Thursday, June 27, 2013

Why Is Rio Burning ?

I visited Rocinha before it was pacified. The favela comprises 150,000 residents

People don’t just pour into the streets by the millions for no reason.
Especially, the Carioca. In more than 100 cities across Brazil protests broke out during the week of June 20. 

The last time this many Brazilians gathered in the streets of Rio was just 24 years ago. At the time they were celebrating the fall of the country's brutal military dictatorship. For most, the protests were their first taste of freedom.

Over the past two and a half decades the people have been provoked and sometimes they took to the streets. But this new protest movement that began on June 20 is different, it has no name or label. No one claims to have organized it. It's not about transportation fare hikes. The causes are innumerable.

Brazilians have become quite accustomed to washing their dirty laundry in public with so much corruption at every level of government. At the same time, the Carioca remain people of a guiles, peurile nature. They have learned to be tolerant and have adapted. Yet, with this new movement, something has pissed them off in a big way. For once, they don't care that the rest of the world is watching.

Never having fought in a war for independence or any war for that matter, Brazilians treasure their family and peace. Their culture demands it. How else could such a complex culture survive without a civil war. The races, sects and nationalities, the rich and the poor blend in on occasion with uncompromising equanimity, creating a country that is both benevolent and violent in times of uncertainty. 

Brazil ranks first in the number of people using Facebook. It took the normally easy going Brazilians just three years to wire the country from one end to the other. Now Brazilians are on the verge of taking on a $400 billion upgrade to its shipping ports, airports, railways, roads and bridges, a feat that only China could match for sheer audacity.

In the face of this, the Brazilian middle class and working class have found they are being squeezed like the people in Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain. The bankers are pushing for austerity while the middle class is feeling the pinch on wages and standard of living.

They have seen too many friends move away in search of jobs and neighborhood businesses closing up. Too many services have been uprooted. Low cost housing is a thing of the past in Rio. Entire city blocks of affordable housing are being destroyed and replaced by luxury condos.

More and more Carioca are losing their jobs once thought secure. Food is becoming more expensive, along with basic services. Brazil, which has a shaky history with inflation at best, has slowed down its investment in small business. Once lavish and fashionable malls sit nearly empty.

Somewhere there was a miscalculation. 

Against the backdrop of unprecedented propaganda about Brazil becoming a rising world power and hosting the World Cup of Soccer (futebol) next year in Brazil and the 2016 Olympic Games two years later, Brazilians are asking themselves "What is happening?"

One of those asking is Julia Michaels who began a blog to answer questions often lingering the minds of Rio citizens. In Rio Real she wondered if Rio could really pull it off. Moreover, would the good intentions, harmony and collaboration continue.

"Her question all along was: “Would it last?”

She took a micro-view at the city and state of Rio de Janeiro, focusing on the many small steps being taken during its dramatic revitalization. She met with city planners, the foot soldiers in the battle to balance the huge infrastructure projects.

What she found was that the inevitable “divide” was rising over the city in recent months. Her blog reveals a chilling trend and tragic unfolding amid so much confusion, money and hype.

When the protesters emerged into the streets last week, Ms. Michaels saw a diversity of protesters, many of them young. She was asking, “Who are these young people?”

It will take time for the smoke to clear from a fire that had been burning for years. There is no easy remedy. This new movement with no name is a coalition comprising many movements.

I lived in Rio for six months. I was a temporary Carioca, the name of a blog I wrote at the time. When tens of thousands of Rio residents, middle class and poor turned out, I wasn't too surprised from all that I had seen in my time there. Upon reflection, I could see the new movement was a perfect storm.

Next Post:  Why is Rio Burning Now?

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