Monday, 21 March 2011

A welcome as warm as the weather

A welcome as warm as the weather

Mar 21st 2011

AS SOON as Carnival was over, Rio de Janeiro started to look forward to its next big spectacle: a visit on March 20th by Barack Obama. The previous day, spent in Brasília with the Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff, had been billed as about trade—the United States is exporting more and more to Brazil, and hopes that demand in booming economies like Brazil’s will help it out of recession. But Rio was to be about fun, and about connecting with the Brazilian people rather than just with politicians.

In the event, Mr Obama put on a good show—but only for the television cameras.

The most substantial part of Mr Obama’s speech concerned recent big social changes in Brazil: the huge growth in the middle classes; the tens of millions who have exited poverty; and the efforts being made towards reducing violent crime in Rio’s favelas, or shantytowns. Earlier in the day he had visited one of the most famous, Cidade de Deus, or City of God, which gained worldwide notoriety when a 2002 film about Rio’s drug trade was set there. It is now host to one of 16 “pacifying police units”, or UPPs, that have been set up in the city in recent years. These community policing initiatives are extending the rule of law to poor neighbourhoods that were once the territory of drug gangs and corrupt police.

The very fact that the president of the United States could visit such a place at all was an acknowledgement that Rio, and indeed Brazil, are changing for the better.

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