I step out into the cool night air to think. The full moon illuminates my path, providing light in place of the unlit streetlights that run along the portion of boardwalk entering Cabelo Seco. I’m surprised by how much light the moon provides. All of the canoes and boats sitting on the riverbank below are visible and I can trace the outline of the beach and trees on the other side of the river. As I reach the portion of the boardwalk where streetlights apparently matter, I can hear music pulsating from the Manduquinha.
The Manduquinha is the Vale-financed and refurbished bar I have referenced in previous posts. It refers to the plaza and a section of the boardwalk that surround the bar as well, since the events hosted there draw large crowds of people to the space. I’m interested in seeing what events are taking place tonight, but not because I plan on participating. Although the Mandoquinha has claimed the loyalty of a significant portion of Marabá’s population, we prefer not join in on the festivities it hosts. In 2011, Rios de Encontro’s young coordinators made the collective decision not to preform on any stage or accept any award financed by Vale. Our refusal to participate in the events they sponsor or accept their propaganda serves as a form of denunciation. This past Wednesday was Dia Nacional da Cultura (National Culture Day). To mark the holiday, Marabá’s city council, in partnership with Vale, has organized a week of “cultural” events. Beginning on Tuesday, the week is full of demonstrations of various artistic expressions, including dance, Capoeira (a Brazilian martial art), theatre, arts and crafts, literature and music. There are workshops and seminars held during the day, open to the public.
Earlier this week I passed by the plaza and saw men setting up large white tents and stages in preparation for the festivities. This usually happens every weekend as part of the Secretary of Culture’s Cultura Faz Bem project. Yet this week’s setup is different because Vale’s logo appears explicitly on the tents and backdrops of the stages. In the past, Vale has maintained a silent presence, financing concerts and performances in conjunction with local politicians but not openly publicizing their contributions. This week’s infrastructure makes their involvement very visible. Even newspaper articles advertising the cultural events plainly state that the city council is working in partnership with Vale to promote a week of culture. I am interested to know how the people of Marabá interpret this relationship.
Anyway, the scene I am witnessing is quite unbelievable. I wind through small groups of people gathered on the boardwalk, drinking beers and talking. For the elaborate setup and publicity efforts, the attendance is pretty weak. I’m curious as to how much money was spent on this event. And don’t make fun of me, but I might have wondered how many solar panels could have been purchased instead. Aside from what appears to be the main stage, there are various smaller tents displaying paintings and musical instruments. One tent has a bunch of cloth dolls hanging from the ceiling, which looks creepy but piques my curiosity. Nevertheless, I don’t stray from the boardwalk and slow my pace to see if there is anyone I recognize among the groups of people. I see families, friends, lovers and groups of teenagers enjoying themselves in the midst of a serious crisis. Does anyone realize they are being bought? I walk by some of the most progressive and critical professors in UFPA. I walk by leaders of the MST. I smile and hide the judgment. How can they not recognize this contradiction?
The scene is sickening in its blatant deception. Vale’s immense economic and political power gives it the ability to manipulate local governments into disseminating its propaganda. A miniscule amount of its vast wealth can be injected into publicity and marketing as a means of gaining the consent of the population and eliminating the threat of opposition. By planning social events that please the public, Vale deals with the troublesome social and environmental responsibility it must uphold as a corporation. Not that it does this very successfully…In the 2012 World Economic Forum in Switzerland, Vale was presented with an award for being the worst corporation in the world. I turn around and walk home. What I really want to do is go back and take photos, record this moment so that in 10 years, whatever the landscape may look like, there is documentation of this exploitation. However, given our boycott of Vale’s entire development project, this action would be sensitive. I stand out and people know my association with the project. We don’t want to accuse or judge, and we don’t want to be misunderstood as doing so. The photos included in this post are ones Dan took in the morning when the stages were being assembled. As for the night scene, I save mental images in my head.