When I first came to Brazil my limited amount of Portuguese led me to believe that the words on the Brazilian flag `Ordem e Progresso` meant `A Work in Progress.` That would have seemed an eminently plausible motif for a developing nation, or at least a testament towards a worthy aspiration. But I have since discovered that it actually literally translates as `Order and Progress;` two things, which having lived in Brazil for over five years are not attributes that I or anyone else would accord to life in Brazil.
Then there is also the issue of possible copyright infringement, as a dearly departed friend pointed out to me some years ago that the Brazilian flag reminded him of an advert for a Sandwich company. Take a look at the Subway site and see if you can`t see the resemblance!
I`d like to have some fun and have my daughter and her classmates come up with a more accurate motto for the nation`s flag like; `Green and on fire!` or perhaps `Land of Indifference and Incompetence,` or just import that old Brazilian favourite `Brazil – The Land of Unlimited Impossibilities!`
The level of delusion of the person who picked the motto `Order and Progress` must have been truly staggering and the indifference of those who have kept it there for so long utterly baffling. I don`t know any Brazilian whom I have pointed this incongruity out to who has not laughed out loud. One recently commenting, `Yes, I`ve never really thought about it. I just see the yellow, green and blue and think of the beach. That motto really doesn`t fit Brazil, it`s the kind of thing I`d expect to see on the Chinese or US flag!`
So where are these signs of `Order and Progress` in the run up to Brazil hopefully hosting both the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics? Well here are some stats before I delve into a slightly less scientific way of measuring Brazil`s levels of `Ordem e Progresso`…
Brazil has, by some recent estimates, become the seventh largest economy in the World, although The Economist Pocket World in Figures 2009 Edition still only listed Brazil as the world`s 10th largest ~ you can never get economists to agree on anything! Achieving either ranking would in itself be an achievement, but this pales somewhat when you begin to contextualise it. Brazil could, if she lived up to her potential, be at least the world`s 5th largest economy, as she is ranked 5th both in terms of the size of her population and her landmass. However, you could argue that even this high ranking is not the limit for Brazil, as few if any nations on Earth posses the incredible abundance of natural resources she has at her disposal. Brazil has vast quantities of iron ore, tin, nickel, aluminium as well as gold and diamonds and she mines a unique array of other precious stones. Brazil has the world`s largest fresh water supplies and also boasts the world`s greatest biodiversity. In terms of agricultural production Brazil is the world`s largest producer of coffee, soya beans, and sugar, the 2nd largest producer of oil seeds, the 6th of cocoa and cotton and the 10th of rice. And when Brazil`s off-shore oilfields are fully exploited she is also expected to be the world`s 4th largest oil producer. When you take all this into consideration then the rest of Brazil`s stats are not so impressive. Not least when the Economist only ranked Brazil as the world`s 29th largest exporter and 50% of households in Brazil still don`t have a sewage connection!
But aside from these obvious macro signs of under performance in the `Order and Progress` stakes I decided to do a little investigation of my own, starting with the school run. Now for starters Belo Horizonte (Brazil`s third largest city) has bugger all public transport. That is if you don`t count the new `bus lanes` which are used by every mode of transport from horse drawn carts, all other road users looking for a short cut and the occasional bus. These lanes also start and finish in the middle of nowhere. Bus drivers therefore have to veer across several lanes of traffic to get into one, which they usually do at full throttle giving you that unique Brazilian driving gesture of waiving their arm out the window as if to say “Wooa slam your breaks on shithead because I`m going to do something completely f***ing stupid right now ~ CRASH!” Just for a laugh the local authorities have also painted the odd zebra crossing at the most dangerous intersections between these new bus lanes, at which you can regularly see pedestrians sprinting for the lives, as no road users in Brazil ever stop for pedestrians – zebra crossing or no zebra crossing. Then there are those lovely new over passes that have opened up in the Downtown district but which still don`t have any signs up tell you where they lead! And finally there are all the new road layouts that could be two, three or four lane, you simply don`t know, because there are no lines painted on them. Not that actually painting any lines on a road in Brazil would make much difference; other than to remind your average Fiat Mille driver (wanker) that he is attempting to hog two lanes at once. And if there were ever a sign that Brazil is definitely on the path of negative `Progress` then it`s the myriad of shiny new speed cameras that are spreading like a smallpox epidemic.
Having surmounted the bus lanes I arrived at the school only to find that all the approaches were blocked, because some selfish GIT had arrived too late to find a parking space and left his car in the middle of the road to run in and collect his kids. Most likely because it also happened to be that particular family`s nannies day off; as it`s usually the nannies who have to get out of the car and get the kids.
The school my daughters go to is wonderful and great at socialising kids from an early age but it is an unruly scrum every day to get in and out. No one bothers to form an orderly queue to get through the school gates when the final bell rings. And the recent addition of tube style barrier entry gates, to increase the levels of security, has only added to the sense of bedlam. The cards parents have been issued to get through these barriers often don`t work, which leads to an undignified scene of men gingerly trying to climb over them, mothers flashing their knickers as they get their leg over them and kids just ducking under the barriers with the security guards looking on in bemusement. Not much sign of `Order and Progress ` here either.
And what about the `Progress` towards hosting the World Cup I hear you ask? Of course this is the perfect opportunity for Brazil to excel and show the World that the motto on its flag was not merely some afterthought following a few too many caipirinhas and cigars! Err well not so far. Here are a few recent quotes on where the land of `Order and Progress` is, with a view to hosting the world`s greatest sporting events, three years out…
FiFA`s President Sepp Blatter expressed doubts about Brazil`s ability to host the Confederations Cup in 2013; a warm up event a year before the World Cup. Blatter added that Brazil was behind South Africa in terms of its preparations for the World Cup three years from the off and went on to say `things are not moving forward, it`s not moving forward very fast.” In the end the Confederations Cup got through the protests and collapsing stadiums crises but only just and the builders were back into the stadiums as soon as the games were over.
Work on the nations airports has barely begun even now just months out from the kick off, with endless delays, cancellations and even closures taking place on a daily basis. The airport and air traffic infrastructure is already at breaking point even without the World Cup. The World`s greatest soccer star Pele was at pains to admit that; `we are running the risk of being red faced in the way Brazil is managing the World Cup.` A Brazilian friend I work with added `God I wish we had not won the World Cup, now the World is going to see just how shit Brazil really is!`
Did it come as a surprise to anyone then who lives, works or travels in Brazil when in April 2011 IPEA (the Brazilian government backed Institute for Applied Economics) stated that the 13 major airports being upgraded for the World Cup would not be ready on time for the June 2014 World Cup? One of the people responsible from INFRAERO (the state owned Brazilian airport authority) stated in response to IPEA`s findings that the airports in question could add temporary tarpaulins and awnings to accommodate the expected additional 1 million foreign visitors. That`s a classic and I heard similar noises from the mayor of Rio de Janeiro when that city won the bid to host the Olympics in 2016 when he was asked on the BBC if he thought that the crime problems in Rio`s 700+ favelas (shanty towns – where up to 1,500 murders can occur a month), would be a issue. The Mayor replied in typical Carioca style `No problem at all!` What he meant is that the underlying problems will not be dealt with but that they will simply continue to build more and higher walls around the favelas and draft in an unprecedented number of military and special police units for the duration of the games. That`s problem management Brazilian style, based on a deep rooted sense of catholic fatalism (among other failings) among the political class but that is also mirrored in the wider population, which has no belief in the idea that you (as an individual) can really change anything anyway. What he and other politicians should fear however is that Brazil`s lets do everything at the last possible moment mentality could lose the country more than either just the World Cup or the Games but more importantly its reputation as a `can do` nation, the cost of which would be a lot higher than simply being left red faced.
For some very interesting stats on Brazil see Professor Cristovam Buraque`s article entitled `The Shame of Being The World`s 7th Largest Economy` by going to the following link: