Tag Archives: Rio de Janeiro

A gigante acordou – The giant has woken

22 Jun

I’ve just arrived back in Rio from a week visiting the baroque towns and isolated splendour of Brazil’s colonial past to the protests, uncertain and rising spirit of the chaotic present. Hints of the movement rippling across the country came from short snippets of news on the TV, people leaving early from work to be able to arrive home and scenes of the giant marches and homemade placards in all of the major cities. However, it was only talking to my Brazilian housemate today, her experience of the protests, reading the news reports and watching the film clips that I really became aware of the scale of this uprise.

The protests started over a week ago, just before we boarded a bus for the interior with small marches of students and members of the Movemento Passe Livre (Free Movement) against rises in bus fares in several major cities including Sao Paulo and Rio. These were small rises, to R$2.95 in Rio (£1), but as I’ve discussed before are a huge cost if you are living on the minimum wage. A large but peaceful march in Sao Paulo was met by riot police with rubber bullets and teargas and huge indignation across the media and the public and were the spark for ever increasing protests across the country. There were giant marches in the centre of Rio every night last week but also smaller scale protests across the city. 500 footballs with red crosses were placed on Copacabana beach these morning, representing the half a million people murdered in Brazil in the past 10 years whilst people have marched and camped outside the Governor of the State of Rio de Janeiro’s residence in Leblon.

Although the politicians have struck a conciliatory note, saying that they need to listen to the demands of the people and that this is a sign of democracy, the police have reacted somewhat differently. Videos abound of teargas and rubber bullets being sprayed towards people, apparently without reason, as they stand on pavements, walk down the street, sit in their cars or film events from their apartment. My housemate told me of walking in the crowd towards the Prefeitura (the seat of Rio’s goverment) as helicopters flew lower and lower overhead, dropping teargas from above as crowds including young people, children and pregnant women fled away. This style of policing may be partly due to the use of the BOPE police, heavily armed shock troops more accustomed to entering and tackling drug gangs in the favelas than policing protests.

And what does this waking giant want? Although the spark was the rise in bus prices the underlying frustrations are multitudinous. The poor infrastructure and investment in health and education, friends constantly declaim the poor wages of teachers and the endless waiting and lack of equipment at public hospitals, any one that can pays for private education and healthcare plans. The cost of hosting the mega events of the World Cup and the Olympics, which appear to serve external international interests such as the International Olympic Committee and Fifa rather than the local population. In Cuíaba, the capital of Mato Grosso, a recently built stadium has been knocked down and a new one built specifically for the World Cup that is hugely outsized for the audience of the local lower tier football team. But overlying all of this is the corruption and self-serving interests that have chipped away at people’s respect, trust and belief in politicians, in their trust that these mega-events are not being used to line the pockets of politicians whilst public services are neglected. The recent mensalão (Big Monthly Payment) scandal where 25 senators, businessmen and PT (Workers’ Party) officials were found guilty of receiving monthly payments to vote with the government, has still not resulted in any of the guilty going to prison. The politicians appeared outraged that the Supreme Court had had the gall to actually prosecute them, let alone find them guilty.

One of the specific complaints of the protesters is the amendment PEC 37 to the constitution which will be voted on this coming week, with today and tomorrow called the ‘Dia do Basta a Corrupção’ (Enough Corruption Day). This amendment would mean that all prosecution investigations would have to be carried out by the Federal or State Police, rather than some being brought by a public prosecutor, as occurs at the moment. People are worried that this concentration of power will give a monopoly to the police to investigate crimes, leaving some uninvestigated, especially those of corruption by politicians or police. Other people have suggested that a change is needed from the status quo, with local police forces needing more independence and better pay to increase their autonomy from State Governors and their ability to investigate corruption. Overall, it indicates the lack of trust in federal institutions.

Whatever the outcome and changes that occur from these protests, the giant has definitely woken. I am proud to see this spirit of change and demand for a better future speak on the streets of these cities, to see a people find its voice after so many talks with my colleagues, hearing their complaints about public services and corruption and their disbelief that any change will happen. Talking to people on our travels around Brazil they have told me how needed these protests are, for politicians to see the anger and frustration of the people and to know that they are watching and that they will demand change. Currently President Dilma hasn’t offered enough to calm this giant, we’ll see what the next week brings.

Rio Carnival 2013!

17 Feb

Carnival crept up on us and gradually gripped us in its swirling embrace. Huge overhead hoardings proclaiming ‘Carnaval da Rua’ appeared along the main roads and giant advertising slogans were attached to the sides of the Sambodromo. We forayed into Saara, a souq-like warren of shops selling every imaginable fantasia and accessory; glitter, V for Vendetta masks, M&M costumes, wigs, fairy wings, fake flowers…the only limit to your costume was your imagination and your wallet! Carnival arrived not so much with a splash, but with little puffs of fairydust leading up to the big weekend.

A Michael Jackson themed bloco (Carnival street party) two weeks before carnival itself…although the preparations amongst the real Carnival afficionados have been going on at least since Christmas…started to get us into the swing. Samba and Michael Jackson go surprisingly really well together, especially if you’ve got an excited crowd, enthusiastic singers with fantastic impressions and uninhibited brazilians willing to show off their moonwalk on-stage!

But our real Carnival experience started the weekend before the ‘official weekend’ when we woke up at 6.30am to go to Cordão do Boitatá, a traditional bloco led by a giant folkloreish snake/dragon and with a huge band of drums and brass instruments.

The giant snake/dragon that leads the Cordao do Boitata bloco

The giant snake/dragon that leads the Cordao do Boitata bloco

The Duracell Bunny never ran out of energy for Carnaval!

The Duracell Bunny never ran out of energy for Carnival!

Carnival music

Cordão do Boitatá is where we first heard the traditional carnival music. For some reason I’d thought that all of the music would be samba…I hadn’t realised that there were special carnaval songs, mostly developed from old marching music, called marchinhas. As with all Brazilian festivals, to really feel part of it you have to know the music and Carnival is no exception. We felt like outsiders on that first bloco as everyone danced around singing their hearts out to the songs that we didn’t know or understand. But gradually over Carnival weekend as we went to more blocos and heard them repeated and danced to them in our house the songs became part of the fabric of our Rio life…and they still haven’t left my head.

To give you a taste of the lyrics see the descriptions below and click on the links to listen…many of them are quite old and not politically correct! You can find many more marchinhas here:

Cachaça‘You think that cachaça is water, but its not. Cachaça comes from the distillery and water comes from the river. I could live without bread, rice and beans…I could live without love..the only thing I don’t want to live without is cachaça!’

Allah-La Ô – this was first written for a bloco with an Arabic theme in the 1930s or 1940s. ‘Allah, the heat. We crossed the Sahara, the sun was hot. We came from Egypt and many times we had to pray…Allah Allah send us water to ioiô and iaiá (terms used by Brazilian slaves to address young masters!). Allah my good Allah.’

Balancê – A young man who wants to dance (balancê) with a morena. ‘I want to dance with you… when you walk past me pretending not to see me my heart almost shatters…time is running out and I will finish in the dance..’

Confete – A man remembers with longing his romance with a woman in a columbine costume at the previous carnival and the confete on her dress. ‘I confess that I cried because I remembered that Columbine who joked with me..ahh confete longing for the love that is gone.’

Ó Abre Alas – I have no real idea what this means but it’s a very popular and catchy marchinha!

Blocos
Before I came to Rio my image of Carnival was the huge colourful sparkling parades and practically naked women on the Sambodromo but the whole of Rio becomes one massive party with over 450 different blocos or street parties travelling all over the city. We were really lucky to live with some carnival afficionados and cariocas who take us to their favourite blocos with the constant refrain ‘but you must come…this is THE best one!’ My favourite were the smaller blocos where it was possible to get close to the band and most people were dressed in fantastia (costumes).

Marcha Nerd/Thriller
Part of the ‘Meu sofa or seu’ bloco (My sofa or yours), organised by couchsurfers, it included two people dressed as a sofa and with the nerd/Michael Jackson theme a plethora of MJ lookalikes mixed with cartoon characters. The zombie costumes went down well and we enjoyed fighting the ninja turtles as well as dancing to the Pokemon theme tune and others in portuguese!

This is what the heat does to you!

This is what the heat does to you!

Ninga turtles vs zombies

Ninga turtles vs zombies

I was minding my own business feasting on the flesh of some carnaval goers when this very rude man used his dragon shout....!

I was minding my own business feasting on the flesh of some carnaval goers when this very rude man used his dragon shout….!

The Marcha Nerd crew

The Marcha Nerd crew

Cute! Not quite sure what to make of the gringa zombie taking a photo of them though!

Cute! Not quite sure what to make of the gringa zombie taking a photo of them though!

Sheldon Cooper!

Sheldon Cooper!

Cinebloco
Samba/film theme tunes. Fantastic. Including the ghostbusters chasing a ghost around the crowd.

Santa Teresa Cinebloco

Santa Teresa Cinebloco

Bruna Surfistinha...Bruna 'the little surfer', a sex worker whose clients thought she looked like a surfer and became famous from a blog she wrote about her experiences!

Bruna Surfistinha…Bruna ‘the little surfer’, a sex worker whose clients thought she looked like a surfer and became famous from a blog she wrote about her experiences!

Fun with the Care Bears! And listening to classic carnival tunes.

Fred Flinstones and 'love-a-lot' care bear!

Fred Flinstones and ‘love-a-lot’ care bear!

Natureza!

Natureza!

Rio Carnival Caixa

Tired Care bears!

Tired Care bears!

The Jamaican Bobsleigh team!

The Jamaican Bobsleigh team!

Os Móveis – Bando Vergonha do Posto 6
Listening to older carnival songs on the beach on Copacabana as the sun sets whilst drinking a beer…it doesn’t get much better.

Os Móveis – Bando Vergonha do Posto 6

Os Móveis – Bando Vergonha do Posto 6

!!

!!

Carnival on Copacabana beach

Carnival on Copacabana beach

Vame ET
‘Let’s go ET’, with a much ruder translation if you say this quickly! Rude and alcohol related puns are definitely a feature of Carnival blocos. This was a lovely small bloco with lots of their own songs, huge amounts of energy and great costumes!

Vame ET!

Vame ET!

Giant ET mascot!

Giant ET mascot!

The ET groupees

The ET groupees

The crowd going wild

The crowd going wild

The bateria

The bateria

Heat, droughts and an Indian Feast

20 Jan

I’ve been neglectful over the past few weeks. I should have had lots of time over to post during the quiet Christmas . I thought that I would be incredibly sad, missing family and friends but it felt like such a different world and such a different experience that it was hard to correlate the hot weather and sunshine with Christmas Day. And Christmas Day was hot…the thermometer hit 43.2 C across Rio, the highest ever recorded temperature. We decided it was the perfect day to cook an Indian curry! We surrounded the table with four fans as an attempt to try and keep cool, it didn’t stop the sweat dripping.

An Indian Feast on Christmas Day in Brazil

An Indian Feast on Christmas Day in Brazil

Its amazing the lethargy that the heat brings on, the imperative to slow down, lie down, rest, sleep early and the difficulty to generate enthusiasm and excitement to think, communicate, do new things. But this heat is not just a personal challenge. The North East of the country has been suffering the worst drought in 30 years, the amount of milk produced in many states has dropped by 40 – 50% with many animals dying. Friends visiting the Chapada Diamantina near Salvador recently walked along dry riverbeds, in the rainy season! Around 90% of the electrical energy used in Brazil is hydroelectricity. The drought has resulted in low levels of the reservoirs, down to 28-30% of normal levels across the country, a decrease in energy production and a tripling of the use of thermal power plants. Attempts to ensure the continuity of electricity supply by opening the floodgates at hydroelectric plants is depleting the reservoirs even faster. At the same time the high temperatures cause an increase in energy consumption as the use of air conditioning rises. Electricity prices will continue to rise, where inflation was already at 7.8% last year, as well as CO2 emissions.

This has coincided with droughts across the world, particularly in North America, resulting in much higher soybean and corn prices. The result of this, lots of farmers in Brazil switching to growing soybean and corn instead of other crops such as cotton, rises in land prices and huge pressure to convert more land to agriculture.

Its a worrying and vicious cycle if the effects of a changing climate, decreasing agricultural yields and rising food prices just results in the conversion of more land for agriculture, increased habitat destruction, emissions from land-use change and the loss of carbon sinks.

Thankfully the rain has now returned to Rio…abnormally so, with temperatures closer to that of the winter. But I’m not complaining. The fans are silent and our energy has returned!

The price of a bus ticket…and musings on wealth inequality in Rio

21 Nov

The other day I got stuck in a huge queue on the bus on the way back from the university, not necessarily a strange occurrence but I was struck by the helicopter flying overhead. As we started moving again I noticed groups of people standing at the bus stops across the 8-lane Avenida Preidente Vargas that stretches into the centre of Rio, chanting as the buses passed by and holding placards with R$3.05 crossed out.

Searching on the internet I discovered that this was one of a series of protests against the increase in bus fares from the current price of R$2.75 (about 83p) to R$3.05 (92p) per journey in January. With the price rising from R$2.50 last January. The recent protests were met by the riot military police leading to some nasty looking arrests.

It made me consider some of the issues of wealth and inequality that exist here that are too often hidden. The minimum wage in Brazil in 2012 is R$622 (£100) per month or R$2.83 (85p) per hour. The average wage is R$1588. This puts into stark contrast some of the living costs. For people on the minimum wage, just traveling to and from work everyday by bus will take out 17% of their monthly income before the costs of food, accommodation, electricity or clothing are accounted for, whilst even on the average wage it would be 7%. It is easy to understand why there are protests about the rising fares and why people will wait to be packed into a crowded bus like cattle rather than get a seat in the minivans for 25 centavas extra.

It also highlights the massive geographic divide in the city. Zona Sul, encompassed by mountains and containing all of the sites that most tourists connect with Rio: the beaches, sugarloaf mountain, Christo Redento; is really a small town. The North Zone, an intermingling of favelas and middle-class neighbourhoods stretches out as far as the eye can see on the plain beyond the mountains, stifling hot in the summer. These are two different worlds with a one bedroom flat in the Zona Sul costing at least R$1000-R$1500 a month before condominium rates and rising to eye-watering prices in Ipanema and Leblon, which have the highest square metre prices of anywhere in South America. It is no wonder that the Zona Sul is a different world, where only the upper middle-classes and wealthy can live, unless you live in a favela precipitously perched on the hillside. Now these affordable areas are also under threat. With the pacification of the favelas comes property speculation and eviction pressures, with many of the favelas offering spectacular views. The effects of these changes on the social and geographic divisions in Rio are already beginning to happen.

When we first arrived in Rio we found money tight. Living on one income with rental prices what they are has meant that we have much less disposal income than in the UK. But this puts it all in perspective. My wage is 6 times the minimum, more than twice the average. We are definitely the wealthy. The excesses of the very wealthy are something else to behold. Closing the wealth inequality gap is not something that will happen overnight, but keeping the price of public transport low so that people can still get to work will certainly help.