This weekend, I’ll be heading to Rio de Janeiro to visit our office there. In truth, despite my longstanding love of Brazil, its language, and its people, Rio is a place that I don’t particularly know well at all. It’s not that São Paulistanos see Rio with particular disdain or derision, but that it’s thought of as a world apart, almost an alternate of Brazil where the beach and the ocean are as integral a part of life as traffic is here in São Paulo. Further, I was surprised to learn how many lifelong São Paulistanos had never been to Rio – like New Yorkers never visiting Washington DC or Boston (if they were tropical and beach-abutting.)
Of course, it’s impossible to talk about Rio without addressing the long standing endemical violence and broader strife that exists there, especially for poorer residents of color. The recent devolution of the State into insolvency has further imperiled the ability of the state to meet its basic commitments, including paying its police. The recent murder of Rio politician and activist Mariella Franco, which has deservedly become international news, is particularly notable for its impunity and the likelihood of corrupt police involvement, given her outspoken stance against the police and the forensic findings of police-issued ammunition being used in the attack.
Politically-motivated assassinations are hardly restricted to Rio, as capably explained by Gregory Duff Morton in the New York Review of Books, who recounts the spate of land conflict assassinations that have taken place in Brazil’s countryside against activists from the Brazilian Landless Movement (MST), and reflects a larger picture of the use of hired assassins to silence or intimidate.
The incidence of these murders in Brazil, and the lack of justice associated with these acts of violence, reflects an alarming and upsetting reality that exists beneath Brazil’s alluring surface. It is a profoundly unequal and unsafe place for Brazil’s poorer residents, and not a place that one should take lightly. A remark made by a Brazilian acquaintance in a recent conversation sums it up best: “Brazil is likely a less dangerous place than Brazilians make it out to be, but it’s certainly more dangerous than gringos (read: non-Brazilians from the developing world) make it out to be.”
Despite this lengthy and necessary caveat, I am looking forward to being on the ground in Rio this weekend, and beginning to expand my relationship with the city. Despite my usual reticence for Airbnb’s live-in rented rooms, I’ve opted to rent a room in an apartment in Botafogo from a 50-something Carioca (person from Rio). I’m incredibly curious to get his perspective on the current state of Rio, as well as the all important ‘dicas’ (tips) – what to do, and maybe more importantly, what not to do, as well as his advice for getting to know the city better. I’m hopeful to report back with positive impressions and little incident.