Rousseff

The fall of a superpower

Off the keyboard of Pepe Escobar

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THE ROVING EYE

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Originally published in Asia Times on July 11, 2014
Discuss this article here in the Diner Forum.

SAO PAULO – I know; Israel bombing civilians in Gaza, Kiev bombing civilians in eastern Ukraine, the Caliph running amok in the Middle East, The Empire of Chaos playing trickster. But let me get something out of my chest first. 

I was saving this picture for the right moment. Which is now. Meet a classic tropical paradise – as in Santo Andre, in Bahia, close to the spot where Brazil was “discovered” by the Portuguese in 1500. The Mannschaft training camp is right behind those trees on the left. I was there at the start of the World Cup; my gracious host Anna Mariani owns a fabulous beach house right next to it.

The German camp – actually a beach condo – was secluded and customized to perfection. Yet the players interacted with the small village nearby, visited a local school, fraternized with Pataxo Indians, went for morning beach walks. And trained very, very hard; discipline, commitment, work ethic – while loving every minute of their side of paradise and imbibing rituals of Brazilian culture. This is where the already famous/infamous 7-1 evisceration of Brazil really started. 

The Brazilian national team, meanwhile, was starring a (literal) tearjerker psychodrama convulsing 200 million people. It was like an abysmal telenovela – bearing no hard work or discipline; just bling bling (look at my new haircut!) coupled with a smug sense of entitlement. In the end they should win because after all, runs the top national myth, “God is Brazilian”. 

Now for a globalization parable. Way before the Cup, Brazil – once a mighty footballing superpower – had been reduced, by concentric levels of mismanagement, to a minor role of commodity exporter (as in talented players). There had been no thought of investing in the future; all that mattered was profitable TV rights privileging a media racket. Germany, on the other hand, since they lost the 2002 World Cup (to Brazil …) invested in a vast network of football schools, part of a national system of nurturing talent, educating them, and preparing coaches as well. 



Three hours before the start of the 7-1 humiliation, I was asked at my barbershop about the match result. I shot back “Germany 4-0”. Everyone was stunned. Well, I flew in from Asia and then Europe to follow the World Cup in Brazil as if I was covering a war; what I initially suspected was confirmed as the psychodrama started to unroll/unravel. 

All signs pointed to a bunch of psychologically unstable young Brazilian millionaires ready to spectacularly implode – as they had threatened to while playing Chile and then Colombia. It finally happened in the space of only six minutes when Germany scored 4 goals – and at the 29th minute the Europeans were already leading by 5-0. 

Surprise? Not really. Brazil has ceased to play jogo bonito (the beautiful game) a long time ago, after that fabulous 1970 side and then the best side that never won anything, in 1982. Since the 1990s, Brazil as the home of jogo bonito was just another myth – an elaborate marketing trick (with a Nike hand). And all the way, Brazilians loved to fool themselves, draped in a perennially cheap “We Are the Champions” brand of nationalism. 

Until hubris prevailed. It took Germany to reclaim the real jogo bonito, with their scintillating passes, top finishing and triangulation flair worthy of the Chicago Bulls in their heyday. 

The Brazilian team turned into a nervous wreck first of all for tactical/technical reasons; this was a team with no midfield playing against the best midfield on the planet. Blame it on their handlers, the Brazilian football federation and the “technical commission” they appointed; a talentless, arrogant/ignorant lowly bunch that mirrors, crystal clear, the arrogance/ignorance of Brazilian political/economic elites, old and new. As much as Brazilian police, quite ironically, dismantled a FIFA corporate ticket black market racket in Rio of all places (Scotland Yard couldn’t do it), it missed another racket – a spin-off at the shadowy corridors of Brazilian football. 

The technical commission, in their post-traumatic press conference, the same day Argentina and Holland played like grown ups for an interminable 120 minutes to 0-0 (then solved it on penalties), reminded me of the Pentagon dismissing Abu Ghraib: “Oh, that was just a freak accident.” No, it was not. The Brazilian cowards in charge simply could not admit the “blackout” was systemic. 

There will be endless political reverberations about this 7-1 thrashing. It goes way beyond the (white) Brazilian moneyed crowd who could afford to buy FIFA’s tickets while despising President Dilma Rousseff’s spending on social welfare. It certainly has to do with the handsome profit of FIFA’s own funfest (US$4 billion, tax-free) supplied by the locals, as well as the overall bill (a staggering $13.6 billion). Compare it to the pitiful investments in education, public services, “urban mobility”, still appalling infrastructure – while no-holds-barred corruption reigns supreme. 

The biggest global sport humiliation in living memory is directly related to the trademark Brazilian elites’ ignorance/arrogance syndrome (and sense of entitlement). At the same time, you cannot aspire to become a BRICS “superpower” when your self-identity is constructed around a sport – football – debased by crooks. 

The gods of football have mercifully declared the 200 million-strong psychodrama over. Still I really feel sad for the losers – the overwhelming majority of these 200 million supporters, honest and hardworking people for whom football is a meager relief from their pain and struggle; they have been taken for a ride, and consistently lied to. 

Brazil may still enjoy an unlimited stock of soft power across the world, but it must get its corrupt/inefficient act together. If football is to remain the only element that keeps this aspiring superpower glued, better think hard, understand where the humiliation came from, get rid of all those self-important bums, show some humility and work very hard. Learn from the German sports model – one that certainly does not have to do with EU austerity. And then you will be back in paradise. 

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

The Geopolitics of the World Cup

Off the keyboard of Pepe Escobar

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Originally published in Asia Times on June 12, 2014
Discuss this article here in the Diner Forum.

 

By Pepe Escobar

SAO PAULO – One of the defining images of the World Cup – so far – has been the sight of the Mannschaft – aka the German team – fraternizing with Pataxo Indians a few hundred meters away from the spot where Brazil was “discovered” in 1500. Call it a European re-discovery of the exotic tropics.

Then there’s the English Team frolicking by the seaside, inside a military base, with the Sugarloaf as gorgeous backdrop, backed up by a scientific expert in humidity and industrial ventilators aplenty (after all there’s the Rumble in the Jungle against Italy this Saturday “deep in the Amazon rainforest”, as British tabloids tell it.)

The World Cup – the greatest show on earth – kicks off just as a relentless Made in the West (client states included) anti-Chinese and anti-Russian propaganda/downright vilification shatters all known hysteria levels.

And that means the BRICS are a target; in the case of Brazil, an emerging power sitting strategically over the bulk of the Amazon rainforest just as progressive Latin American integration has dared to turn the Monroe Doctrine into (branded) toilet paper.

Recently, Brazil brought at least 30 million people out of poverty. China invests in medical care and education. Russia refuses to be bullied as in the drunkard Yeltsin years. In the past few years, the World Cup has been all about the BRICS: South Africa in 2010, Brazil now, and Russia in 2018. Qatar in 2022 – if it ever happens – is more like a Gulf petrodollar-fueled bribery racket gone wrong.

It’s amusing to check how the City of London – which loves Russian cash, craves Chinese investment and has a soft spot for Brazilian soft power – takes it all in. With an added strand of British humor, they could easily have interpreted the Rumble in the Jungle as NATO battling it out in the middle of the much-coveted rainforest (think the water wars of the near future).

That other World Cup 
And then, just two days after the start of the World Cup, Brazilian neighbor Bolivia hosts no less than a G-77+ China summit – actually 133 UN member-nations, the whole thing presided over by Evo Morales, who is a sort of Andean distant cousin of the Pataxos who so fascinated the Germans.

Call it also the meeting of ALBA (the Bolivarian Alternative to the Americas, which includes Cuba) and the BRICS (only Russia won’t be present). American exceptionalists are furious that the BRICS are spearheading the transition towards a multipolar world – something that’s already at play in football (think Spain, Germany, Italy on one side, Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay on another).

Emulating football, a South-to-South counterpunch to the hegemony of the industrialized North is also in play. Brazil, China, and Russia, in their different strategies, are all betting on more South-South integration – from the Banco del Sur (the Bank of the South) to the upcoming BRICS development bank (there’s a crucial BRICS summit next month in Brasilia), on the way to a more egalitarian system that ideally could be financed by a percentage of foreign debt, a percentage of military expenditure and a global tax on speculative financial transactions.

And it’s never enough to remember that the G-77 is about decolonization; no Empire of Bases; and no interference of the NSA-coordinated Orwellian/Panopticon complex in the Global South.

Now compare it with the official Adidas Coca-Cola Hyundai Kia Motors Emirates Sony Visa Anheuser-Busch InBev (Budweiser) Castrol Continental Johnson & Johnson McDonald’s Itau FIFA-sanctioned entertainment and fun 2014 World Cup Brazil – which industry bible AdvertisingAge broke down as “the Super Bowl every day for an entire month“.

Firmly opposing it, we find an array of South-South associations/solidarity/social movements denouncing everything arguably embedded with the mighty enterprise, from hardcore post-capitalist neo-colonization to outright criminalization of the poor.

And among these movements we find, not surprisingly, Global South icon Diego “Hand of God” Maradona, who said this week, “FIFA gets $4 billion (out of the Cup) while the champion nation gets $35 million. This is wrong. The corporation is delivering a death blow to football”.

Football is war 
Much has also been made of the parallel between hyper-capitalist globalization – as graphically expressed by the World Cup and the mega-business of contemporary football – and nationalism.

Well, the world is not and will never be flat; it’s a Himalaya/Pamir/Hindu Kush of varied inequality altitudes, subjected to snow avalanches including trade, commerce, immigration flows and technology breakthroughs. None of these are able to shatter national fibers. It’s still “us” against “them”, as much in the Global South defining Americans and Europeans as “gringos” as in swathes of the industrialized North patronizing/profiting from the “exotic” Global South.

There’s nothing post-national about the World Cup. In the terrain of hardcore geopolitics, the highly centralized European Union is fragmenting under the weight of a bunch of right-wing or extreme right-wing nationalist parties; in football, the major difference, compared to hardcore geopolitics, is that there’s not only one exceptionalist power but a handful, from Spain to Brazil, from Germany to Italy, from Argentina to France.

Rinus Michels, coach of the Clockwork Orange, the Dutch national team that startled the world in 1974 (alas, they didn’t win), once said that football is war (compare it to maverick director Samuel Fuller, who said cinema is a battlefield). The World Cup is war by other means; an officially sanctioned, ritualized clash of nationalisms. So it’s all about Pick your Tribe; only that after your tribe is out of play you switch to another, replacement tribe – which any effete epicurean would arguably define as Italy. After all they have the most stirring national anthem. They’ve got the best food and the best clothes. And of course, they’ve got Andrea “the Magician” Pirlo.

A new way of playing ball?
Brazil, widely praised as The Land of Football, also happens to be the global leader in reduction of carbon emissions, according to recent research published by Science magazine, managing at the same time to increase agricultural production while saving more rainforest.

And yet, and as usual with all things Brazil, all things World Cup got incredibly messy – a running metaphor of the typical assortment of ills faced by the struggling Global South. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has been forced to appeal to the historical stereotype of the Brazilian “cordial man” and stress tolerance, diversity, dialogue and even sustainability, as well as condemning racism and prejudice, to exhort the population to forget about their troubles and welcome an army of foreign visitors.

That’s a given, considering the average Brazilian is heartwarming and exceedingly friendly; the devil is in the details – as in, for instance, at least 200,000 poor people evicted from their places or at least threatened with eviction, to make way for major works bound to increase “urban mobility”. Well, only 10% of these works were finished, due in most cases to massive corruption. In Rio, not a single real was invested in a chaotic transport system serving the proletarian peripheral sprawl.

Wildly popular Lula, when he was still the president of Brazil in 2009, said that no taxpayer money would be spent on the World Cup. Well, not directly; most of the funding came from the National Bank for Economic Development, a bank that lends money to banks. Builders of new stadia also benefited from generous tax exemptions.

The bottom line is that Rousseff’s government ended up losing the media battle. Over and over, Rousseff has had to explain that the Cup will cost a fraction of what is invested in health and education (that’s open to debate.) Virtually half of the Brazilian population is not convinced.

And still what’s certain is that a Brazilian World Cup win automatically ensures Rousseff’s re-election.

But the recent wave after wave of protests has in fact transcended the current administration. It’s as if all these diverse social movements have been manifesting the ultimate utopian desire; to erase, in one go, centuries of injustice perpetrated by Brazil’s notoriously rapacious and arrogant/ignorant elites – which have always implemented total political and economic exclusion based on noxious race and class prejudice.

So this whole drama is not simply about “anti-neoliberal” or “anti-capitalist” stirrings. It goes way beyond nationalism. And it could be way more transcending than the textbook for a revolution using football as a pretext. Whatever the final result of this war revolving around a football, Brazil could yet teach a lesson to the whole Global South.

In victory, and even in glorious defeat, Brazil may end up finding the stamina to pursue a new strategic overture – a new, non-arrogant, non- neocolonial, non-weaponized, non-exceptionalist way to lead and exercise power, build alliances and clinch grand geopolitical agreements in a multipolar world. A new way of playing ball. So let this New Great Game begin.

 

***

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

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