Opinion, by Samantha Barthelemy

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – I was quite surprised and truly pleased with the response to my last article on the soaring costs of living in our marvelously expensive city, Rio de Janeiro.

Samantha Barthelemy, Carioca working in education and public security policies.
Samantha Barthelemy, Carioca working in education and public security policies.

I absolutely loved the nearly 200 Facebook “Likes” and comments! Thank you!

But surprise and pleasure aside, I got to thinking about some articles I wrote on public security policies, public education and government corruption.

Issues like these are as much a part of our daily lives – and arguably an even more important part – than the direct financial costs of living in Rio. But they rarely get as much public attention. Why would that be?

We like to think that we have an immediate control over how much we pay on food, housing, amenities, clothing and entertainment; maybe for this reason we feel it is “more of our business” and outrageous.  It is absurd!

However, there is an important connection we are not making.  There is a reason behind the highest taxes and some of the most expensive rent, parking, meals, electricity, phone bills, credit card rates, gas, airplane tickets (to name a few) in the world.

When talking about public security policies, public education and government corruption, we tend to think these issues are “out of our hands,” “not worthy of our attention” or that they do not affect us directly.

Boy are we wrong!

Dilma Rousseff’s government is on its way to sack its fifth minister in less than three months. Dozens more officials, including other ministers, are said to be involved in corruption scandals. The already fragile coalition is shaking as Rousseff attempts to rewrite the rules of the game.

Data from Transparency International indicates that Brazil could be responsible for as much as forty percent of the money “moved by corruption” worldwide.

A recent study by the Federation of Industries in the State of São Paulo (Fiesp) estimates the costs of corruption in Brazil at between R$50.8 and R$84.5 billion a year (between 1.38 and 2.3 percent of GDP).

Brazil has over fourteen million functionally illiterate adults, over seven percent of our population– the money wasted on corruption would be enough to build at least 57,000 schools.

Do you see any connection?

The cost of living in Rio isn’t limited to an R$80 risotto, a R$200 nightclub fee or a R$30 parking rate. Cariocas pay a high price every single day, living in fear of being robbed, kidnapped or hit by a stray bullet, spending hours in traffic over unpaved streets and wishing for a decent form of public transportation, paying the highest taxes in the planet and walking  side by side with poverty and marginalization in one of the most unequal cities in the world.

If this is not our problem, then whose is it?

A Belgian-Brazilian native of Rio de Janeiro and former United Nations journalist, Samantha Barthelemy is a dual degree Masters of International Affairs with Columbia University and the Paris Institute of Political Studies living in Rio and working in the Schools of Tomorrow Program. samanthabarthelemy.blogspot.com


  1. Good article, it brings to the light some facts because of which I have tired of hearing about Brazilian economic wonder. I live in Belo Horizonte for the last two years and can confirm that after eight years in Rio our budget has not seen any positive changes, so Rio probably reflects what we see happening in the whole country, with the added factor of being an important tourist destination.


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