Elite Brazilian troops survey a shanty town during a drug raid. (Photo Courtesy of bbcnews.com)
Favelas. Shanty towns. Slums. These terms are often associated with Rio de Janeiro, defined by many as a cosmopolitan, cultural, beautiful beach town. Known for its samba, carnaval festas, caipirinhas and excessive lifestyle, it is easy to ignore the daily violence, poverty and hunger that permeate “a cidade maravilhosa”. But with Brazil in the spotlight as sport fans and the media anxiously await the next World Cup and Olympics, it will soon be impossible to ignore the many paradoxes that define Brazil. It is undeniable that Brazil has a lot to offer: socially, culturally, and economically. The international community should and will accept the country not as emerging, but as a key actor in all global affairs. Its growth and power are too strong to be ignored, and it is time that Brazil finally takes the stage.
It is show time soon, but will Brazil make it with a standing ovation? Its future is almost golden, but cast with darker undertones that must be addressed. With all its promises, after all, comes a heartbreaking tale of social inequality, a deep culture of racism, and unfortunately broken, corrupt institutions of the law. Beachgoers see Brazil as a landscape of waves and sun. Soccer fans consider Brazil at the top of their pantheon. Moviegoers, influenced by blockbusters and masterpieces such as Cidade de Deus and Tropa de Elite see the brutal tactics of drug lords, the police, and the military, on wide screens, but don’t necessarily consider the reality of the situation.
And yet, they will soon see their fiction coming to life. Rio remains constantly afflicted by deep-rooted problems provoking high economic inequality and poor standards of living. This will all be exposed in a very realistic, gritty way as this June and July approach. Nearly 3000 elite squad troops have already started raiding the city, occupying dangerous shanty towns such as Mare, a favela torn between two rival drug gangs. On one hand, this newfound international spotlight is urgent and necessary: one may hope it will finally push the Brazilian government to find new solutions to improve living conditions and reduce violence and crimes. On the other hand, one must be skeptical of the efficacy of such elite squad troops. The reality is tragic and gruesome but remains: public security and police are two huge problems in Brazil, and Rio specifically. Regular police and even elite squads such as BOPE have been criticized for corruption and their high level of brutality and violence towards favela residents and middle-class citizens. Brazil’s political scene, while partly steadied by a respected government and full democratization, remains haunted by failed legal institutions.
In any case, the upcoming events will prove to be the ultimate test for Brazil’s place in the world playground. While some are worried about the country’s economic situation and fear future mass protests, it is important to remember that this is a golden opportunity. The country has every chance to seize it and succeed at its endeavors. Challenges are numerous and the risks are high, but Brazil has everything to gain by it.