June 15, 2010
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Here’s the best way that I can describe Rio de Janeiro– it’s what you get when you mix the gorgeous vistas of Vancouver with the beach culture of Miami, the chaos and squalor of Mexico City, and the carefree attitude of the Caribbean.
Rio is one of those places that everyone has an opinion about… and the opinion is completely binary. Book a trip to Rio and tell your friends– I guarantee you’ll get one of two responses:
“Wow. I’m jealous, I’ve always wanted to go…” or
“Are you crazy?!? You could get killed there.”
The city has that reputation– free loving, sun drenched beautiful people with a passion for life and partying, as well as the low life criminal thuggery that plagues the city streets.
Like most rumors, both of these contain elements of truth.
Yes, Brazilians are gorgeous and fun loving, but there’s more to their lives than sexual hedonism. And yes, there is crime in Rio, but you’re not going to get stabbed on the street for the 15 cents in your pocket.
The truth about Rio is that it’s a major work in progress… and it probably always will be. They’re trying hard to eradicate poverty, mostly by redistributing income from the wealthiest Brazilians and increasing police presence in the legendary poor ‘favelas.’
This is why it makes sense to either bank in Brazil, but not live there… or to live in Brazil, but not bank there. You don’t want to get caught up in the country’s tax net.
As an aside, Brazil is one of the easiest places in the world to meet people. Brazilians are extraordinarily friendly and welcoming people. This is different than, say, the folks in New Zealand… who are quite nice, but not especially inclusive.
Brazilians will literally take you by the hand and bring you into their group… and unless you have a major personality disorder, you’ll have at least 30 new best friends within your first 24-hours on the ground, even though neither of you will understand each other’s language.
One of the people I’ve met on the ground here is a special forces police officer named Fabio. We were talking about crime in Rio, and what an awful reputation it has internationally.
Rather than tell me about it, Fabio and I spent an entire evening driving around in the worst favelas to get a boots on the ground taste. (* he was off duty and we were in my rental car, so it’s not like I had an official police escort which biased the observations)
From what I saw, the poorest, ‘most dangerous’ favelas seemed quite similar to the worst neighborhoods I’ve seen in Detroit, South Dallas, Los Angeles, London, and Hong Kong… but without the luxury of electricity or four walls and a roof.
The people who live in these areas are unquestionably poor… in sharp contrast to the high life condos on Copacabana and Ipanema beaches. But being poor does not make them murdering rapists, which seems to be the reputation that these favelas have in the press.
As I mentioned, the government’s solution to address the poverty has been to tax the income of other Brazilians and dump those funds into grants and public works projects around the favelas.
This simply doesn’t work. It’s like the trailer park tenant who wins the lottery– give that guy a million dollars and he’ll be right back in the trailer park within 3 years.
Lifting people out of poverty requires much more consideration than simply throwing money at the problem. Poverty is often something that people are born into… but they stay that way because they lack opportunities to develop the vision and skills required to deal with the outside world.
Ironically, the private sector has started addressing the issue in its own way. Fabio took me to a couple of nightclubs that are located in the worst favelas. As it turns out, they’re quite popular with the locals… rent is low so the drinks are cheap.
All the workers I saw, from the parking attendants to the bartenders to the bouncers, were all from the favelas… earning a decent wage and developing real world skills.
It seems, in my opinion, to be a much better solution than forking over a bunch of money to the tax collector.
Now… if you’ll excuse me, I have to get going… I was a complete bonehead and managed to lose one of my passports, so I have to dash off to the consulate to get it replaced. And Brazil plays its World Cup opener today, which basically means the entire country is on holiday this afternoon.
More to follow tomorrow on passports.