Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Today marks 100 days since Mayor Crivella was sworn in as Mayor of the City of Rio. This traditional milestone usually precipitates articles asking “what’s he done?” or “what hasn’t he done?” The answer to both questions seems to be “not much”.
He did begin talks with the State government about having the municipal guards join forces with the state police. The problem is that law enforcement, meaning crime fighting, is the exclusive province of the state government, not the municipal government; municipal guards are not permitted to carry firearms.
As a result, the guards are mostly involved with trying (unsuccessfully) to reduce the amount of street sellers (camelôs) pushing their wares on public spaces. Almost all of those wares are sold off books, and much of it arrives on the street as a result of contraband or other illicit activities.
The Mayor knows, however, that the City of Rio’s economy is in trouble, because the State of Rio is bankrupt, and lots of employers during the Olympics have now laid off their workers. Unemployed workers now hit the streets to sell shoddy merchandise, as a means to keep themselves and their families solvent. So what Crivella did was tell the guards not to do their main job.
Upon election, the Mayor said he wasn’t going to be doing any new public works, just completing those that are urgent. Many of the most important (the BRT and the cable car over Morro da Providência) are still awaiting getting restarted, because the city needs funding from private sources. That’s a “not done”.
The Mayor’s biggest headlines came during Carnival, at which he was not present. An evangelist bishop and former missionary, Crivella knows that many of his followers (and voters) believe Carnival is the glorification of sin. He also knows that Carnival is controlled by the leaders of Rio’s powerful numbers racket, the “jogo do bicho”. So, he pointedly stayed away, saying he had work to do.
Commentators claimed, with some justice, that Carnival in Rio is not just about sin and crime, but rather about Brazilian cultural history, and specifically the efforts of non-white poor people to insert some enjoyment into their lives, in the face of the outrageous economic and social inequalities they suffer from. For that reason, Carnival supporters claimed, the Mayor should have honored Carnival with his presence. He did not do that.
The second biggest headline subject has been about appointments. One was Crivella’s son, whom he named his chief of staff — that was suspended by the STF, because nepotism is prohibited by law. The other involved his Secretary of Urban Transports, who appointed unqualified outsiders to be his principal aides. Both have subsequently resigned, and Rio’s urban transportation continues dismal. Those are things he tried to do but didn’t.
All this inaction was eminently predictable. Crivella ran as an outsider, as someone who did not and would not rely upon the existing political structure, which was suspected of being corrupt. He has maintained that outlier profile during his first 100 days, but it remains to be seen whether he will be able to accomplish anything significant during his four-year mandate if he does not come back into the fold.