RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – We are right in the middle of it, looking around us in all directions we see change, hardship and success, failure – and anticipation. The most fun to mull on is we are in the middle of the summer period between Ano Novo (New Years) and Carnival.
The last week has been cool and rainy but we know that won’t last, the heat is coming. The bloco schedules have been announced and this weekend will see the first significant barrage – including the massive “Banda de Ipanema” bloco (starts at 5PM, Saturday, January 19th in Praça General Osório).
This one happens a few times during the Carnival season and always seems to shut the neighborhood down for the afternoon, striking apprehension in the hearts of many local residents. In 2013 the city approved sixteen percent more blocos, although the increase was mostly outside of Zona Sul (South Zone) in an effort to spread the fun around the city.
Just three more weeks until the official Carnival weekend, and that means we are in the middle of the eye of the storm. The city is abuzz with kids on school and university break, tourists from around the world, and Rio is ground zero.
In less fun news, we are right in the middle of the city’s efforts to prepare for the FIFA 2014 World Cup. It is 2013 which means the warm-up Confederations Cup is just months away, and it seems there is less time ahead us than behind us now to prepare.
Last week the people renovating the Maracanã Stadium (a R$1 billion project) announced a three month delay, and that it will open just three weeks before it is supposed to host a Confederations Cup game. It is hard to overstate the stakes, the thought of not being ready for the FIFA events is catastrophic to Carioca – and Brazilian – football (soccer) culture.
What made more news over the weekend was the police trying to run-off a bunch of way-ward native Indians squatting in an old museum in the shadow of the Maracanã. It is a touching tale of lost culture but the old building has been abandoned (as the national Indian Museum) since 1977, collecting dust, and people – living for free.
I could argue the case either way depending on what time of day it is, but on a macro level (I hope) Brazil is in the middle of tackling the worst of their poverty. A recent report shows the Bolsa Família welfare program is approved of by some 75 percent of the population, which seems like a strong sign of support.
Welfare is such a divisive issue in the U.S. that this amount of backing surprises me, although there are of course concerns about the extent it can increase people’s ability to pull themselves out of poverty with this program alone.
Yet sixty percent of Brazilians, would rather pay more taxes and have better universal health and education, the recent research showed… which I can’t see happening in the States. Part of that is because some 25 percent of Brazil lives below the poverty line, and the country has among the highest economic inequality.