Yet again I have been lax in my blogging… Life has been quite busy here in Brazil, and suddenly I woke up and it was the 1st July and half of the year had gone. And now it is less than 3 months until I move back home!
The biggest things to have happened of course are Dilma’s impeachment and Brexit… And that has had a very big economic impact here in Brazil in terms of the exchange rate. It is now less than 4.3 Reals to the pound. Which is a great improvement for Brazilians wanting to go abroad (similar trends against the dollar and euro too). And for those coming to Brazil for the Olympics, the strengthened Real has made it a bit more expensive again.
It is now just 1 month to go until the start of the Olympics. And there for sure is a lot still to get done. The metro is now at risk again the news is saying, needing an emergency R$1 billion to be able to finish in time. And even that ‘finished’ means open only for ticket holders and accredited people – not for general riders wanting to get between Barra and Zona Sul. Indeed the plan is that the metro would close again after the Olympics to complete the final works. Without the metro, getting out to the Olympic Park will be chaos I fear… The newly opened road between São Conrado and Barra has helped a lot, with an extra lane in each direction, but then one will be taken away for the Olympic Route Network, and instead of nice new metros carrying a thousand people in 15 minutes to Barra, it will be lines of buses carrying 50-60 people in… an hour? Of course, there always was going to be a bus – the metro stops at the start of Barra, where you then have to catch the new BRT (a dedicated walled off lane with big bendy buses) that runs to the Olympic Park then. But maybe a <1 hour journey time from Zona Sul to the Park could comfortably become >2 I fear.
There’s been a lot of scaremongering over the Games… From police protests at the airport saying ‘welcome to hell’ advising people not to come to Rio, pollution scares, Zika… Living here, I haven’t seen any real change in policing, and the biggest part is being provided by the miltary anyway. And emergency loans to pay for security have been approved. The pollution in the bay is quite worrying, but talking to people who have been sailing there, they suggest it isn’t quite as bad as some of the media are making out. Plans to make use of certain tidal conditions etc. can reduce the impact a lot. It is of course very sad that over the previous 7 years almost nothing has managed to be done to cut down the pollution…
I was talking to some people over the last couple of weeks who have suffered indirectly in another way from the Olympics. Rio state is officially in a ‘catastrophe’, and indeed some police, firefighters, health care workers are not being paid. But state managed schools and universities have also been suffering – the state university in Rio has been on strike for 4 months now! Countless schools over the state have been shut too. A generation of people are suffering – 4 months of education is a lot of time to miss and have to make up. There is a complex mix of city, state and federal systems. City and Federal are working ok still, but State is not. Emergency government funding to the state is being prioritised towards Olympic Security, and still universities remain on strike over pay. From a small city a few hundred km from Rio, I’ve heard that initially teachers were being paid half of their salary, with plans to pay the rest in instalments, before the money stopped flowing all together.
But I don’t think it is far to blame this on the Olympics – for me it is down to chronic mis-management of projects, corruption and embezzlement. There should have been enough money for everything, even despite the economic downturn. The metro for instance, to suddenly find itself a R$1 billion short… that isn’t a small sum of money to sudden find missing in the last 30 days, only 30 days after saying everything is now on track!
And the requested loan for the R$1 billion for the metro? BNDES, the Brazilian government’s development bank that does investment loans, will not lend any more money until the payments are made on the existing loans… which of course they are behind in paying. The new loan is in part to go in paying the old loan… Look, it is all the government in the end, be in city, state of Federal. Make things happen!! The eyes of the world are in Brazil, and silly political infighting and divisions will only help achieve failure of the world’s largest sporting event.
It may not be the most popular thing in Brazil right now, it may be blamed for funnelling money away from areas where it is needed. But 95% of it has been spent now. Either get the last 5% completed, or see the whole 95% of it just wasted on a project that might fail.
Actually this isn’t where I was intending this blog post to go…. but it seems I started on a little rant!
The final three months for me are going to be a hectic, fun, crazy time. From working 24/7 shifts, seeing some of the Games, and preparing everything to move back to the UK! German House is a short distance down the beach from me in Leblon – I have very good memories of many nights or afternoons in German House in London, as again it was pretty close to my house!
I feel like we are in the middle of a soap opera right now… Or an episode of House of Cards.
Lula is investigated, then charged. Then Dilma offers him a place in the cabinet, potentially to avoid prosecution, then a court blocks the appointment… The suspense, the intrigue!
So of course we have lots more banging of pots, and a few protests (at weekends, at least here in Rio). But in terms of actual action, there’s plenty of words but very little chance of change it seems. The judge who seems to be on a mission to ‘get’ Lula has perhaps overstepped the mark by releasing a wire-tapped phone conversation between Lula and Dilma for instance in an attempt to get the public even more against Lula.
But what do I mean by the public… by all accounts the protests are very much by the white middle and upper class Brazilians, with figures like 75% of all protestors having a university degree while the national average is far lower, and a similar figures for skin colour, incoming brackets etc. So certainly a section of Brazil is up in arms, and a large percentage of that demographic. However, a lot of the population is behind Dilma still, despite all the turmoil, the evidence of corruption, the economic downturn… And this is a large percentage of the population. Dilma’s policies may be hurting the economy, and making a joke of Brazilian politics on the world stage, but she is still putting money in the hands of some of Brazil’s poorest – it’s just money that Brazil doesn’t have to spend right now.
I think this episode of the Colbert report sums it up (although it’s not quite up to date with the latest…)
So, what else… We are now less than 5 months to the start of the Olympics! In fact, in 5 months the Olympics will be over and we will be working for the start of the Paralympics. Exciting and very busy times! There are of course lots of worries about what will and will not be ready – the Olympic Parks have come along well, with a lot of venues already having hosted test events. However, getting there could be more interesting… The main park, located in Barra, should have been accessed by the new metro extension and a ‘BRT’ – a dedicated section of the road for buses. Unfortunately, there are now big questions over whether the metro will actually be ready or not. Contingency plans are in place for the BRT buses to run in fact from Ipanema all the way to the park. This would be a near disaster… The traffic between Zona Sul and Barra is terrible most of the time, so I presume these contingency plans involve extending a dedicated lane just for the BRT buses all the way from Ipanema to the start of Barra. This is in most parts a 2 lane road that is already a nightmare – if they do this the normal traffic will be unimaginably worse. There’s been talk of lots of public holidays during the Games, which would in turn harm an economy already struggling. So we will see…
Oh, the economy. Actually the exchange rate has made a huge recovery in the last month. From dropping down to 6.3 to the GBP back in September, it has been below 5.2 in the past week. There’s two factors in play – the weakened pound because of uncertainty over EU membership, but the strengthening of the Real. With each charge of corruption against Lula and the potential steps towards impeaching Dilma the currency got a bit stronger… Is this the only country in the G20 where the currency gets stronger when there is talk of impeaching its leader?!
So it’s been a busy couple of weeks over here at work with the launch of the Volunteer Portal (portaldovoluntario.rio2016.com if you fancy it!).
So had a nice Wednesday off after working through the weekend. Rio 2016 has passed 2 years to go, and I have nearly passed 2 years in Rio now… time flies. And in two more years I’ll be on my way from Brazil to… somewhere else!
My last post was during the World Cup… and it’s all over! Things returned back to normal pretty quickly round here. The vast number of police disappeared, the tourist level is back to normal and life keeps going. There was an armed hostage situation in a church the other day… all back to normal…
The next new thing coming along now is the elections. Walking round Ipanema, or anywhere in Rio, I’m surrounded by adverts for candidates and people handing out fliers. The big day is the first week in October, and talking to most people they seem to expect Dilma to be re-elected… Despite everyone complaining about her! I don’t get to vote in the general election of course, or in the local Rio elections (which I know nothing about unfortunately… although again there seems to be a general dissatisfaction with all the candidates), but I am very curious to see what happens and the impact it has on Brazil. After a successful World Cup (in terms of how it was run at least and not for Brazilian football!), an economic recession couldn’t have come at a worse time for Dilma. There’s plenty of damning articles over the economy right now.
Till next time… whenever I get round to it:)