By Felicity Clarke, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – As the 2012 London Olympics draw nearer and the preparations start here in Brazil for the World Cup 2014 and the Rio Olympics in 2016, fostering a relationship between the UK and Brazil is becoming a clear priority for the UK government.
Following Vince Cable’s business mission last month to help develop business connections, Director for Consular Services for the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Julian Braithwaite was in Brazil last week to further promote links between the two countries and to gather information for the British consular operation providing information for the influx of British visitors anticipated to come to Brazil for the World Cup 2014.
“The 2012 Olympics presents a great opportunity for building links with the Brazilians that will be of mutual benefit over the next six years, hopefully.” said Julian, speaking at the residence of the British Consul-General to Rio. “Now is the time really, we can be helpful for the Brazilians because we’re already going through all these processes of how to manage things and the infrastructure challenges”.
While promoting UK-Brazil business partnerships over the major sporting events was one aim of the visit, another was the gathering of information to develop the British Consular services for Brazil in preparation for the World Cup in 2014.
“We ran a very big public information campaign before the World Cup in South Africa, we’ll do the same for Brazil and we hope more Brits come here than went to South Africa. It means there’ll be a lot of Brits who’ve never been to Brazil and they could land in Rio thinking they can hire a car and drive to Manaus and it’s not like that. Brazil’s huge. That’s one of the most basic things people need to understand before they come here.”
“A lot of it is about talking to the people here we want to work with in terms of that sort of information campaign and understanding how the Brazilians are organizing things here for the foreigners that are going to come so that we can communicate that.”
The visit has included meetings with Rio State Secretary for Sport, Leisure and Tourism, Marcia Lins, who outlined the plans to remodel the Maracanã Stadium and State Secretary for Public Security José Mariano Beltrame who presented the Pacification Police Unit program.
“How they are using these two sporting events to transform the infrastructure of this city is really exciting,” enthuses Julian. “The sense I got today is that the state government is really determined to grip the problem of public security now and the pacification program is actually a pretty sensible way of tackling it. They’ve obviously got a lot of work ahead of them but I was really impressed.”
This said, the FCO travel advice for favelas remains the same, he says. “I don’t think we know of an incident where a Brit has gone into a favela and not come out again. Plenty of people are doing it. It’s just a little bit risky and we’re not going to change our advice very soon on that.”
The British Consulate provides support to the 80,000 Brits that travel to Brazil each year and while there are relatively few problems, an area of concern is the increasing number of Brits who come here and try to smuggle drugs back to the UK; there are currently 36 Brits in prison in Brazil, all of them for drug smuggling.
It is a worrying trend that Julian, who has met with Interpol, the Federal Police and visited two British girls convicted on drug smuggling in São Paulo, and his team want to curb: “We need to understand eventually how it is that people are being recruited to come over here to do this and why there are more of them. The recession may be part of it, but we’re in the business of preventing people getting into trouble so we want to know how people are recruited and communicating the danger in advance.”
While Brazil remains a sensationalized destination in terms of crime levels, Julian, who was last in Brazil as a backpacker 23 years ago, is positive about Brits traveling in the country. “Brazil is a great place to travel to. It’s still a backpacker destination and you can go to these incredible places that are still pretty unspoiled. People should come to Brazil while it’s still one of those places.”
And if you are coming, as Julian and the consulate emphasize as part of their job, be sure to take out travel insurance and take care.