Rio: new center of the universe?

Pedra da Gávea and Dois Irmãos, from Arpoador

Dolphin visitors, Sonia Braga moving from New York to downtown Rio, movie premières right and left, the Today Show, Paul McCartney, Obama… why would anyone want to leave?

In this faux-crisp southern-hemisphere fall season, Rio is hotter than ever– but from tomorrow until the second week in May there’s no chance that RioRealblog will bump into Vin Diesel in his wifebeater and incredibly cool sunglasses. A short break is in the cards.

Despite the limitations of physical absence, coverage and analysis will continue.

At the moment, Realengo struggles to recover from the April 7 school shooting, which left 12 children dead and wounded 18. The shooter himself, a mentally disturbed man wounded by a police officer, took his own life. At this writing, one child remains in serious condition and only four others were still hospitalized. Neighbors repainted the graffitied outside wall of the shooter’s home, and school administrators made plans for remodeling, transfers and healing damaged psyches. Here’s an excellent article about school shootings and gun control, by Dorrit Harazim. The VivaRio NGO wants the government to buy back ammunition as well as weapons in a new disarmament campaign, moved up as a result of the Realengo massacre to May 6. Research shows that for every 18 weapons aprehended by the police, a life is saved.

Brazil held a gun control referendum in 2005, and the proposal didn’t pass. Now, proponents hope for a second round, but the Brazilian bar association criticized the initiative, saying that a national public safety policy to fight crime and weapons trafficking is what’s lacking, above all. A new referendum would cost almost US$ 190 million equivalent, while almost the same amount was spent to ask if weapons and ammunition purchases should be banned in Brazil, in 2005.

Mosquitoes are on peoples’ minds almost as much as bullets. Dengue fever is spreading in Rio, so far killing 35 in the state as a whole this year.

Meanwhile, there was additional violence, with five fatalities, in the Mandela favela April 13, as the BOPE elite squad moved in on drug traffickers. Some cariocas were disturbed by the portrayal of a violent Rio in the new Fast Five movie, but the city is in fact still unsafe in many areas, especially far from the south zone. Mandela is in Manguinhos, one of the dicier parts of the north zone.

And Rio’s truculent informal militias apparently suffered a setback April 13, with the arrest of city councilman Luiz André Ferreira da Silva, who reportedly used his city council office to run a paramilitary group controlling 13 favelas in the west zone area around Jacarepaguá. In addition to voter coercion and bribes, he’s been accused of planning to kill current Civil Police chief Martha Rocha, back when she was investigating him, in a previous post. According to O Globo newspaper, Ferreira da Silva is the fourth city councilman to be arrested for paramilitary activity in the last four years, “indicating that the Council functions as a port of entry for militia involvement in politics”.

Despite violence both onscreen and off, Rio and other Brazilian cities continue to prepare for the upcoming international sports events. Here is a worrisome column published last Sunday in O Globo by Merval Pereira about World Cup preparations; an earlier column discussed transportation issuesYesterday, FIFA president Joseph Blatter reversed an earlier critical stance regarding this. Ipea, a federal planning agency, released a report today concluding that nine out of 12 airports won’t be ready for the 2014 World Cup games.

Yet Rio continues to work towards realizing its terrific potential. Here’s an article by architect and urban thinker Sérgio Magalhães, suggesting a new kind of indicator to measure public service performance. City hall is moving in this direction, with the recent creation of a new telephone number, 1746, to centralize all complaints regarding the city. A smartphone application for the number allows users to send photos. Authorities have at last decided to build electrical wiring for lighting into the ceiling of the Zuzu Angel tunnel, to stop recurrent thefts, and they’ve finally tracked down the source of some of the sewage that’s been dumped into lagoons on Barra da Tijuca over the past 30 years or so. By June, renewal of the downtown Praça Tiradentes, Rio’s theater district, will be complete, with wider sidewalks, lots of trees, and better lighting. This means Rio’s nightlife is likely to expand beyond Lapa, which is contiguous.

For 50 years Rio de Janeiro’s been on the sidelines, a slowly crumbling forgotten former capital. The city’s turnaround, begun in 2009, still faces many challenges and could easily peter out, as have so many positive initiatives in Brazil. But the dolphins must know something…. and RioRealblog will be back, with reporting and analysis on public transportation, state and municipal efforts to turn around education, land titles for favela residents, what Columbia University’s new Studio X is up to, land appropriations related to the Olympics, foreigners investing in new enterprises in Rio, World Cup infrastructure bidding and construction, port revitalization, and how petroleum is affecting the region. Additional ideas are welcome!!

About Rio real

American journalist, writer, editor who's lived in Rio de Janeiro for 20 years.
This entry was posted in Brazil, Transformation of Rio de Janeiro / Transformação do Rio de Janeiro and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Rio: new center of the universe?

  1. andrewdownie says:

    Como on Julia, you’re falling into the Carioca trap of thinking Rio is the centre of the world when it’s not even the centre of Brazil!

    The reason for that is people in Rio talk, think, breathe, and dream about their own city because they are so provincial.

    It’s always shocking to me when I return to Rio to see how self-referential it is. Spend some time in another city and you’ll see that Rio, as truly gorgeous and special as it is, is just another city, with all same (or more) problems they all face.

  2. B Mak says:


    “I have spent time in various other world cities but still find Rio de Janeiro (a Cidade Maravilhosa) to be the most beautiful and most enchanting of them all. Anybody who doesn’t agree with that is just plain jealous.” says one gringa cariocada

  3. Rio real says:

    Who would think that this, of all posts, would stir up controversy!?

  4. Lee Weingast says:

    Perhaps we can arrange for Betty and Andrew to hold a formal debate!

  5. tite de lamare rego barros says:

    that’s a good analysis and general view of our situation.

  6. andrewdownie says:

    I’ll debate my point with anyone. Especially if it’s over a caipirinha. 🙂

  7. Rio real says:

    In Rio, of course, Andrew! We await you–

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