“Rubber bullets and tear gas in the heart of São Paolo elicit a very different reaction from when they are used in favelas.” (© Agencia Estado/Chine Nouv/SIPA/Rex Features)
When the Pope-mobile carrying the pontiff took a wrong turning on President Vargas Avenue in the centre of Rio de Janeiro in July, the faithful surged towards the open vehicle, desperate to touch his Holiness and hand over their babies for a quick blessing. The Pope had barely touched down from Rome and already the Rio authorities had to scramble in response to a serious threat to his security.
The disasters continued. Later that day, the city’s metro suffered a two-hour power cut, stranding pilgrims and workers while provoking an even greater gridlock than usual in the heart of the city. Each day brought new examples of incompetence in organising the Pope’s visit, and the public aimed its wrath at Rio’s mayor, Eduardo Paes, and the State Governor, Sergio Cabral. Cabral’s popularity fell to about 12 per cent; just seven weeks earlier, with ratings of more than 55 per cent, he was widely regarded as one of the most successful and popular Governors in Rio’s history.
The collapse in his reputation is the result of a perfect storm of failures that came together in six weeks this summer. The distant thunderclaps began in May, when a judge ruled that there had been irregularities in the bidding process to rebuild the iconic Maracanã stadium. (In early August, Governor Cabral announced a u-turn by suspending the privatisation process).
At the same time, rumours of trouble surfaced regarding his signature security policy, the UPP or Pacification, a courageous and systematic attempt to reduce violence in Rio’s favelas, the huge slums that are found in most Brazilian cities and provide the country with cheap labour and a plentiful supply of affordable cocaine and high-quality marijuana. It seems that the leaders of the city’s two police forces, the Military Police and the Civil Police, both of which are critical to the UPP’s success, were refusing to co-operate, endangering the entire project.
Furthermore, the state and municipal governments have been investing both real and political capital in persuading the outside world that they will be ready for the coming sporting mega events, the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, as traffic jams lengthen, property prices skyrocket and power…