dramatic, and mass public outcry has occurred in the form of protests, as well as in legal battles to save neighborhoods from demolition. Residents frequently complain that relocation and settlement packages are insufficient to cover the costs of constructing a new home, and that demolitions are destructive to the coherence and wellbeing of longstanding communities (see Figs. 11, 12). New cable cars have been installed already in Rocinha and Alemão, and a third is proposed in Morro da Providência, currently the subject of large-scale public protest. Today 832 houses, one third of Morro da Providência’s residences, have been marked for removal in connection to the cable car, which they criticize as a tourist trap built without the input of the community’s residents (Fig 13). 
A film produced by the Comissão de Moradores Atingidos Pela Transoeste (Commission of Residents Affected by the transoeste) (Witness 2012) portrays the demolition of several of what it claims were 153 family homes in Restinga starting on 17 December 2010. The homes were demolished to make way for the construction of lanes for the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line.
The film suggests that the bulldozers arrived without warning, and that residents were forced from their homes on the threat that police would be called to arrest them. One resident, Francisca de Pinho Melo, gives testimony that supports the dominant narratives of advocacy organizations. Forced from her house, she describes her attempts at physical resistance to the unannounced demolitions: “I tried to get in front and a guy who was there working with them held me…I was in shock, crying nonstop. Why is that? Why take the housing of so many people in need?” 22
De Pinho Melo remarks that city “had to demolish the houses and shops because they wanted to widen the Avenue of the Americas [adjacent to the BRT bus line].” She continues, “And they really did that, and we knew it had to be done, but what we questioned was the way that they did it; it just wasn’t fair.” While strategically framed by the advocates and documentarians who crafted the video, accounts such as this one nonetheless point us to discursive forms that help articulate the dimensions and stakes of the debate over forced removals. Her testimony that the transportation projects ‘had to be done’ is curious in light of her otherwise total protest. Her position cannot be understood as part of a monadic narrative that universally decries sporting mega-events. Instead, it makes specific claims that reflect the desire for civic participation, and claims of equal rights to the city. Thus, infrastructural projects and resistance to them are not isolated circumstances, but rather serve as loci for the contestation of ongoing definitions of urban space, and the status of political and social participation.
As figures that take on contradictory symbolisms in the context of development, favela residents occupy a space of tension between exclusion as waste, and integration as potential consumers in the global marketplace. The spectacle of Olympic development is seen to turn on a dual-use of the morador. They are simultaneously the raw material, and site of development, as well as excess to be hidden from view. The renovation of their neighborhoods by making visible the ‘modernization’ of the favelas, and exhibiting their ‘cultural’ character, at the same time that their undesirable traits are hidden from view.
Olympic Spectacle and the neoliberal State of Exception
As a moment in which the usual limits upon governmental authority are suspended, large-scale sporting events in Brazil (and elsewhere) have a history of serving as precedent-setting moments of social upheaval, and the exceptional extension of the use of coercive force by governing entities. Mega-events could be characterized as ‘hallmark’ moments in Brazilian history (Horne and Manzenreiter 2006), in which a particular image of prosperity and future economic potential is cultivated and projected to the world.
Historically, Olympic and World Cup sporting events have come to be seen as the ultimate in global connection, at the same time that local ‘uniqueness’ remains foregrounded in the aesthetics and institutional structures of the events themselves, both in the media and in the urban spaces they are held. This ideal image of global connection, and of spectacular sport, helps to make possible shifts towards the concentration of power in the hands of institutions headed by powerful elites. I first illustrate the rising neoliberal character of mega-events as planned and executed by corporate actors; I then explain how these institutions employ Olympic spectacle as an opportunity to extend their power.
Gaffney (2012) argues that the history of sporting mega-events in Brazil trends, especially since the early 1990s, towards policies in the vein of neoliberal political economy. The neoliberal character of these mega-events is seen in their capacity, above all, to utilize state apparati to facilitate the transfer of public funds into private coffers, disproportionately reflecting the interests of a few wealthy investors over majority constituents of an ineffective political democracy.
The close collusion between profit-driven interests and municipal planners, the APO, and the IOC, is part of what may also be a more general neoliberal trend in mega-event planning. As VanWynsberghe et al. (2012:5) note, it is too early to consider the Olympics as a uniformly ‘neoliberal’ institution, and Olympic cities are frequently the sites of tension between neoliberal ideology and public will. Nonetheless, recent mega-events seem to indicate a shift in this direction.
One example of this trend is seen in the adoption of development discourses within the IOC. The chartering of ‘sustainable development’ as an explicit goal of the IOC in 1999 accompanied a shift in the games’ role, where they increasingly came to serve as a mediator for processes of corporate-driven, neoliberal development as ‘urban renovation’. The increasing motivation of cities to use the Olympics as a means for fostering ‘sustainable development’ and ‘social inclusion’ was exemplified in the unexpected 2004 short-listing of South Africa’s Olympic bid, and was a crucial factor in Vancouver’s successful 2010 bid for the winter games (VanWynsberghe et al 2012:6).
Additionally, the capacity of corporations to participate in and exert strong influence over the planning of mega-events and the privatization of formerly public space has been a trend in the history of recent mega-events. Hall writes, of ‘official provider’ licenses during the 2006 Football World Cup in Germany, “…[A]s part of the event bid the arrangements for the World Cup meant that in the supposedly ‘public’ places of the twelve host cities, the winning sponsors had the right to pitch their products exclusively when matches were on” (Hall 2006:61).
The claim of corporate monopolies on the public ‘Olympic spaces’ has also extended in recent years. A number of contemporary sporting mega-events, including the Commonwealth Games, the Olympics, and the America’s Cup, have resulted in the suspension of the usual rights of citizens. For example, corporate-influenced “environment and planning legislation” in New South Wales in 1995 resulted in the refusal of the right to court appeal for Sydney residents who opposed proposed Olympic projects (Hall 2006: 62).
Similarly, as the preparations for the 2016 games unfold, numerous allegations have emerged in which evicted residents accuse the city of suspending their constitutional rights. The involvement of large corporations in planning Rio’s infrastructural makeover has frequently involved no-bid contracts, and many members of the municipal government and institutions of Olympic authority are themselves closely affiliated with the interests of international finance capital.
As Gaffney corroborates, Rio’s recent ‘rehearsal’ for the 2016 games, the 2007 Pan-American games, were geared highly towards the interests of private investors, and as a font of capitalist urban development (Gaffney 2010). Though linked to ‘corruption’ and illegal under-the-table contracts between private and state institutions, I emphasize that it is the legalization of profit-driven governance that makes the mega-event an increasingly ‘neoliberal’ spectacle. Hall (2006:60) corroborates the notion that corporate participation in the games since the turn of the twenty-first century has gone beyond “sponsorship” in the planning of the Olympics and other mega-events, but also legally extended to the “scheduling of events,” and “their development, planning, and regulation.”
In this vein, Klein’s The Shock Doctrine (2007) offers a compelling characterization of the exploitation of mega-events as ‘moments’ for the extension and intensification of liberal market policies. In her view, the exploitation of moments of ‘large-scale shock’ has been a key tactic for imposing the ‘capitalist makeovers’ of the Milton Friedman’s ‘Chicago School’ of economists, as well as in the context of mega-events.23 Drawing upon her general observations about this phenomenon, I find Giorgio Agamben’s (2003) interpretation of Schmitt’s “state of exception” well-suited to further theorize the expanded legal and extra-legal exercise of capitalist discipline in Rio de Janeiro in the context of mega-events. The events stand in this interpretation as moments of national charisma in which the application of coercive power is justified in an exceptional space.
Agamben’s analysis characterizes this space as one of tension between order and chaos, experienced as the suspension of norms. He writes of this suspension as an “anomic feast,” a “legal anarchy” where ambiguity obscures the functional limits of the law (Agamben 2003:72-73). The stillness, or aporia, between them reflects the emergence of a space of ambiguity, where the recognition of a distinction between norm and chaos is no longer agreed upon. As a space in which processes of governance are made increasingly opaque, the mega-event reflects the shift in this tension towards the anarchic. Ambiguity and invisibility of governing processes are, therein, both justified and minimized by the spectacular image of the games as a moment of modernization and global fraternity.
The tension between law/anomie, that is, the state of exception, is a compelling way to characterize the curious suspension of norms that accompanies the neoliberal Olympic spectacle. It reflects the mood of Olympic revelry not only as a ‘moment’ that is exploited, but also links it to broader, and long-term systemic forms of governance and power. As Agamben emphasizes, such a bacchanalian moment of suspension is seen to explicate an underlying condition, here present in the relations of law and society under contemporary neoliberal governance in Rio de Janeiro.
The capacity of the games to create an aura of neutrality, couched in developmentalist language, and imagery of global sport, is here key to the extension of neoliberal political goals under the auspices of the temporary (see Fig. 14). The Olympic exceptionalism that extends extraordinary power to the Olympic Public Authority (APO) thus plays a dual role. At the same time that it reflects an historical suspension in which governance by the market extends its grasp, it is symptomatic of emergent hegemonic norms of liberal governance and its disciplinary modes. Thus, the temporal-scaling of this extension of the market’s power as a moment of exception in fact serves to conceal a governmental project with long-term implications.
Such a possibility of ambiguous and expanded powers of market-centric governance, imagined as temporary, is an essential aspect of the powerful neoliberal institutions that direct the 2016 Olympics. The 2016 APO is a publicly funded organization appointed in co-operation with the IOC and composed mainly of powerful business elites. Yet, it defines itself as “a private entity,” meaning that is has very little accountability or transparency to the people it governs. Acting as the central coordinating authority, the APO is responsible for the ballooning Olympic budget, acquiring land through eminent domain (including evictions and demolitions), and is involved in the plans to securitize the city through police occupations. In short, immense powers to shape the restructuring and control of urban space have fallen to an organization with even less transparency and opportunity for democratic participation than the existing governing entities of Brazil’s political democracy.
Fig. 14. Assessor’s Identification Card for Rio Municipality, c. 2013
This card is deployed as a credential for assessors who facilitate the signing of resettlement contracts, and preside over the processes of demolition and eviction. The ID card emphasizes the exceptional authority of the APO via the Rio 2016 logo.
Crucial to this chapter has been the notion that complicity and support for the notion of the games are being actively produced as diverse desires, both trans-regionally and locally, for profit, civic participation, modernist development, and global integration. The role of the “spectacular show” of the Olympics may very well be one of “a hegemonic device to reconfigure the rights, spatial relations and self-determination of the city’s working class…” (Kumar 2012). However, if it does so, it is in ways that are neither transparent nor solely propagandistic. Rather, the games, as the subject of the desires of both the rich and poor, become the site for the disappointment or fulfillment of forms of civic participation. It is the production of this desire as a positive force at home and abroad that is achieved through the spectacle of the games. The production of this complicity, via the image of the peaceful sporting spectacle, takes place not only through coercive duplicity, but also through spaces of legal ambiguity, in which ‘the people’ never seem to be unilaterally at odds with the expanding power of governing institutions. In this way, the desire for participation as cultivated through spectacle is seen to engender complicity in the expansion of neoliberal government, while also working to produce the games as a field for the contestation of historical conflicts over rights and the meaning of urban space.Continued on Next Page »