Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – God may be Brazilian, but Marx certainly wasn’t. He famously stated that “religion is the opiate of the masses” when, here in Brazil, all know that “futebol” is the true opiate, as addictive to Marxists and Socialists as it is to autocratic generals. It makes you feel good even when things are very bad.
Last week the Curmudgeon learned that former President Lula had come to visit the building site formerly known as Maracanã, because the stadium is very badly behind schedule.
Originally scheduled to be completed by December 2012, it’s now due to be inaugurated on April 15th; if it isn’t, FIFA can, theoretically, pull the plug on it as a venue for the Confederations Cup scheduled for this June. That, of course, would be a political disaster for Lula, who promised FIFA it would be ready on time.
One historic reason for such tardiness is that builders invent rationalizations for not building — ranging from “it’s raining” to “the dog ate the blueprints for the roof”. Claiming they must work harder to meet the impending deadline, they demand extra pay for that “extra” work.
But there’s another reason: the work stoppages called by the unions representing the construction workers. The unions knowingly plan their strikes for times when they are most likely to get what they demand. Unsurprisingly, there have been strikes by construction workers at Maracanã every few months since the job began in 2010.
At first, the unions demand pie in the sky — wage increases of fifty percent plus fringe benefits. Compromising, the unions get only part of what they want. But a few months later they stop work again, this time asking for pie à la mode. The builders, feigning concern about their deadline, grant another slice or two of pie. And so forth and so on.
In February, Governor Cabral paused his globetrotting to cobble together yet another deal between workers and contractors. Cabral knows that pie is not free, and that the government will eventually fork over more money to the contractors to cover the higher labor costs. But politics always trumps economics, and the deadline is political.
The original cost estimate (itself an outrageous R$750 million) has now gone WAY past the R$1 billion mark. Things are going very badly. But nobody cares.
Nobody cares, because football is the opiate of the Brazilian masses. Last week Minister of Sports Aldo Rebelo put forth the jaw-dropping proposal that Brazil’s federal government should grant a full tax amnesty to Brazilian football clubs.
His justification is that, “Football is part of the Brazilian cultural heritage; it’s … recognized as an element of our Brazilianicity.” In Rio, Lula said, “When we put on our national team jersey, we’re representing millions of Brazilian men and women.”
This mendacious full frontal populism was not invented by leftists. In 1970 (the most repressive year of the military dictatorship) the generals, claiming to represent millions of Brazilians, all donned the national uniform, hoping to distract attention from the very, very, very bad situation in the country.
Brazil won the 1970 World Cup, but the opium wore off soon enough. Lula lived through that era; he should know better than to prescribe the same sordid medicine to the workers at Maracanã and Cariocas in general.
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!)