Rio scrubs up for summit, but lets seamy side show: Brazil FWD

Tom Boland (
Fri, 23 Jul 1999 18:42:33 -0700 (PDT)

"The city wants to avoid the public relations disaster of the Earth Summit
it hosted in 1992, when police swept the homeless from view, army tanks
pointed big arms at the favelas and vigilante death squads gunned down 150
street children." -- from article below
FWD  Reuters - June 25, 1999


     By Tracey Ober

RIO DE JANEIRO, June 25 (Reuters) - European heads of state arriving in Rio
this weekend for a landmark summit with Latin America will see a freshly
scrubbed city but they will also get to see the region's seamier underbelly.

Although still polishing, planting and painting furiously, Brazil's famous
coastal resort city will not completely whitewash the gritty urban problems
it shares with its underprivileged cousins in Latin America and the

Instead, the 4,000 delegates and journalists descending on Rio de Janeiro
for the June 25-29 summit will be given tours of its notorious shantytowns,
where the city is trying to transform their slum conditions into livable

``The idea is to show all of Rio's faces and not hide anything,'' Rio's
mayor Luiz Paulo Conde told foreign journalists during summit preparations.
``Poverty is a worldwide problem, not only Brazil's.''

Although trade talks should star at the summit, which brings Europe
together with Latin America and the Caribbean for the first time, social
and political issues will also figure.

Rio plans to use the high-profile summit with the visit of nearly 50 world
leaders to show off its new ``Favela-Bairro'' project, which brings basic
city services like paved roads, schools and sanitation into the shantytowns
or favelas.

The city wants to avoid the public relations disaster of the Earth Summit
it hosted in 1992, when police swept the homeless from view, army tanks
pointed big arms at the favelas and vigilante death squads gunned down 150
street children.

Rio got an international drumming on human rights issues then although the
violence-ridden city earned praise for safely pulling off such an enormous
logistical challenge.

This time around, the city resisted heavy-handed tactics to secure key
sites, using visible police presence to discourage petty criminals.
Security in general will be more discreet with a force one third the size
of that used in 1992, only 9,000 soldiers and police, and no tanks pointed
at favelas.

``I'm sure they had to move some of the homeless but there was no sign of
any violence,'' said Rubem Cesar Fernandes of Viva Rio, a social activist
group set up at the height of the street massacres in 1993. ``It's
absolutely marvellous what the city is doing. They should have a summit
every year.''

While some residents have complained about snarled traffic around
pre-summit construction sites, most rave about the city's sparkling

Instead of using a convention centre on the outskirts of town, Rio decided
to put the summit at its long-ignored Museum of Modern Art in the heart of
the city and spent $10 million sprucing up its parks and the areas around
its grand beachside hotels, where most delegates will be lodged.

In the past few weeks, some 3,000 city workers have been busily changing
light bulbs, scrubbing off graffiti, polishing statues and retiling the
famous black and white wave patterns of Rio's sidewalks.

They planted 7,000 new trees, added 13,000 potted plants and even replaced
the garish orange litter cans with green ones to blend in with the freshly
green parks.

The well-known Copacabana and Ipanema beaches have been returned to
pristine condition after being fouled earlier this year by devastating
storms and sewage leaks.

With another $3 million from the federal government, the city dressed up
the somewhat dingy museum, slapping a big colourful mural on the outside
wall and re-starting its long-disused fountain.

With its murder rate at the lowest level in years, the city used the summit
as an excuse to undertake a major renovation of its tourist sites and
waterfront to revive its reputation as one of Latin America's top travel

The only ones still grumbling were residents of the poorer northern zone,
which missed both the Favela-Bairro project and the summit sprucing.


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