Sunday, December 14, 2008

Rio's Mayor Cesar Maia - A Not-So-Fond Farewell

If you want a true measure of how little good a local politician has done, just take a look at Rio de Janeiro's outgoing mayor, Cesar Maia. Maia was a former member of the Leninist Brazilian Communist Party and was actually exiled during the dictatorship, but has gradually shifted to the furthest right-wing political party in Brazil (the Partido Frente Liberal, Liberal Front Party).

In his first term (when he was still a member of the centrist Partido Movimento Democratico Brasileiro), he actually accomplished a couple of major social improvements, most notably the completion of Rio's Linha Amarela (a highway connecting the Northern zone of Tijuca with the southern Zone of Barra) and the launch of the Favela-Bairro Project, which tried to integrate the outlying favelas into the city via infrastructural improvements.

However, something happened inbetween his first term (1993-1996) and his second and third terms (2001-2004 and 2005-2009 - between his first and second, he was not allowed to run for reelection). Since 2001, Maia has been the worst kind of Carioca politician, one who appeals to the basest classism of the middle-class and wealthy elites of the Zona Sul (who elected him in 1992, as well as his hand-picked successor in 1997, before returning Maia to office in 2001 and 2005). He has done absolutely nothing for social improvement. As police continue indiscriminately killing people in the favelas, Maia has virtually disappeared from the scene of governance, allowing them to do so while leaving governors (now Sergio Cabral) and Lula to deal with the issue. Infrastructurally, he has let the entire city rot, with the roads getting worse and worse throughout the city and being slow to react to problems with major tunnels that connect the city (it is, after all, built around 3000-foot tall mountains, an impressive thing considering it's a coastal city). He has even offered a solution to the street dogs that one finds sometimes in the city (and which cause nobody any harm) - two years ago, he offered to round them all up and kill them, eliciting protests from animal-lovers and the homeless (many of whom see the dogs as pets). As he leaves office, he leaves exactly one public transportation project in progress (the creation of Ipanema's first subway stop). In short, Maia has done nothing but espouse the hateful, classist, racist vitriol of his supporters from the furthest right in the political system in Brazil to get re-elected twice (2001 and 2005).

So how bad was he? Bad enough that, playing off president Juscelino Kubitschek's "50 years in 5" program in the 1950s, historians are calling Maia's administration, "4 years in 12." Now that's an excellent bit of political snark, made better by the unfortunate fact that, in the best analysis of Maia's time as mayor, it's true.

*(And as a quick postlude, I could tear into Globo for siding with the historians in its headline of "4 years in 12," given that Globo was the main organ that helped Maia win through its coverage, and that O Globo shares his contempt for the poor and "dark-skinned," but this isn't the first time that O Globo has bitten the back of the groups and individuals whose actions it supports and whose ideologies it shares, and it won't be the last time this happens. Globo is a hypocritical beast that acts pious at all times while trying to make the most money while pushing a repugnant right-wing ideology. But that's not news...)