Obama: Brazil Is a Country of the Future no More. Future Has Arrived

Obama in Cidade de Deus Before flying to Rio on Sunday, Barack Obama, the president of the United States, after a full day of events in the capital of Brazil, Brasília, arrived at the Palácio da Alvorada (Dawn Palace, Brazil’s White House), president Dilma Rousseff’s official residence, for a cocktail that lasted some 40 minutes.

The two Obama girls played in the huge yard with emus, while Obama and Michelle talked with guests. Obama spent most of the time with Dilma.

The Palácio da Alvorada has the curving columns that are the symbol of the city. At the cocktail, tropical fruit juices were served, along with Brazilian cheese bread (“pão de queijo”), chocolate candy (“brigadeiro”) and other typical Brazilian snacks (“quitutes”).

The schedule Saturday in Brasília ran late from the very beginning when Obama was 30 minutes late at the Palácio do Planalto. As a result, Air Force One did not land in Rio until 8:15 pm. Leading the welcoming committee were the state governor and the city mayor.

Security Concerns

From the airport, the Obamas went to the Marriott Hotel, which is located in Copacabana on the beachfront (Avenida Atlântica). The original schedule called for the president to stay in the Sheraton, which is one of the few Rio hotels with a private beach, leading the US media to cry foul as it seemed that he was taking a vacation amid at least three crises – the budget, Japan and Libya.

The Sheraton was also a security headache as it is located near slums that have not been part of the local government’s slum pacification program. Only 17 of Rio’s slums have been pacified up to now.

The decision to put president Barack Obama in the Marriott Hotel on Avenida Atlântica, Copacabana beach, resulted in one of the busiest areas in the city waking up with a very visible security presence.

The block where the hotel is located was isolated. Only guests could enter the hotel and they had to go through metal detectors. The air space over Copacabana was also closed except for police helicopters. Offshore, in front of the hotel, a naval vessel was on watch.

A silence protest demonstration took place in front of the Marriott Hotel by around 50 people who are relatives of passengers on a commercial plane that crashed in 2006 after an executive jet piloted by two Americans glanced off it in midair.

The executive jet (a Brazilian-made Embraer Legacy) was slightly damaged and managed to land safely, but the other plane (a Gol Airlines Boeing 737 ) crashed killing all 154 passengers. The protestors are demanding that the American pilots be held legally responsible for the accident.

The schedule in Rio was also changed. Instead of an early trip to the Christ the Redeemer statue, which will be 80 years old in October, the president and his family went to the hillside slum, Cidade de Deus, first. Corcovado the name of the hill the Christ the Redeemer statue sits on, was left for later.

Cidade de Deus

It is estimated that the present population of Cidade de Deus is 40,000. The first houses there were built in the 1960s when Rio authorities began moving slum dwellers out of more than 50 high-end locations (“zona sul”) and putting them into “projects.”

Ironically, other high-end neighborhoods (Barra de Tijuca, for example), have now crept up next to Cidade de Deus as a result of urban sprawl.

The film, “Cidade de Deus (2002),” which was nominated for four Oscars, showed what had happened to the slum removal project: Cidade de Deus had become a nightmare landscape of organized crime and drugs, danger and violence. It had some of the lowest social well-being indicators in Rio along the highest crime rates.

In 2009, Rio authorities made it the target of a Police Pacification Unit (UPP) operation. Armed police invaded the slum, expelling the drug lords (something that had happened a thousand times before in Rio).

But this time, as part of the ambitious UPP program, the police not only stayed, other government civil servants arrived to offer regular public services the community had just never had or, in some cases, that the drug lords provided.

João Neves is the president of the Community Union Association (“Associação de Moradores União Comunitária”) in Cidade de Deus had said that if Obama came he had to take a walk around the place.

“Everybody agrees on this. If Obama comes he must walk around a little and get to know some of the community. There are a lot of people prepared to walk along with him. Besides that, people are painting, cleaning things up, filling up holes, fixing up things in general, getting ready for the visit,” said Neves, adding that besides the joy of receiving an international authority, it is a chance for Cidade de Deus to show the world a different image, different from the one shown in the film.

Neves pointed out that although the film was very successful and won a lot of prizes, many inhabitants complained of the stigma of being portrayed worldwide as a violent and dangerous community. The result, said Neves, was what he called “a wave of prejudice and discrimination.”

The Obama visit to Cidade de Deus ended a little after noon on Sunday. The president, his wife and two daughters, watched a presentation of a percussion band playing Brazilian regional rhythms (maracatu and samba), along with some funk.

Finally, there was a presentation of capoeira (which is also performed to music). As the band played, youngsters (some as young as seven), who are members of a local Youth Foundation (“Fundação para a Infância e Adolescência – FIA”) danced and whirled.

For someone who has never seen one of these performances, it can be very impressive. Obama seemed to be so impressed, especially by the very young “capoeiristas,” that he rubbed his head a number of times in amazement.

As he left the FIA after the presentation, Obama surprised everybody by kicking a soccer ball around with some of the kids. He made a try at soccer ball keep ups (juggling the ball, keeping it in the air, without using one’s hands).

Obama ended his brief soccer game with a good hard shot and walked out of the building for a short stroll down the street (Rua Israel), waving and throwing kisses to onlookers.

Obama was in Cidade de Deus for less than half an hour. A multitude gathered on balconies and rooftops near the FIA to see the American president.

One resident who lives in front of the FIA said his family would remember today always. “We have been waiting since 7:00 am. I saw everything from upstairs. Saw him when he came out and said, ‘Bye-bye.’ My wife took pictures that we will save forever,” he said.

Security arrangements isolated the Marriott Hotel in Copacabana where president Obama and his family were staying. Even so, knowing that they would return to the hotel after visiting Cidade de Deus, crowds formed behind the barriers on the streets hoping to get a glimpse of the Obamas. They didn’t.

The van carrying the family entered directly into the hotel garage.

The Speech

The Obama family had lunch at the hotel and president Obama left to go to the next event on his schedule. He made a speech at the Municipal Theater in the center of the city at Cinelândia (3:00 pm Brasilia time). He was not wearing a tie and began by greeting the audience in Portuguese.

The guests were all carefully searched before entering. The theater was almost full – there were more than 2,000 people. Local Brazilian bands played music before the speech, many of them from city slums such as the one that Obama and his family visited earlier in the day (Cidade de Deus).

The speech was a relaxed affair. Obama wore a sports coat, but no tie. He began by greeting the audience in Portuguese – “Hey, there, Marvelous City,” he said (Rio is “Cidade Maravilhosa,” in an old very popular song).

He then apologized for making his speech during an important soccer game between two very popular teams in the city (Vasco and Botafogo) saying that a lot of people would probably prefer to see the game.

Obama said he knew a little about Brazilian passion for soccer. And he recalled how his mother had a passion for Brazil, something she got seeing the film “Orfeu Negro”, which was filmed in a Rio hillside slum (“Morro do Chapéu Mangueira”).

“I’m sure my mother never imagined that when I finally got to Brazil I would be president of the United States,” said Obama. “And she would be surprised to see that it is a country even more beautiful than she imagined. You are indeed a tropical country, blessed by God and beautiful by nature.”

Obama went on to say, at the moment an international coalition is firing missiles at Libya, that countries are sovereign and should not be invaded. He defended democracy as a principle and right of citizens everywhere in the world.

Obama mentioned various aspects of Brazilian culture and called the country an example of a solid democracy.

“No nation should impose itself on another nation,” declared Obama to applause. “Where the lamp of liberty is on, the world is more illuminated. That is the example Brazil makes for the world.”

“Democracy is a great partner in human progress. Democracy offers opportunities for all citizens who want to be treated with respect,” Obama added.

And speaking of the US experience with democracy, he said what had been learned was that it is essential to work together even when people disagree. “The process may be a little slow, kind of awkward, a little messy, but that is what is necessary,” he declared.

Obama mentioned the crisis in the Middle East. “Today we see a revolution that began in Tunisia, based on the desire for human dignity. We see men and women acquiring the right to determine their own future.”

Showing some knowledge of Brazilian political history, Obama said Brasil has achieved a transformation, changing a country that lived under a dictatorship into a thriving democracy. The president of the US went on to say that he and his country recognized that achievement and were cheering Brazil on.

Obama stated that differences of opinion were natural and not an obstacle to partnerships.

In one of the most applauded moments of the speech, Obama said that Brazil has always been known as the country of the future. But that now that future is here and there will be no more waiting. Obama said there were domestic and foreign pressures that blocked Brazil’s progress.

“Brazil showed us how a dictatorship could be turned into a thriving democracy. It is a country that had a movement for freedom start on the streets and that transformed Brazil and the world,” he said, in a reference to the military regime and the protests against it in 1968 in Rio.

Obama said the moment for the international community to recognize Brazil had arrived. “The future is here. It has arrived in Brazil. It is time to seize the future.” He went on to conclude: “The future of a people is to be determined by the people. We have no need to fear change.”

Speaking for just over 15 minutes, without notes, Obama cited the Brazilian writer, Paulo Coelho: “With the power of our will and love, we can make change.”

There was an attempt by a political party, the Unified Socialist Worker Party (“Partido Socialista dos Trabalhadores Unificado – PSTU-RJ”) and another group, the National Struggle (“Coordenação Nacional de Lutas – Conlutas”), to stage a protest in front of the Municipal Theater.

The attempt was nipped in the bud far from the theater by what a spokesperson for the protesters called “an enormous repression machine” (“grande aparato repressivo”). In fact, there were hundreds of uniformed soldiers surrounding the theater, protecting it, long before the speech began and during the speech.

Attacks on Libya

While the president of the United States, Barack Obama, was in Brasilia on Saturday, he authorized attacks against air defense installations in Libya so as to permit a coalition of American, European and Arab forces to enforce a no-fly zone over that country.

Obama arrived in Brasilia shortly after 7:30 am and met with the president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, a little after 10:00 am at the Palácio do Planalto. Around noon, the two presidents went to the Itamaraty Palace for meetings with business leaders from both countries and lunch.

The final event at the Brazil-United States Business Summit was a speech by Obama. However, after the speech, Obama had an unscheduled press conference with mostly American journalists and announced that he had authorized the attacks.

Obama declared that he was very much aware of the risks in military action, but that he had no choice but to defend the people of Libya against a dictator who threatened to show them no mercy.

“We are responding to a request by the people, against a threat that endangers the world and the United States,” said Obama.

China Easier than US

Speaking to reporters at the Brazil-United States Business Summit, which was attended by the US president, Barack Obama, the president of the Brazilian state-run petroleum corporation, Petrobras, José Sergio Gabrielli, declared that it is easier for his company to negotiate with the Chinese than with the Americans.

In another contiguous context, Gabrielli went on to complain about American trade barriers and protectionism.

In his comments, Gabrielli touched on one of the great paradoxes of the American economic system. On one hand, he cannot really talk business to the government of the United States because in the US business relationships are, as they say, B2B. Differently from Brazil (and China, of course), the US government does not own a petroleum company.

On the other hand, it is the US government that legislates tariffs and surtaxes, along with subsidies, to protect American economic segments.

Gabrielli participated in a discussion on Creating a Safe and Sustainable Future for the Energy Sector. He also told reporters that the United States firmly protects its farm sector and will probably continue to do so.

The Speech in Its Entirety

According to the transcript distributed by the American embassy in Brazil.

THE PRESIDENT: Hello, Rio de Janeiro!


AUDIENCE MEMBER: Many welcomes!

THE PRESIDENT: Alô, Cidade Maravilhosa! (Applause.) Boa tarde, todo o povo brasileiro. (Applause.)

Since the moment we arrived, the people of this nation have graciously shown my family the warmth and generosity of the Brazilian spirit. Obrigado. Thank you. (Applause.) And I want to give a special thanks to all of you for being here, because I’ve been told that there’s a Vasco football game coming. (Cheers and boos.) Botafogo — (laughter.) So I know that — I realize Brazilians don’t give up their soccer very easily. (Laughter.)

Now, one of my earliest impressions of Brazil was a movie I saw with my mother as a very young child, a movie called Black Orpheus, that is set in the favelas of Rio during Carnival. And my mother loved that movie, with its singing and dancing against the backdrop of the beautiful green hills. And it first premiered as a play right here in Teatro Municipal. That’s my understanding.

And my mother is gone now, but she would have never imagined that her son’s first trip to Brazil would be as President of the United States. She would have never imagined that. (Applause.) And I never imagined that this country would be even more beautiful than it was in the movie. You are, as Jorge Ben-Jor sang, “A tropical country, blessed by God, and beautiful by nature.” (Applause.)

I’ve seen that beauty in the cascading hillsides, in your endless miles of sand and ocean, and in the vibrant, diverse gatherings of brasileiros who have come here today.

And we have a wonderfully mixed group. We have Cariocas and Paulistas, Baianas, Mineiros. (Applause.) We’ve got men and women from the cities to the interior, and so many young people here who are the great future of this great nation.

Now, yesterday, I met with your wonderful new President, Dilma Rousseff, and talked about how we can strengthen the partnership between our governments. But today, I want to speak directly to the Brazilian people about how we can strengthen the friendship between our nations. I’ve come here to share some ideas because I want to speak of the values that we share, the hopes that we have in common, and the difference that we can make together.

When you think about it, the journeys of the United States of America and Brazil began in similar ways. Our lands are rich with God’s creation, home to ancient and indigenous peoples. From overseas, the Americas were discovered by men who sought a New World, and settled by pioneers who pushed westward, across vast frontiers. We became colonies claimed by distant crowns, but soon declared our independence. We then welcomed waves of immigrants to our shores, and eventually after a long struggle, we cleansed the stain of slavery from our land.

The United States was the first nation to recognize Brazil’s independence, and set up a diplomatic outpost in this country. The first head of state to visit the United States was the leader of Brazil, Dom Pedro II. In the Second World War, our brave men and women fought side-by-side for freedom. And after the war, both of our nations struggled to achieve the full blessings of liberty.

On the streets of the United States, men and women marched and bled and some died so that every citizen could enjoy the same freedoms and opportunities — no matter what you looked like, no matter where you came from.

In Brazil, you fought against two decades of dictatorships for the same right to be heard — the right to be free from fear, free from want. And yet, for years, democracy and development were slow to take hold, and millions suffered as a result.

But I come here today because those days have passed. Brazil today is a flourishing democracy — a place where people are free to speak their mind and choose their leaders; where a poor kid from Pernambuco can rise from the floors of a copper factory to the highest office in Brazil.

Over the last decade, the progress made by the Brazilian people has inspired the world. More than half of this nation is now considered middle class. Millions have been lifted from poverty. For the first time, hope is returning to places where fear had long prevailed. I saw this today when I visited Cidade de Deus — the City of God. (Applause.)

It isn’t just the new security efforts and social programs — and I want to congratulate the mayor and the governor for the excellent work that they’re doing. (Applause.) But it’s also a change in attitudes. As one young resident said, “People have to look at favelas not with pity, but as a source of presidents and lawyers and doctors, artists, [and] people with solutions.” (Applause.)

With each passing day, Brazil is a country with more solutions. In the global community, you’ve gone from relying on the help of other nations, to now helping fight poverty and disease wherever they exist. You play an important role in the global institutions that protect our common security and promote our common prosperity. And you will welcome the world to your shores when the World Cup and the Olympic games come to Rio de Janeiro. (Applause.)

Now, you may be aware that this city was not my first choice for the Summer Olympics. (Laughter.) But if the games could not be held in Chicago, then there’s no place I’d rather see them than right here in Rio. And I intend to come back in 2016 to watch what happens. (Applause.)

For so long, Brazil was a nation brimming with potential but held back by politics, both at home and abroad. For so long, you were called a country of the future, told to wait for a better day that was always just around the corner.

Meus amigos, that day has finally come. And this is a country of the future no more. The people of Brazil should know that the future has arrived. It is here now. And it’s time to seize it. (Applause.)

Now, our countries have not always agreed on everything. And just like many nations, we’re going to have our differences of opinion going forward. But I’m here to tell you that the American people don’t just recognize Brazil’s success — we root for Brazil’s success. As you confront the many challenges you still face at home as well as abroad, let us stand together — not as senior and junior partners, but as equal partners, joined in a spirit of mutual interest and mutual respect, committed to the progress that I know that we can make together. (Applause.) I’m confident we can do it. (Applause.)

Together we can advance our common prosperity. As two of the world’s largest economies, we worked side by side during the financial crisis to restore growth and confidence. And to keep our economies growing, we know what’s necessary in both of our nations. We need a skilled, educated workforce — which is why American and Brazilian companies have pledged to help increase student exchanges between our two nations.

We need a commitment to innovation and technology — which is why we’ve agreed to expand cooperation between our scientists, researchers, and engineers.

We need world-class infrastructure — which is why American companies want to help you build and prepare this city for Olympic success.

In a global economy, the United States and Brazil should expand trade, expand investment, so that we create new jobs and new opportunities in both of our nations. And that’s why we’re working to break down barriers to doing business. That’s why we’re building closer relationships between our workers and our entrepreneurs.

Together we can also promote energy security and protect our beautiful planet. As two nations that are committed to greener economies, we know that the ultimate solution to our energy challenges lies in clean and renewable power. And that’s why half the vehicles in this country can run on biofuels, and most of your electricity comes from hydropower. That’s also why, in the United States, we’ve jumpstarted a new clean energy industry. And that’s why the United States and Brazil are creating new energy partnerships — to share technologies, create new jobs, and leave our children a world that is cleaner and safer than we found it. (Applause.)

Together, our two nations can also help defend our citizens’ security. We’re working together to stop narco-trafficking that has destroyed too many lives in this hemisphere. We seek the goal of a world without nuclear weapons. We’re working together to enhance nuclear security across our hemisphere. From Africa to Haiti, we are working side by side to combat the hunger, disease, and corruption that can rot a society and rob human beings of dignity and opportunity. (Applause.) And as two countries that have been greatly enriched by our African heritage, it’s absolutely vital that we are working with the continent of Africa to help lift it up. That is something that we should be committed to doing together. (Applause.)

Today, we’re both also delivering assistance and support to the Japanese people at their greatest hour of need. The ties that bind our nations to Japan are strong. In Brazil, you are home to the largest Japanese population outside of Japan. In the United States, we forged an alliance of more than 60 years. The people of Japan are some of our closest friends, and we will pray with them, and stand with them, and rebuild with them until this crisis has passed. (Applause.)

In these and other efforts to promote peace and prosperity throughout the world, the United States and Brazil are partners not just because we share history, not just because we’re in the same hemisphere; not just because we share ties of commerce and culture, but also because we share certain enduring values and ideals.

We both believe in the power and promise of democracy. We believe that no other form of government is more effective at promoting growth and prosperity that reaches every human being — not just some but all. And those who argue otherwise, those who argue that democracy stands in the way of economic progress, they must contend with the example of Brazil.

The millions in this country who have climbed from poverty into the middle class, they could not do so in a closed economy controlled by the state. You’re prospering as a free people with open markets and a government that answers to its citizens. You’re proving that the goal of social justice and social inclusion can be best achieved through freedom — that democracy is the greatest partner of human progress. (Applause.)

We also believe that in nations as big and diverse as ours, shaped by generations of immigrants from every race and faith and background, democracy offers the best hope that every citizen is treated with dignity and respect, and that we can resolve our differences peacefully, that we find strength in our diversity.

We know that experience in the United States. We know how important it is to be able to work together — even when we often disagree. I understand that our chosen form of government can be slow and messy. We understand that democracy must be constantly strengthened and perfected over time. We know that different nations take different paths to realize the promise of democracy. And we understand that no one nation should impose its will on another.

But we also know that there’s certain aspirations shared by every human being: We all seek to be free. We all seek to be heard. We all yearn to live without fear or discrimination. We all yearn to choose how we are governed. And we all want to shape our own destiny. These are not American ideals or Brazilian ideals. These are not Western ideals. These are universal rights, and we must support them everywhere. (Applause.)

Today, we are seeing the struggle for these rights unfold across the Middle East and North Africa. We’ve seen a revolution born out of a yearning for basic human dignity in Tunisia. We’ve seen peaceful protestors pour into Tahrir Square — men and women, young and old, Christian and Muslim. We’ve seen the people of Libya take a courageous stand against a regime determined to brutalize its own citizens. Across the region, we’ve seen young people rise up — a new generation demanding the right to determine their own future.

From the beginning, we have made clear that the change they seek must be driven by their own people. But for our two nations, for the United States and Brazil, two nations who have struggled over many generations to perfect our own democracies, the United States and Brazil know that the future of the Arab World will be determined by its people.

No one can say for certain how this change will end, but I do know that change is not something that we should fear. When young people insist that the currents of history are on the move, the burdens of the past can be washed away. When men and women peacefully claim their human rights, our own common humanity is enhanced. Wherever the light of freedom is lit, the world becomes a brighter place.

That is the example of Brazil. That is the example of Brazil. (Applause.) Brazil — a country that shows that a dictatorship can become a thriving democracy. Brazil — a country that shows democracy delivers both freedom and opportunity to its people. Brazil — a country that shows how a call for change that starts in the streets can transform a city, transform a country, transform a world.

Decades ago, it was directly outside of this theater, in Cinelândia Square, where the call for change was heard in Brazil. Students and artists and political leaders of all stripes would gather with banners that said, “Down with the dictatorship. The people in power.” Their democratic aspirations would not be fulfilled until years later, but one of the young Brazilians in that generation’s movement would go on to forever change the history of this country.

A child of an immigrant, her participation in the movement led to her arrest and her imprisonment, her torture at the hands of her own government. And so she knows what it’s like to live without the most basic human rights that so many are fighting for today. But she also knows what it is to persevere. She knows what it is to overcome — because today that woman is your nation’s president, Dilma Rousseff. (Applause.)

Our two nations face many challenges. On the road ahead, we will certainly encounter many obstacles. But in the end, it is our history that gives us hope for a better tomorrow. It is the knowledge that the men and women who came before us have triumphed over greater trials than these — that we live in places where ordinary people have done extraordinary things.

It’s that sense of possibility, that sense of optimism that first drew pioneers to this New World. It’s what binds our nations together as partners in this new century. It’s why we believe, in the words of Paul Coelho, one of your most famous writers, “With the strength of our love and our will, we can change our destiny, as well as the destiny of many others.”

Muito obrigado. Thank you. And may God bless our two nations. Thank you very much. (Applause.)



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