Intelligent life in Rio, despite lack of funds

The War on Drugs, women and blacks, urban transportation, the water crisis: hot topics

We get bad news daily. Nevertheless (or maybe because of this), Rio is seeing growing activity in the realm of ideas and beliefs. People are asking questions, expressing themselves, joining together. It’s actually hard to keep up with it all.

Clique aqui, para Vida inteligente persiste no Rio de Janeiro, apesar de falta de recursos

We may one day see this turbulent year as an opportune, rich moment. Social inclusion (poverty in Rio is said to have fallen by half from 2013 to 2014, according to a new IETS study) opened the door to new behaviors.

Somewhat late in the game (better than never), we now see formal institutional queries regarding bus companies’ finances. These reportedly quietly pocketed R$ 90 million over five years, in expired pre-paid passenger tickets.

The real estate market, which had neglected affordable housing, has lost impetus. This could lead to a reevaluation of the Port area’s vocation and also that of Barra da Tijuca and its surroundings. A recent New York Times story reports that only 230 of the 3,604 apartments in the 31 towers meant to  house Olympic and Paralympic athletes have been sold up to now.

In the Port area, there’s still time to implement a unique landscape project, the Circuito da Celebração da Herança Africana (African Heritage Celebration Circuit). Created by landscape designer Sara Zewde together with the city’s Instituto Rio Patrimônio da Humanidade, the project would have a significant impact at a time of increasing black consciousness

On November 19th, Sara Zewde will participate in a roundtable discussion of the project, at Columbia University’s Studio X, in Praça Tiradentes, open to all.


Heloisa Helena Berto, Yalorixá Luizinha de Nanã, a candomblé spiritist, is fighting to preserve a spiritual locale on the banks of the Jacarepaguá Lagoon in Vila Autódromo, next to Olympic installations

There was much talk of race, as well as gender, at the FLUPP, the Festa Literária das Periferias (Periphery Literary Festival) where public school students this month had a chance to enter the world of books, joining Brazilian and foreign writers. One student read a poem she’d written on her cell phone, saying she didn’t want to be called “neguinha” (little black girl) any more, to wild applause. Another cited the macho comments women hear in the street.


Jurors at the exciting FLUPP international poetry slam at the Babilônia favela, show their scores


FLUPP founders Júlio Ludemir and Écio Salles, honored at the end of the party, with young Babilônia resident Ágata Cris, destined by her name to become a writer

Rio de Janeiro women took to the streets and commandeered newspaper and magazine columns in recent weeks, with the new ‪#‎AgoraÉQueSãoElas (Now it’s Women) movement. Last Thursday they demonstrated against a proposal from embattled congressional Speaker of the House, Eduardo Cunha, to further limit abortion access — and also against the 2016 mayoral candidacy of current municipal Government Secretary Pedro Paulo Carvalho Teixeira, Eduardo Paes’ chosen successor. Last week, Carvalho Teixeira admitted he’d hit his then-wife in 2008 and 2010. We also recently saw a wave of accounts of sexual harrassment, under the hashtag #primeiroassedio (first harrassment).

The day when beer manufacturers do away with bikini-clad women in their ads in Brazil, however, as is planned for the Superbowl, has yet to come.


The move from marginalization to empowerment in poetry was in great evidence during the FLUPP international Poetry Slam

The environment is also the focus of greater activism. On November 8, at the invitation of the São Paulo Greenpeace office and the Meu Rio (My Rio) public policy activism NGO, a new group formed to push for more government transparency and responsibility at all levels, regarding the ongoing drought. Rio’s reservoir levels are seriously low.

Days earlier, a mining residue damn broke in the neighboring state of Minas Gerais, creating even more concern in Rio de Janeiro over Brazilian government capability to manage environmental needs as well as crisis situations. Rio may soon be dealing with its hottest summer ever, during an economic recession with worrisome impact on jobs, income and public spending.


Raull Santiago (left), from the Papo Reto (Straight Talk) journalism collective of the Complexo do Alemão favelas, told workshop participants what it’s like to live with the War on Drugs

At a time when the state pacification program is already in trouble, this would be just the ticket for more violence. Rio de Janeiro doesn’t need to go looking for citizen/police conflict.

To help journalists rethink the long and violent War on Drugs in the Americas, CESeC, with the support of the Open Society foundation, organized a two-day workshop for area professionals and students, Drogas em Pauta (Reporting on Drugs). The workshop ended with the announcement of the Gilberto Velho Mídia e Drogas award winners.

Even for those who already believe it’s time to move drugs from public safety to health policy — decriminalizing them — the workshop offered a great deal of surprising information. U.S. Prohibition in the 1920s saw 50,000 deaths in gang wars. Thousands became ill or died from drinking methyl alcohol. Ultimately, it became clear that decriminalization rather than prohibition was better for society as a whole. This, despite the fact that alcohol has more negative effects on users and those around them than do many drugs, including marijuana.

There are also myths about drugs. Marijuana doesn’t  automatically lead to the use of other substances, as has long been preached. Researchers have shown that crack isn’t as addictive and deathly as was thought. And it’s interesting to ponder the fact that some drugs tend to expand consciousness and strengthen social ties among humans, which can threaten the status quo.


Journalista Fernanda Mena, left, described anti-drug campaigns driven by social control concerns.

During the economic boom years here we did see a great deal of debate on various issues and ideas. It could be, however, that consumer spending and easy access to funds undermined individual and group reflection on identity, social roles and moral questions. Today presents us with an opportunity that many in Rio are doing all they can to profit from. As statesman and General Charles de Gaulle once said, “Faced with crisis, the man of character falls back on himself. He imposes his own stamp of action, takes responsibility for it, makes it his own.”

About Rio real

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

3 Responses to Intelligent life in Rio, despite lack of funds

  1. shotw2arrows says:

    Julia, your Mission Statement includes the following:

    “I can see that the way cariocas are thinking and talking about favelas and their residents reveals new tolerance, concern and solidarity.”

    Between “way” and “cariocas,” I would insert the word “some”.

    Yesterday, Sunday, 16 November, about noon, I went to check out the gay pride march on Copacabana beach:

    Prancing dancing gays, rainbow flags, loud throbbing music, garish costumes over the top in their tawdry tackiness. A pair of overweight women, likely heterosexual, their lavish flesh bursting out of micro-bikinis. Male angels, wings, masks, and outfits in matching colors of black, purple, yellow, pink, silver, advancing proudly in a front like soldiers going into battle.

    Sometimes Rio lives up to its billing as a magical, erotic, absurd, democratic, fun city. Noon at the gay pride march was such a moment for me.

    I walked a little way north then turned back to see if I could catch one more glimpse of that pair of hefty lovelies. As I turn I found myself three feet from an appalling scene. One of those muscular “pit boys” had an arm locked around the neck of a young black male. (A “pit boy” is an upper-middle-class male who studies martial arts and likes to flout his fighting prowess.)

    The black guy was skinny, very black, dressed as the poor are dressed – a ragged red t-shirt, Bermuda, and sandals. The pit boy, wearing only a sunga, was bronzed, broad-shouldered, and muscular as only those are who spend a lot of time with the barbells.

    The pit boy shouted at his victim and shook him. The trembling youth said something that obviously meant, “I was just…”. The bully shook him again. He struck him with his fist. The boy screamed.

    By this time three or four cops had arrived on the scene. There was an interchange of words between them and the pit boy but the latter did not release his prey, who was crying by this time.

    At length the pit boy unlocked his hold, snarled and pushed the black youth sideways, who, in an instant vanished down the street.

    Now here is the truly infamous end to this episode: a couple more cops having arrived on the scene, they all started to give the pit boy high-fives, as if to say, “Good job!” He and some other muscular youths, evidently his buddies, strutted on down the street.

    I don’t know any of the circumstances of this episode. Perhaps the black youth had, in fact, been stealing. If there was evidence of this, it was the duty of the police to investigate.

    After 5000 years of “civilization”, we have arrived at the RULE OF LAW.

    I stood by and watched all this. I didn’t do anything. I have been beat up for breaking up fights. I didn’t have any ID on me, having just come from the gym. In my particular situation, I didn’t want any charges such as “interfering with a police officer in the performance of his duty” to be filed against me in Brazil.

    We all have at each moment in our lives the choice between a heroic life or a cowardly one. I took the cowardly path.

    I wish I had tried to say something to the officers and the pit boy about the rule of law.

    Any rate, all the fun had gone out of the day. The joy, silliness, and magic of Rio had been just a mask.

    The rulers of Rio and Brazil are not sentimental men. They will not give up their privileged positions – above the rule of law – unless they have to. But the honest people of Rio have two powerful weapons. One, they are morally in the right. Two, the rule of law is in their hands.

    But the people lose both these weapons if the rule of law does not apply to everyone. Recently we have witnessed “drags” in Zona Sul, along the beaches and elsewhere. Penniless youth from some favela to the north – likely a Godawful favela – were taking a certain bus south to Zona Sul. Some of these youths went on rampages of petty theft, stealing whatever they could lay their hands on. They attacked in a group, seeing the police could not arrest all of them. Such attacks are called “drags”.

    They posed a difficult problem for police. The youths could not be charged with a crime as adults. Arrested youths can’t be held long. Even if you arrest a youth of this sort, he likely does not find the arrest much more unpleasant than living in a favela. If he goes to jail at least he is going to be fed. I assume in jail he can take a shower and he has clean water to drink and a bed. He has nothing to lose from participating in a drag.

    So vigilantes swung into action. A photo on the front page of O Globo showed white youths breaking the windows of the bus that the “dragsters” used, while police stood by doing nothing.

    Perhaps we should not be too quick to blame the police in this case. Had the police arrested the white youths, would the people of Rio have backed the police or been on the side of the white males?

    The people of Rio did not seem to realize that if the rule of law does not apply to EVERYONE, it is not the rule of law –it loses all its moral force.

    If we don’t stand for the rules of law, we might all of us become someday like the people in France facing the Kalashnikovs of ISIS or like the black youth on the beach in the grip of a pit boy – helpless in the hands of brute force.

    You can read about a lynching at Arpoador that also took place last Sunday. It is alleged that ten individuals beat an ice vendor to death:

    Thank you for letting me have my say, Julia. I know your heart is in the right place

  2. Rio real says:

    Hi, shot with two arrows! Much of my mission statement needs revising. But I leave it as is because it’s a reminder of more hopeful times. I think the “some” is key, as you say. It’s not about masks, it’s about the variety of the human race. Everywhere, not just in Rio. I urge my readers to do the best they can to change what they see as wrong. The iceman’s demise is truly shocking and it’s amazing to me that some people think he asked for it. How can we not see, how can the police not remember, that conflict mediation need not be by way of violence? Is dialogue that difficult?

    • shotw2arrows says:

      Yes, Julia, the variety of the human race is wonderful in a way — there are so many strange worlds out there to explore, to be amazed by. But it’s a little frightening that we are going to have to LIVE with all these strangers, I guess 12,000,000 in Greater Rio. For around 200,000 years our species lived in small communities of around 150 individuals and we knew personally every individual in our community. So our genes evolved to fit that social situation. We are not constructed to understand the world-view of people whose lives our unimaginably different from our own. What would it be like to live in one of those dusty little favelas with hogs, and dogs, and skinny horses wandering around the streets, where the traffickers rule and the police treat you with utter disrespect and are more feared than the traffickers? From where we sit we can only do what our limited vision enables us to do.

      I wrote, “The people of Rio did not seem to realize that …” I wish I had written, “SOME OF the people of Rio did not seem to realize that…” I understand that you are pointing out some of the positive aspects of the city, and there are many of these. I haven’t read all of your links and will try to do that today.

      I am not a citizen here and if a carioca were to write, “Go home and fix what’s wrong with your country” I would get the point — because an awful lot of things need fixing there. As you mused in your book Solteira, we often think of going home. I guess I just don’t want to go yet. Maybe things are more immediate here.

      I will write a review of Solteira for Amazon but it’s a little difficult. I’m reading a second time.

      If not for your blog, all these things would be bottled up inside me, so thanks for giving me a chance to blow off.

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