A pattern of decaying public infrastructure assets, many of them shut down for years with the promise of prompt renovation that never seems to materialize, frustrates many residents of Brasilia in light of massive public investments in the World Cup.
To develop a better understanding as to just why Brazilians around the country are so deeply frustrated with the government’s handling of public investment into infrastructure needed to host the 2014 FIFA World Cup, I visited a number of public facilities around the nation’s 54 year old capital Brasilia. I found many of them shut down, with promises of renovations and upgrades that have yet to materialise, and some of them, situated in Sara Kubitschek Park near the brand new National Stadium, one of the 12 sites of the 2014 World Cup, in horrible state of disrepair:
The Wave Pool, built in the 1980s as a free public facility and a major attraction to Brasilians to use in the public park, was closed down in 1997 for repairs to the wave machinery. Closed ever since, it has become a popular hang out for crack addicts. A revitalisation plan issued by the Secretariat of Urban Planning in 2011 called for a study of bids to revitalise the sports facilities in the park, which at this point call for a complete reconstruction of the public pool, as the old wave machinery is beyond repair after such an extended period of disuse. In his 2011 statement, Brasilia’s Administrator Messias de Souza answered his citizens frequent calls for revitalisation of the pool with the following statement: “We heard the demands of users and we are trying to solve them. Now just wait for the deadlines.” Three years later on the eve of a major event in the city, the citizens of Brasilia are still waiting …
The public library Maria da Conceição Moreira Salles in Brasilia’s Asa Sul was shut down on May 6 2014 by the Federal District’s Civil Defence Authority and condemned against further use, citing an immediate risk of collapse, water leaks, and electrical wiring problems in the facility that had been badly maintained since it was constructed 50 years ago. Housing a collection of over 120,000 works, the library used to receive over 1000 visits daily before its sudden shutdown. Problems had been mounting over the past few years: In 2012, pieces of plaster fell from the facade of the building in the gardens and on the balcony. A few months ago, over 2000 works received water damage after a leak from the air-conditioning system. The National Library Foundation issued a statement regarding the potential reopening of the library, saying “we are studying the immediate shoring and recovery project of the reading room” as well as “sanitary analysis of water consumed by users.” The Foundation reports that works on electrical installations are under way, and plans for replacing the water tank are being drawn up. No time line was given for plans to shore up the structural deficiencies of the building, or the replacement of the air-conditioning unit. Signs posted on the front door of the library show the deep concern of its users and staff, demanding immediate renovations “meeting FIFA standards” as one sign declared. A passerby I meet while outside the building tells me however “I’m not holding my breath.”
The Renato Russo Cultural Space, Brasilia’s leading alternative cultural space and a source of free arts education classes to local public school students since it opened in 1993, suddenly shut down in 2013 with few reasons given. Several months later, the center’s doors are still shuttered, with rumours of faulty wiring and cracked ceilings floating around in the local press. In a safety audit report, Federal Authorities cite the following issues for which the space has been repeatedly fined: Lack of wheelchair accessibility, lack of preferred seating for the elderly and infirm, no handicap parking, and other missing adaptations to make the space usable and accessible to visitors with special needs. The space’s manager, Marconi Valaderes, admits to a local radio reporter, that the center closed in part to avoid further accumulation of fines and violations. No plans for the timeline for reopening of the cultural center are currently known.
Meanwhile, local authorities have spent R$1.5 billion (ca US$ 650 million) on building the new National Stadium, one of 12 sites used to host the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Once the tournament is over, it is assumed that the stadium will be used to host rock concerts and other arena style shows, as Brasilia currently has no other such venue. The city has no local football team playing in the major leagues.
The lack and delay of investment in public recreational and cultural facilities is not directly a cause of the public investment of FIFA’s 2014 tournament, However, the pattern of decay of such facilities that were originally built for public use, showcase the priority setting of local authorities in where they invest public funds available to them and illustrate one of the driving forces of frustration of Brazilian’s all around the country that has led to recent protests. People I meet and talk to are tired of politicians that make lofty promises ahead of every election, and when they take on public office, that wind up rarely being kept. Walking past the twin towers of the Congresso, which houses Senators and members of the Lower House, I hear a passerby murmur “I wish these twin towers had been hit by a plane.” Asking for clarification what he meant by that, the man, who wouldn’t give his name, said “[politicians] take office, make big promises and then go home to screw their wives. However, we who pay their salaries get little benefit from them being here.”