Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Rio's Beauty and Challenges

Rio is a beautiful city with fabulous beaches (Copacabana, Ipanema, Flemingo) and a city built along the shores of the Atlantic. With SugarLoaf and the National Park around Christ the Redeemer, the views are breath-taking.

But there is another side- quite in your face- and that is their caste system and slums. Locals will be quite upfront in saying they do not have a racial issue but there is absolutely a caste system of the rich versus the poor; and the poor are virtually 100% Afro- Brazilian (locals say Black) that live in squalor.

A brief history- In the 16th- 18th centuries, Brazil imported more slaves than any other country. An estimated five million 'blacks' came here compared to only 400,000 that went to the U.S. and Canada. By 1888, when abolition finally came, there were more black than white people in Brazil. Whereas the US and other parts of the world continued to segregate or apartheid, Brazil decided to encourage a mixed or rainbow race.

Fast forward to today- it may be a rainbow mix but it is definitely a caste system and there’s outright discrimination against poor people. Herein lies the juxtaposition.  Brazilians have long argued that blacks are poor only because they are at the bottom of the social pyramid—in other words, that society is stratified by class, not race. 

It's a striking visual; about 11 million of the Brazilian population live in slums, called favelas. 

There are actual tours you can take to see these. In Rio, there are officially 670 favelas- many with no plumbing and electricity- built beside residential neighborhoods. Even where we are in Santa Teresa, there are favelas built alongside this older neighborhood. They have prime locations and afford some of the city‘s richest views to its poorest citizens. Unfortunately, favelas are also hives of violence and criminal activity, run by drug cartels and their residents are blamed for much of the city's crime.

It's also unfortunate that the Brazilian government has a long history of ignoring the uncontrolled growth of favelas, despite the obvious danger of cobbling houses together on steep hillsides. 

It is recognized that the country has to think 'different' in solving this challenge. But with an impeachable President and the Olympics less than 4 months away, it's not high on the priority list. This hasn't hit the top list for some time.

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