Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – As this is written, Rio de Janeiro’s downtown has been occupied by tens of thousands of protestors. The motley nature of their garb reflected the equally motley nature of their protest targets. For although the march was billed as a mammoth protest against the Statute passed by Congress that would drastically reduce Rio’s riches from offshore oil exploration, there were other protests.
Some were serious, for instance the Webjet personnel unceremoniously sacked by GOL; people dressed as Indians, protesting against the demolition of the Museu do Índio to make way for a parking lot outside Maracanã; and a number of people in wheelchairs wearing shirts in favor of the Lei Seca.
On the other hand, there were the un-serious people: a wannabe Michael Jackson imitator looking less like the original than you do; a guy holding a tray of caipirinhas; and a guy wearing a hat and boots, astride a white horse prancing around in front of the sound truck.
In some ways it looked like Brancaleone’s Army. In other ways it looked like The Folk Song Army. It just wasn’t, as they say, very convincing. For starters, the war cry “VETA, DILMA” had been diluted by adding “contra a injustiça” and “em defesa do Rio.” It’s hard to take those unrhythmic polysyllables and compose a catchy little ditty that those who are near you will chant over the din of the sound truck.
The next unconvincing thing is that the “comissão de frente”, i.e. those notables and dignitaries who carry the banner with the “catch phrase” on it, was notoriously thin on the ground in the celebrity department. Gov. Cabral and Mayor Paes and other politicos were all wearing identical T-shirts (more on that shortly).
The sole famous person out front was Fernanda Montenegro, for decades the grande dame of Brazilian actresses; yet, for all her mammoth talent, she was having trouble looking other than bored stiff by the role she had agreed to play. Sure, seen performing at the stage set up in Cinelândia were the usual suspects (Xuxa, Alcione, Gabriel o Pensador), but march? Hmm.
The t-shirt design was a very large “RIO” in which the capital “I” had three squiggly curlicue things rising out of the top of it, which made it resemble a lamb’s lettuce leaf, or perhaps some overgrown apostrophes sprouting out of a bamboo stalk.
After some vigorous blinking, the Curmudgeon realized it was a symbol for oil, gushing out of Rio. Beneath this were the two polysyllabic refrains mentioned above. To grab your attention, however, there was a bright red circle with white letters inside saying “VETA, DILMA”.
So, what’s the point? The point is that this was a parade doomed to failure, a rally supported only by government workers, who received the day off and who could ride public transportation for free, if they wore the slogan on their sleeves.
It was not a popular outpouring; it was a populist tempest in a teapot—or perhaps in an oil barrel. The entire country is convinced Rio has received too much money from offshore oil, and the new law reflects that. If Dilma does veto it, as the marchers want, the Congress will override her veto by a large margin.
Michael Royster, aka THE CURMUDGEON first saw Rio forty-plus years ago, fetched up on these shores exactly 35 years ago, still loves it, notwithstanding being a charter member of the most persecuted minority in (North) America today, the WASPs (google it!)(get over it!)