According to the latest Latin America edition of U.S. weekly magazine Newsweek, Rio de Janeiro was always Brazil’s cidade maravilhosa, the marvelous city, but up close, the city is more often a monster than it is a marvel – a honking, steaming metropolis where rampant crime is only the most flagrant symptom of decline.
According to the article entitled “Brazil’s once marvelous city has lost its luster for natives as well as visitors. Can it recover?,” South America’s third-largest metropolis finds itself trapped in a relentless cycle of industrial decline, capital flight and bureaucratic gridlock.
All of this “has gutted the center city and transformed the once prospering suburbs into a rust belt of shuttered factories and slums.”
The city’s fall isn’t irreversible, reports the Rio-based, Brazilian correspondent for Newsweek, Mac Margolis. But Rio is unlikely to recover, he says unless the chaos and criminals are stopped.
Margolis notes that Rio’s authorities can be very sensitive to any criticism. He cites the city’s urban planning chief saying that “For tourists, Rio is as safe as Belgium.” And adds: “Prickliness aside, the authorities have a point: foreigners are by no means the main victims of Rio’s busy bandits. But that is cold comfort to the Cariocas, as Rio’s besieged natives are called.”
Newsweek informs that, according to the UN, homicides have doubled in the last decade in Rio going up to 3,729 a year. The magazine talks about the effort of the police who have jailed 45,000 criminals, last year, but adds that often the police are the problem. The last shocking crime of the police was the recent killing, death-squad style, of 29 people in the streets of Rio’s Baixada Fluminense.
“From tainted water to toxic politics, South America’s third-largest metropolis (population: 10.5 million) has it all,” says the weekly, which also informs that last month Brazil’s Health Ministry took over six city hospitals, after calling Rio’s health services a “public calamity,”
The magazine sees Rio as Brazil in miniature, reminding that favelas (shantytowns) are all over and that violence has become a national epidemic.
“One business that is flourishing in Rio is drugs”, says the article. “After dark, gunmen in flip-flops and armed with assault weapons battle for territory on behalf of cocaine falanges, like the Red Command and Friends of Friends.”
Newsweek concludes the piece with examples of actions by citizens who wish to take the marvelous city back from criminal hands. The civic group Viva Rio is one such effort. They have launched dozens of initiatives including microcredit. And businessmen have been lobbying the government to ease taxes, clean up downtown and increase policing.