By Doug Gray, Senior Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – Despite reports to the contrary over the last few weeks, months, indeed years, Help Discoteca in Copacabana is still open, and seemingly doing better than ever.
It is testament to the global reputation of the huge club on Avenida Atlantica that so many news column inches have been devoted to reporting its potential closure, dating back as far as 2006. It is also a testament to the complexities of interests that it remains open until the start of 2010.
Opened in 1984, the brainchild of Chico Recarey and at the time the largest club in South America, it symbolized all that was decadent about Rio de Janeiro in the 1980s. Today, however, it is known to many around the world as the epicenter of Rio de Janeiro’s sex trade, and as such has courted controversy with locals desperate to clean up their neighborhood despite the legal nature of its business.
While operating brothels is outlawed in Brazil, getting paid or indeed paying for sex is entirely legal. The government has stood by the position – as recently as 2005 it turned its back on US anti-HIV aid to the tune of $40m by refusing to sign the anti-prostitution pledge that accompanied it. Never-the-less, the idea of having such a famous symbol of prostitution in an area designated as a focal point for the 2016 Olympics has become increasingly controversial for them.
Promotion of sex tourism is also illegal in Brazil, although something of a legal gray area and easily circumvented, and President Lula and Sergio Cabral will be at pains to keep it even further than arms length from any Olympic entanglement that could impact on the positive effects of Rio de Janeiro’s hosting of The Games.
The date for the final demolition of Help is yet to be set, but will be held off until at least January 2010 after Governor Cabral announced the latest delay last week. A tribunal that was held for the workers at the club found in their favor, awarding them more time – including the profitable Christmas period – to find new work.
What is certain, however, is that in its place will be built the Museum of Sound and Image after an international competition was held for the design of the replacement building. Installing an equally iconic building to the site has of course in turn brought its own controversies, but the ultra-modern new museum looks to cut short any “saudades” that might be felt for the old premises and what it came to represent.