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Brazil 2011

Small group of IPS students walking on a street in Rio de Janeiro

2011 Global Study Trip Report, Brasilia and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil


What impressed us most during our stay in Brazil was the sense of optimism among different strata of Brazilian society about their country’s future.  While acknowledging Brazil’s problems – high-income inequality, corruption, urban crime and drugs, and environmental degradation – policymakers also demonstrated a strong political will to tackle these problems through innovative policies. 

In our meetings in Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia we were able to examine the trajectory of Brazil’s growth from various viewpoints – economic, environmental, security, and political – with the individuals directly responsible for drafting Brazil’s policies and plan for development.  While Brazil is a subject of frequent discussion in policy circles, we had never internalized the scale, economy, resources, or potential of the country before.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Antonio Patriota demonstrated Brazil’s sophistication in planning a future in which his country will be a central player in international policy.  He explained that Brazil would like to enter into unions with nations not only in South America but also Central America.  By “playing the game” with both Western-government supported regimes and those on the periphery, Brazil is working hard to position itself as the international “good guy.”


We also saw the importance of grassroots activism in driving Brazil’s future when we visited the favelas.  In Rio de Janeiro we visited the favela of Vigário Geral and Cultural AfroReggae, an organization that offers opportunities to youth through educational, art, and cultural programs.  To see the decrepit living circumstances and extreme poverty firsthand was humbling.  Yet it was both eye opening and inspiring to learn about the impact the organization has had in providing a positive outlet for disadvantaged youth.

Afroreggae is a group of musicians born and raised in this favela.  After drug dealers killed one of their musicians, the Afroreggae group decided to start a social program to improve safety in the favela.  Their project became so popular that today they are financed by big businesses, government, and banks.  The level of corporate and government sponsorship displayed within the new community center demonstrated shifts within Rio towards development, poverty alleviation, and community empowerment.

Interestingly, we learned that favelas are not just located on the outskirts of Rio.  Rather, they are interspersed throughout Rio, making citywide attempts to reduce crime and the drug trade even more challenging.

Security in Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro’s Secretary for Security José Mariano Beltrame is known as a magician because of the dramatic decline in crime in Rio during his tenure.  Mr. Beltrame spoke about the city’s efforts to pacify and cleanse the favelas and integrate them into the city by removing the influence of drug lords and introducing public services.  He described his approach to crime fighting – law enforcement is about building relationships, establishing trust, and providing services; economic and physical security reinforce one another at the same time that poverty and crime are mutually exacerbating.

Indeed, the federal government has implemented many tangible security measures throughout the city to reduce instances of crime and drug trafficking.  For example, in favelas, the police hire “local security forces” – that is, armed personnel native to the favelas and familiar with the residents – to supervise law and order within the community.  Perhaps more interesting, however, was the number of police in non-favela areas – a sign perhaps that authorities in Rio are trying to strengthen the perception that their city is “safe” and therefore prepared to host events like the World Cup and the Olympics.

The approach in Rio is one of classic counterinsurgency: clear, hold, and build.  Brazil has an abundance of labor.  It’s not difficult to double or triple the police trainees available to monitor “pacified” favelas, with the implicit assumption that as police move from one favela to the next, they will narrow the space for gangs and simply squeeze criminality out of existence. 

Some of us were skeptical about the purported success of this approach.  Therefore, we were impressed by the recognition that one way or another, the people in the favelas need to be integrated into the city.  The immediate answer seems to be an attempt to deliver services to the favelas and shower the people with all the enfranchisements of being a real part of a state.  Favelas that haven’t been pacified can be impenetrable to government services, however, and physically changing faveladwellers’ surroundings will not necessarily be met with welcome reception.  The conclusion seems to be “where we can’t bring services to the people of the favelas, bring the people of the favelas to the services.”  To that end, the government has sought to integrate the favelas with the city center through a network of gondolas.  It is a colorful and progressive approach, but one that has been met with the opposition of city dwellers who fear that making it easy for people in favelas to get to the city will make it easy for crime to leak down from the mountains. 

To everyone we talked to, the favelas were clearly the point of reservation for those almost ready to declare Brazil a developed country or a South American miracle.

The Collective IPS Experience

Brazil is a country in flux, undergoing a dramatic transformation in economic, political, and social dimensions.  Yet it is only after our visit that we could fully grasp the driving forces behind its progress and the challenges that need to be overcome.

In addition, the opportunity to bond and get to know fellow IPS students was invaluable.  We learned much about the range of experiences, both academic and professional, within our group as a whole, as well as our diverse interests and aspirations.