Brazil’s Uplifting Olympics

Roger Cohen – The New York Times, 08/15/2016

When I was a correspondent in Brazil 30 years ago inflation was rampant. It ran at an average of 707.4 percent a year from 1985 to 1989. The salaries of the poor were wiped out within hours of being paid. The country went through three currencies — cruzeiro, cruzado and cruzado novo — while I lived in Rio. The only way out for Brazilians, people joked, was Galeão, the international airport.

 Antônio Carlos (“Tom”) Jobim, the composer of “The Girl from Ipanema” (whose name is now affixed to that airport), famously observed that, “Brazil is not for beginners.” It was not then and it’s not now. It’s a vast diverse country, a tropical United States, whose rich and poor are divided by a chasm. High crime rates are in part a reflection of this divide. Flexibility is at a premium in a culture fashioned by heat, sensuality, samba and rule bending. Life can be cheap. You adapt or you perish.

Edmar Bacha, a friend and economist, had coined the term “Belindia” to describe Brazil — a prosperous Belgium perched atop a teeming India. I wrote a story about the poor kids from north Rio, far from the beaches of Ipanema and Leblon, who would get their kicks as “train surfers” — riding the tops of fast-moving trains — rather than surf Atlantic waves. Often they died, electrocuted. I will never forget the twisted corpse of one in the city morgue.

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The Worst Predictions About Rio Haven’t Come True. That Tells Us a Few Things About Brazil and the Media.

Alex Cuadros – The New York Magazine, 08/11/2016

If you only saw the headlines in the lead-up to the Olympics, Rio de Janeiro sounded like the lawless city from a postapocalyptic movie: “Wave of deadly gunbattles hit Rio as the Olympics get closer”; “Body parts wash ashore next to Rio Olympic venue.” Glib listicles played up the threat of political unrest, terrorist attacks, Zika-carrying mosquitoes, and “super-bacteria” in the sewage-tainted bay. One writer used the term “disastrophe” to describe the situation and claimed that so-called “‘lightning kidnappings’ are nearly as popular in Brazil as feijoada” (a delicious bean stew). Another writer topped him with this analogy: “the global event equivalent of a fire tornado touching down on a killer bee sanctuary.”

It was like the Olympics of hyperbolic Olympics scaremongering. Now that the games are on, the hysteria is already looking misplaced. This would have been clear enough to anyone who simply took a walk around the city. The last time I went, at the end of June, Rio was functioning more or less in its usual way: slightly chaotic but manageably so, albeit with fresh construction for the Olympics marring what is perhaps the world’s most beautiful urban topography. Off of Copacabana Beach, I could see locals hopping waves — which suggested that concerns over the quality of the water might be somewhat inflated, too.

It was like the Olympics of hyperbolic Olympics scare-mongering.

I should disclose here that I myself have taken part in the Rio-bashing. I moved to Brazil in 2010, back when the country seemed on the verge of becoming a world power, and watched as the Olympics became an excuse to funnel public money to rich campaign donors for not always useful projects. Still, even I have to admit that Rio has made dramatic improvements in recent years. Perhaps the most dramatic is that the homicide rate, while still appallingly high, has fallen by two-thirds since the 1990s. Even after a spike in murders this year, it’s now less than half the rate in St. Louis, Missouri. And with 85,000 soldiers and police securing Rio for the Olympics, it’s probably one of the safest places in Latin America at the moment.

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Brazil Is Confronting an Epidemic of Anti-Gay Violence

Andrew Jacobs – The New York Times, 07/05/2016

RIO DE JANEIRO — The assailant struck as Gabriel Figueira Lima, 21, stood on a street two weeks ago in a city in the Amazon, plunging a knife into his neck and speeding off on the back of a motorcycle, leaving him to die.

A few days earlier, in the coastal state of Bahia, two beloved teachers,Edivaldo Silva de Oliveira and Jeovan Bandeira, were killed as well, their charred remains found in the trunk of a burning car.

Late last month, it was Wellington Júlio de Castro Mendonça, a shy, 24-year-old retail clerk, who was bludgeoned and stoned to death near a highway in a city northwest of Rio.

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Correcting Brazil’s police violence: the case of Rio’s Pacifying Police Units

Layne Vandenberg – Brazil Institute, 12/18/2014

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Widespread protests against police violence and racism have recently scattered the United States after the release of the Ferguson (Michael Brown) and Eric Garner grand jury decisions. While Americans grapple with the reality of police violence, other countries live deeply entrenched in this reality. Scholar Ignácio Cano says there is “a Ferguson every day” in Brazil, and the state of Rio de Janeiro has been trying out a new policing strategy in hopes of improving community-police relations in its slums, called favelas.

Between 2009 and 2013, Brazilian police killed more than 11,000 people, or about six people per day. The 2014 edition of the Brazil Public Security Yearbook also found that 53,646 homicides occurred in 2013, or one person every 10 minutes.

With the highest per capita rate of killing of any Brazilian state and 6,826 homicides per year between 1991 and 2007, the state of Rio de Janeiro is “comparable with urban areas of countries in civil war.” But Rio needed a quick solution for its violent reputation among the international crowd. Rio is home to Maracanã stadium, where several 2014 FIFA World Cup matches, including the final, were held and the city is the host of the upcoming 2016 Olympic games. So how do you change the face of a city and a state in time for the world’s two largest sporting events?

The Rio state government’s solution: pacification.

Continue reading “Correcting Brazil’s police violence: the case of Rio’s Pacifying Police Units”

Young, Black, Alive – Breaking the silence on Brazil’s soaring youth homicide rate

Atila Roque – Live Wire, 11/26/2014

Earlier this week, many people around the world waited with bated breath for a grand jury’s decision in a case where a police officer shot dead an unarmed young black man on the street. While the 9 August shooting of Michael Brown took place in the US suburb of Ferguson, Missouri, the case has a deep resonance here in Brazil. The tragic course of events leading up to the teenager’s death could just as easily have played out on the streets of our cities orfavelas.

Of the 56,000 homicides in Brazil every year, 30,000 are young people aged 15 to 29. That means that, at this very moment, a young person is most likely being killed in Brazil. By the time you go to bed, 82 will have died today. It’s like a small airplane full of young people crashing every two days, with no survivors. This would be shocking enough by itself, but it’s even more scandalous that 77 per cent of these young people are black.

Since 1980, more than 1 million people have been murdered in Brazil. According to Global Burden of Armed Violence 2008, in the period from 2004 to 2007, more people were killed here than in the 12 main wars worldwide. However the violence doesn’t impact Brazilian society equally. Murders are rampant in poor and marginalized communities. Prejudice and negative stereotypes associated with the favelas and city outskirts have a key role in perpetrating this violence.

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