Sunday, July 17, 2011

Brazil and Potentiality


[the estado do morumbi in Sao Paulo, on inauguration day in 1960; the stadium was opened only partially completed with a capacity of 70,000; the stadium once had a capacity of 120,000, though that has been reduced]

South American Correspondent Don Roman de la Mancha reports that the hysteria and speculation on Brazilian infrastructure is predictably heating up.  In the last decade the nation has enjoyed economic growth and stability (going from an IMF debtor nation to a creditor within a six year span) while implementing progressive social reforms.  Given this, it is not surprising that the expanding middle class is demanding more consumption.  More interesting for our purpose is the appetite for infrastructure they are exhibiting (this post on Pruned gave some early indication of this trend). 
[World Cup 2014 host cities, spread all over the country]

[a beltway under construction in Sao Paulo]

Both the World Cup and Summer Olympics are coming to this sprawling nation within a two year span beginning in 2014.  With host cities spread over an area larger than the whole of Western Europe*, and mega-cities such as Sao Paulo and Rio requiring significant upgrades to existing transit, sanitary, telecom and logistical systems, and a wealth of freshwater, productive farmland, and hydrocarbon and mineral wealth, the demand for infrastructure is understandable.  Partnerships with Peru to construct the inter-oceanic highway and open up further trading with China and India, or buddy loans to Argentina allowing them to repay their own World Bank debts and continued cooperation with Venezuela and the other nations of the MERCOSUR suggest that Brazil might be establishing an American hegemonic block that is not dominated by the US sphere of influence established by the Monroe Doctrine.  Truly, Brazil is taking the fuck off.

Of course, this has happened before.  Once a heavily populated region, the extent of which we may only now be beginning to understand, the landscape claimed and settled by the Portuguese adventures in the 15th century was not a virgin tropical paradise but rather an urbanized infra-natural landscape undergoing a massive and violent process of what might today be called “re-wilding”.  However, instead of an ill-conceived public housing project, this rewilding process was taking place on a continental scale in a landscape unlike anything ever seen by Europeans, who interpreted the landscape as an untouched, pristine wilderness.

The allure of Brazil- what might be characterized by the unwieldy word “potentiality”- seduced the Portuguese across the Line of Demarcation, drew British surveyors into the interior, and inspired Kubitschek to make like Fitzcarraldo and build Brasilia.  Drunkenly rifling through the annals of failed Brazilian utopias and underfunded exploratory and infrastructural undertakings, DRDLM stumbled across the story of Fordlandia.  Founded in 1928 by Henry Ford as a company town in the middle of the Amazon, the town was intended to cultivate and manage a rubber plantation to provide cheap tires for his booming car business.  Unfortunately, Ford’s men choose infertile, rocky soil and planted all the same species of rubber tree close together in a plantation, allowing them to share pests and blight freely.  
[aerial view of Fordlandia on the Tapajos River in Brazil in the 1930's]

[Lincoln's may not be the most suitable vehicle for the Amazon]

[the Fordlandia powerhouse in 1934]

The factory town was relocated downriver to Belterra in 1933 without having produced any industrial rubber.  With the advent of synthetic rubber production in 1945, the investment was considered a massive failure and abandoned.  Musty, rotting ruins still stand and are undergoing rewilding once again, testament to the contingent and ephemeral nature of Brazil’s potentiality.
[Fordlandia powerhouse today]

[Check here for information on the international competition to design the Olympic Park in Rio.]

*loosely defined to include “western” and “northern” Europe as defined by the United Nations Statistic Division

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