Rio, a walkable city?


(Part of Rio’s Doxiadis Plan)

Last night I was watching a video of city planner Jeff Speck sharing his “general theory of walkability” – four planning principles to transform sprawling cities into walkable oases, and I wondered how it might be applied to Rio de Janeiro. Basically, he says cities need 1) to offer a proper reason to walk, 2) to have safe streets, 3) the walking has to be comfortable and 4) it has to be interesting.

Being that Rio’s layout is rather inevitably skinny and long, squished between mountains the the sea – not large, fat and round like São Paulo – it can’t be too walkable, but it can be walkable by neighborhood. Like the way Ipanema, Tijuca and Centro are.

The glaring problem with his 4 steps – or rather just one of them – when applied to Rio is number 2 (safe streets). All it takes is one look at the Onde Fui Roubado (Where I Was Robbed) site to see the quantity of most recent crimes.

While I believe crime can mostly be solved through education and opportunity, Speck’s first and fourth principles (a proper reason and interestingness) only require institutions, centers, museums, the government and individuals to all do their part in creating a web of continuous activities throughout the city. Think: Samba da Ouvidor or Pedra do Sal, free events at the CCBB, or even something like Instawalk Rio. The stronger the sense of community, the less crime that will occur – at least on a neighborhood scale.

After watching the video below, as well as the talk he gave at TED one month prior, it got me wondering how Speck would approach Rio, were he tasked with making it walkable. It can’t be improved if no one first imagines how that improvement might happen. What would it take and what can be done to make it happen?

If you are interested in the topic, Curitiba’s Jaime Lerner recently shared a few ideas (PT) with the BBC regarding how Brazil can maximize its potential.

Historical community fights to survive


In Rio, a community founded in the times of slavery fights to survive

Stigmatized as “invaders”, 2,000 people that live in Horto Florestal are threatened with expulsion after the Botanical Garden took control of the land

It is one of the most beautiful and preserved places of Rio de Janeiro: a small green paradise, next to the Botanical Garden and Tijuca National Park, in one of the most prized areas of the city, which includes the neighborhoods of Jardim Botânico and Gávea. The piece in question is called the Horto Florestal community. It has 2,000 residents, small houses – some of them listed by the Institute of National Historic and Artistic Heritage (Iphan) – and many trees, giant bamboos, waterfalls, trails, wild animals. A neighborhood that makes us forget that we are in the middle of a large metropolis.

“It’s always been a wonderful place here,” says Mrs Olivia da Silva Alves, who arrived here in 1945, when her father, an employee of the Itatiaia National Park, was brought by the Brazilian Forest Service to work at the Botanical Garden. The house is simple, single-story, where she lives with her daughter and her grandson. Next to it, another set of houses, old and white, forms the little street. “It used to be very good to live here, but it was also difficult because it was just a forest. It had neither road nor electricity, but it was very quiet. And no one was going to mess with us,” she adds. Thirty years ago the situation changed. Since the 1990s, the administration for the Botanic Garden – the historic garden created by Dom João VI in the 19th century – claimed community lands to expand its activities.

Finally, on November 3rd, the Botanical Garden Research Institute received a grant from the Union’s Property Department (SPU) for “full control” of the lands of both the Botanical Garden and Horto Florestal, estimated at 142 hectares. The SPU thus obeys the most recent judicial decision for the case, tried by the Federal Court of Accounts (TCU) in 2012 at the request of the Botanical Garden Association of Residents and Friends (AMAJB).


In their judgment, the TCU ministers did not consider the central argument of the community – their long history on those lands – to request they stay. On the contrary: all the ministers considered the inhabitants as “invaders”, without specifying the date of such invasion. “Today, the Botanical Garden’s land is occupied by more than 2,000 people,” said Walton Minister Rodrigues Alencar Rodrigues, who demanded to “remove these people” from there.

The current director of the Botanic Garden, Sérgio Besserman, also follows this line: “We did not expand”, he says about the TCU decision. “That community’s land was already considered part of the Botanical Garden even by the community itself.”

Historian Laura Olivieri disputes this view. “You cannot say that the locals are invaders of the park, because they aren’t. This wasn’t a park here,” she says. Within Horto, she found the ruins of one of Rio’s first sugar mills, founded in 1578, more than 200 years before the Botanical Garden itself.

“The first wave of occupation was of slaves and Portuguese. Where there was sugar mill, there was slave labor, probably indigenous as well, but very little is known. Then, in the 18th century, Horto was home to a coffee farm, also with slave labor. The foundation of the Botanical Garden Park brought the third population wave in the region, made up of slave laborers from that large project,” comments the historian.

Horto Florestal was officially given this name for the first time in 1875, as an organ linked to Brazil’s Forests Society and subordinated to the Ministry of Planning. Throughout the 20th century, Horto was the essential site of Brazilian forestry, where forest species were produced and experiments were carried out with them. A map from 1929 presents its perimeter at 83.3 hectares of land and a well-demarcated boundary with 54 hectares belonging to the Botanical Garden. Inside, there were 25 hectares of crops that included 180 medicinal plants. “The state abandoned this sector in the 1980s, companies began to finance research and public investments stopped,” explains Clayton Ferreira Lino, president of Unesco’s National Council of the Atlantic Forest Biosphere Reserve. He adds: “Rio’s Horto Florestal was special, being in the capital, with more resources, it had more native forest and medicinal plants. All Brazilian horticultural gardens had and have inhabitants and dwellings inside them. They still have nurseries and trained people.”

Together with the Botanical Garden and the Tijuca National Park, Horto do Rio was registered in 1991 as a Unesco Biosphere Reserve within the Man and Biosphere Program. “We imagined this reserve as a set of three entities, because each had particular characteristics and components. Horto Florestal has historicity, the development of forestry and a fundamental role in the training of researchers. The Botanical Garden has the Atlantic forest and exotic species, and Tijuca Park has native and replanted forest,” explains Ferreira Lino.

According to him, Unesco has never considered the community as a problem. On the contrary: “The reserve already thinks of man within nature, and therefore is called ‘Man and Biosphere’. The community at Horto has lived there for a long time, one should consider the residents. Undoubtedly there are remnants of slavery in Horto, there are dominant ties with descendants. They are not invaders, nor in bad faith,” concludes the expert.


Conflict for land in the middle of the Carioca forest

Until 2006, the federal government also didn’t consider the community to be “invasive.” In that year, the SPU commissioned the Housing Laboratory at the Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism (FAU / UFRJ) to carry out a land regularization project in the social interest, which should consider the community’s needs, but also consider an old 1990s lawsuit from the Botanic Garden, to expand its land.

In those years, the Jardim became a research institute and took possession of the Solar da Imperatriz, the master’s house of the old coffee farm, to found the National School of Botany. Little by little, it deployed several nurseries around the site and also inside a club that had been built by the community in the 1950s, where locals played soccer.

They were the first land dispute bids in the middle of the forest.


Since then, community lawyer Rafael da Mota Mendonça explains, “JB messes with community life by placing large dumpsters in front of residents’ homes, preventing them from repairing their homes or using cars.” On the other hand, the institute started asking the federal government to expand its land for further research.

The arguments were considered valid by the SPU in 2006. “The project that SPU entrusted us with was to regularize both the community and the Botanical Garden, define the boundaries between one and the other, allow the expansion of the Garden alongside a set of urban centers, some of them being relocated because they are in a risk zone, such as the river’s edge”, explains urban planner and professor Ubiratan de Souza, who conceived the plan.

The project proposed an expansion of the Botanical Garden to 80% of the 142 hectares, and at the same time, the regularization of the community on 8% of the land. The Horto community area, which is 19.3 hectares today, would be reduced to 11.1 hectares, and the neighborhood would be denser. And the Botanical Garden, which in 2006 was 54 hectares, would be 113 hectares.

The rest of the area is occupied by other facilities from public and private companies, such as the State Water and Sewage Company (Cedae), the Federal Data Processing Service (Serpro) and the electricity company Light.

However, this project didn’t please the Botanical Garden Association of Residents and Friends, who decided to take the case to the TCU. The court, in turn, determined “the immediate suspension of the land regularization program” in 2012.

Opposing View

In this dispute, the two sides have an opposing view on the right that should prevail. The community is entitled to the right to housing, contemplated by the 1988 Constitution and the 2011 Statute of Cities.

“All legislation passed in the 1990s took into account the need to bring informal settlements into formality. In the Constitution, there’s a chapter on urban policies, an instrument called a special use concession for the purpose of housing, for private occupants of public areas,” said Rafael Mendonça, the community lawyer.

The other side, on the other hand, reaffirms that there’s no right to housing on government soil. There are, however, a number of environmental rights that must prevail.


The director of the Botanic Garden, Sérgio Besserman says that environmental work is a priority, and Horto needs to expand it. “We are responsible, for example, for species threatened with extinction. We need trees, seedlings, seeds, otherwise the world’s largest forest restoration will be done without biodiversity.”

This was also the interpretation of the TCU. According to the ministers, the Botanical Garden is a World Heritage Site. “The invasions occur every day in the country as if it were something normal. It is not possible for Brazil to continue to pass on to the world this impression that there is no law here, that laws are not obeyed and that anyone can settle anywhere, that government power will provide as a present a house with all the facilities necessary for their proper survival,” argued Minister Aroldo Cedraz.

For Sérgio Besserman it is also unimaginable that the community remains there: “Does the Botanical Garden of Paris have people living inside it? Does King Garden in London have people living in it? It is not compatible with the operation of a research institution and a visitors center.”

According to him, the expansion cannot happen by keeping the community there, as proposed by the UFRJ study: “In this community, as in all communities in Rio, there is organized crime, drug trafficking,” he says. The same argument was used by Besserman’s predecessor, Samyra Crespo, in an interview with Público: “There is drug trafficking and militia,” she said, explaining that the presence of the residents would bring insecurity.

However, the accusation was not verified by the report. Serpro and Light officials say they have never seen any illegality and feel safe there. “I’ve been working for Serpro for 20 years and I’ve never heard of violence, I’ve never seen anyone with a gun here. And I know what I’m saying because I live in Rocinha,” says a lady. Then she takes us to talk to the guards in the company parking lot. “People here leave their cars open. You can walk quietly, there are no drug traffickers or police here,” the guards said.

“This talk of drug trafficking in the community is one that seems like common sense, that everyone buys into. They say, ‘I’ll remove them because there are criminals.’ It’s a common practice of public administrators to criminalize social movements,” says lawyer Rafael Mendonça.


The two directors are also concerned about a possible expansion of the community. Sérgio Besserman says that the residents “have real estate interests” and intend to sell their houses. “What guarantee would there be that the community will not grow?” he asks.

Urbanist Ubiratan de Souza replies: “We did the regularization project precluding all expansion. In the very few houses that have unoccupied land, we put three families instead of one. The rest of the community are made of continuous urban nuclei, they don’t have this free space. So I can guarantee that with the project the community will not grow.”

Threat of expulsion

There are at least 215 reintegration of possession actions in the Horto community that have already been tried and can be carried out at any time. In one of them, on November 7th, Marcelo de Souza’s family lost their home.

Employees of the Botanical Garden, Marcelo’s grandparents went to live in Horto in the 1950s.

Although the family has lived there for 70 years, Marcelo was given the reinstatement notice in February 2016 when he painted his son’s bedroom. Six months later, on November 7th, police from four battalions arrived to take their home; the community reacted by setting up barricades. “I had my heart in my hand,” he says. Someone also sent a moving truck. So far – four months later – this was the only help the family received.

Marcelo, his wife and children locked themselves in the house. Supporters and lawyers arrived. “The police were going to throw tear gas inside. I stopped everything, accepted and left. The same day, my house was destroyed.” The remains were left. With his wife, he stayed for two months with relatives in the Rio Comprido neighborhood, five miles away. His son stayed with friends to finish the school year.

Since January 15, the family has rented a small apartment for R$1,700 – Rio de Janeiro has the most expensive square meter in Brazil. “In Rio Comprido, there was a lot of gunfire, we’re not used to it,” he says. Asked if there was any drug trafficking in Horto, he laughs. “There’s nothing like that. Go there now to find a joint, see if someone will sell it to you,” he challenges.


Marcelo is a microentrepreneur – he has a buffet company with his wife – and a Uber driver. Now he expects at least some compensation for the house that was built by his grandparents more than half a century ago.

Since the last reintegration of possession, the community has set up a “guardhouse” itself: residents are vigilant to avoid the police coming in. There are some tires lined up and tree trunks crossing the street.

The sight is a strange one in the middle of a forest. Emerson de Souza, president of the Horto Residents’ Association, says the measures are “necessary because we have to resist, even if we are open to dialogue.”

Dialogue is what is missing today, explains Clayton Lino from Unesco: “We have offered our mediation services in this conflict, because we have a lot of experience dealing with communities within national parks,” he explains. “In the case of Horto do Rio, we had a good dialogue until the TCU decision. Our last meeting with then-director Samyra Crespo and former Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira was very rigid. The stance was ‘we’re going to remove everyone, period.’ To have dialogue, you have to change this attitude and recognize the true history of the residents,” he says.

In addition to the lack of dialogue with the federal government, the community criticizes the Botanical Garden’s current administration. “Most of the workers in the park are outsourced, while in Horto people they know a lot about botany and ecology,” says Emerson.

They also complain about what they call commercial practices within the Garden, such as creating musical spaces, restaurants, parking lots. Emilia Souza, Emerson’s aunt, criticizes the “presence of companies that have nothing to do with research and conservation”: “Ten years ago, two former employee homes were taken by the Botanical Garden. One became the headquarters of the Botanical Garden Friends Association and the other became the changing room fro the Espaço Tom Jobim,” says Emília – referring to the park’s concert space. “Nothing to do with conservation and planting. So we doubt the real projects of the Botanical Garden, which has never presented any project saying what they’re going to do with the community lands.”

In the Official Gazette, the amount of land that will be administered by the institute was estimated at R$10.5 billion.

Here worked and lived slaves

Official documents show details of the slaves who built the Botanical Garden and the fact that they also lived there. The law from October 24, 1832, which budgeted the revenue and expenditure of the Empire, appropriated funds for the Botanical Garden, including the expenses of its slaves: “60 slaves of both sexes who received daily payments lived in buildings on the land in front of the residence of the Garden’s director, and had family gardens.”

In 1844, a report from the Botanic Garden noted the number of slaves employed: 33 slaves older than 7 years, and 32 under 7, some newborns; 5 freed slaves and 26 deceased. In 1853, the then-director of the Garden, Candido Baptista de Oliveira, defended in a report presented to the Legislative General Assembly of the Empire “the need to provide, besides sustenance and clothing, a small pecuniary remuneration to the 67 slaves plus 7 free ones that provided services there.”

The same document assures that “the slave quarters which have to accommodate most of the slaves who still inhabit the old slave quarters – which must be demolished because they can not be repaired at all – are almost complete.” In 1854, 80 slaves worked for the Botanical Garden, which at the time was a major agricultural production zone: about 340 kg of tea leaves were harvested and straw was grown from the bombonança (plant) for the creation of the so-called Panama hats. In 1869, the association between the Botanical Garden and the Imperial Institute meant the extinction of slave labor, which was replaced by free laborers.

For Rodrigo Nascimento, former representative of the Palmares Foundation in Rio de Janeiro, linked to the Federal Government, Horto is “a community that has a very interesting and strong black cultural preservation”. He believes that the Foundation should begin official recognition of this legacy immediately. “Carioca society already recognizes the importance of Horto Florestal as a community with a historical role in the defense of black resistance,” he says.

Source (PT) Also see: here (PT) for more

Museums of Tomorrow


Rio’s Museum of Tomorrow beat out important landmarks in London, Munich and Stockholm to be recognised as the Best Innovative Green Building on the planet during the MIPIM Awards (internationally-renowned real estate competition) in Cannes.

Featured in the building’s sustainability initiatives are its solar power capture system and the use of cold water from Guanabara Bay to feed its air-conditioning system. – Source (PT)


The other recent news, and the reason the title of this post is plural, is that Rio will be getting a new museum in the heart of Olympic Boulevard, in front of Candelária Church. It will be the national Maritime Museum to be located where the Espaço Cultural da Marinha is today. Included in its collection will be the entire sea universe: navegation, research, myths and religions, fishing, ports, lighthouses, the naval industry, and so on. The architectural team behind it also did the MAR, or Rio’s Museum of Art. The start and finish date have yet to be announced. – Source (PT)

The city of Rio has 58 museums and 54 cultural centers, according to Wikipedia.

Eduardo Coutinho’s final film


Últimas Conversas (Last Conversations) is the final film from director Eduardo Coutinho, who was killed in 2014. The film, which had to be finished after his passing, shows Coutinho interviewing several students from Rio de Janeiro’s public school system, asking about their lives, their dreams and what they look forward to.

In the making of the film, approximately 30 interviews were conducted with 250 adolescents being surveyed, though the film only shows 8 interviews (9 if you count the director’s own). In it, Coutinho deals with issues such as racism, religion, bullying and family problems. Between the various interviews, some young women get emotional and end up crying or going through a real process of reflection with themselves. At times, Coutinho may be seen as a psychologist for the young people who see him as a respected gentleman whom they can trust to tell their dramas and voice their opinions. Although the filmmaker appears at the beginning of the film complaining about the lack of naturalness of his interviewees, this is not what we see throughout the film. Most young people shown say they do not believe in God, while others go to church and follow all the guidelines imposed by it. Most teens have divorced parents and have already suffered some kind of bullying in school, either because of their race or due to standards of beauty imposed by society. Many often write poetry, usually in their personal journals.

The full film, in Portuguese, is below, and the trailer is here. I really enjoyed it, but I’m biased since I’ve always been a big fan of his work.

Rocinha’s forgotten history


In 1885, Franco-Brazilian photographer Marc Ferrez took a black & white photo of Pedra da Gávea that captures the almost untouched scenery of the vegetation. Exactly 130 years later, a team from the Instituto Moreira Salles and the Sankofa Museum climbed to the same spot using geolocation and the help of residents. This time, a new scenario: in addition to the buildings in São Conrado, there were numerous constructions from Brazil’s largest favela – Rocinha.

The ‘rephotograph’ is part of the Memória Rocinha project. For two years, a team from both institutions walked through the streets and alleys of the favela and surrounding regions, from Alto da Boa Vista to Ipanema, searching for connections between the past and present. In this way, the team reconnected with the era of the Quebra-Cangalha Farm, that extended through the entire region where Rocinha is today, bordering Quilombo das Camélias, in Alto Leblon. An old road bearing the same name still exists, and would have witnessed the passage of the Royal Family. On the Estrada da Gávea, they relived stories of the “baratinhas”, motor racing events that took place in the 1930s.

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The ‘rephotographs’ were made from 23 images from the IMS collection. “Our archive is very vast, from the nineteenth century til now. We can compare the natural landscape with the cultural landscape and see the transformation. That would be more difficult in São Paulo, for example, because it has no natural landmarks,” said Denise Grinspum, an education coordinator at IMS.

On the way, interviews with residents helped build an ’emotional’ map with the favela’s most important places. “Rocinha is not on any map. On Google, few streets are shown. We wanted to take away the invisibility that most favelas have, so that people can get to know Rocinha and see that it’s also part of the city,” said Ana Luiza Abreu, IMS’s Social Action supervisor.

The Memória Rocinha site will go live this Friday (March 17th, coinciding with a launch event put on by the IMS), and should continue to be fed with the help of residents, who can send photos of the favela through Instagram. “Reconnecting to our history is important due to the question of identity, linked to the preservation of our rights and our citizenship,” said Antonio Carlos Firmino, one of the founders of the Sankofa Museum. – Source (PT)

Dive into the ‘Purple Tide’


The purple tide (maré roxa) phenomenon is responsible for what many call the Carioca Caribbean. For a period, due to maritime currents coming from the south after a cold front, the waters of Rio’s sea get warmer and clearer, like what happens to Caribbean beaches. And if on the surface the phenomenon is already enchanting, this report from Domingo Espetacular decided to dive in to show how the purple tide allows one to get to know a new world, which includes scenes of the remains of a more than 100-year old shipwreck. – Source (PT) More


The shipwreck happened on July 24th 1890, as reported in O Paiz the next day. Here’s a drawing of what the ship looks like today.

The Hermit of Grumari


The following is a story from 2014 about a hermit. If anyone has ever imagined what life would be like for someone living off the land, on the coast of Rio, here’s the answer. Crazy to think that I’ve been to this beach but didn’t know anyone lived there.

João Mello is the happy owner of a property with a privileged view. Whenever it gets dark, the 54-year-old man is able, from his backyard, to see the lights of the lampposts on Barra da Tijuca beach. João lives in a house he built built on a hillside on Praia do Perigoso, in Grumari. So close to the lights of Barra, he has lived there for 30 years without electricity. Altogether, in the city of Rio, 773 houses have no electricity, according to the 2010 Census.

Life in the dark was, at the same time, an option and a necessity for João, known by visitors to the beach by the nickname Silêncio. Born in São João de Meriti, he spent his youth in the Baixada Fluminense. But he grew tired of the hallucinated life of the big city and found his refuge in the middle of the West Zone, a region of the city with the most houses without electricity, 473 in all.

“Whenever someone comes here and invites me to go to their house, the first thing I ask is whether there’s a backyard. I cannot stay very long inside closed walls. Here, I am repairing what nature spoils,” Silence says.

Praia do Perigoso can only be accessed via the Ilha de Guaratiba by boat or by a one-hour hiking trail. Silence got to know the place after going for a walk and ended up staying. Throughout the 30 years without electricity, he adapted in a singular way to the disconnected life. A carpenter by training, he built his own lamps with PET bottles, to protect the flame from the wind. His food is based on smoked meats preserved in salt and non-perishable foods.


Curiously, Silêncio has two cell phones that he charges inside a bar on the Ilha de Guaratiba. He switches between the two devices: while one charges, he takes the other.

“My family doesn’t see me anymore, I have to talk to them somehow. I tried to live the same way you all do, but I couldn’t. When I look at the lights (in Barra), I see that it’s the distance that keeps me sane,” says Silêncio, in the midst of the darkness, with an ear glued to the battery-powered radio, which transmits, at a very low volume, “Hora do Brasil”.

Every month, 5,600 new electrical connections

Every month, Light, the utlity company that serves the city of Rio and 30 other cities in the state, makes an average of 5,600 new electric connections. At the request of newspaper Extra, the company calculated how many new connections it has installed in the last two years: in total there are 108,216 new connections, the great majority due to natural expansion of the neighborhoods.

In the state, Light and Ampla together are responsible for bringing electricity to 98% of the cities. Light serves 34% of the cities, while Ampla provides the service in 63%. In Friburgo, Energisa is the company responsible for electricity.

Light has reached, between 2005 and 2007, 100% of its goals for the federal government’s Luz para Todos program. The goal of the program is to set targets to bring electricity to all parts of the country. The company claims that it meets any new demand “within the established deadlines.”

Ampla states that “it has already connected 18,538 customers to the electricity system through the Luz para Todos program since 2004”. According to the company, “in this period, R$143 million has already been invested by the company in the construction and interconnection of the electricity grid in rural communities in the country.”

In the city of Rio, a situation that distorts the number of people with access to the electricity grid is the number of clandestine connections there are – known as gatos de luz. According to Light, in their concession area, gatos are equivalent to “the supply of electricity for the entire state of Espírito Santo for a year.” The company further states that “if all clandestine connections were eliminated, the customers’ bills would go down by 17%.” – Source (PT)

I feel like Silêncio should meet Domingos Fereira, the caveman from Minas


What if the Portuguese court never came?


Tired of pollution and traffic, a resident of São Paulo decides to pack his bags, buy an abadá (Carnival t-shirt) and go to carnival in Bahia. At the airport, while imagining Ivete Sangalo singing, he discovers that he has forgotten his passport and can’t board. A passport? To Bahia? That’s right: if the Portuguese court had not come to Brazil in 1808, Bahia would probably be a nation and the rest of what you know today as Brazil would be a grouping of countries. “Without the transfer of the Portuguese court from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro, it would be impossible to preserve the unity of what is Brazil,” says historian Luiz Carlos Villalta, author of O Império Luso-Brasileiro e os Brasis. “What happened to Spanish America would have happened to Portuguese America, split up into several countries that, with us, today make up Latin America.”

But, before thanking D. João VI for not needing a passport to skip Salvador’s Carnival, thank Napoleon. Upon seizing power in France in 1799, he began a series of invasions into Europe that would force the Portuguese court to flee to Brazil. At the end of 1807, the Napoleonic troops were in Spain and marched towards Lisbon. Faced with the robustness of French weapons, the fragile Portuguese troops couldn’t defend the country. Between November 25 – 27, 1807, around 10,000 to 15,000 people boarded onto Portuguese ships bound for Brazil – ministers, judges, treasury officials, military, clergy. They also brought with them the royal treasury, the government archives, a printing press and several libraries.

On January 28, 1808, at the first stop in Bahia before arriving in Rio de Janeiro, D. João VI decreed the opening of Brazil’s ports to friendly nations – read England, which had declared war on France in 1803 and was responsible for the protection of Portuguese ships to Brazil. But if the English themselves were able to send troops directly to Portugal, they would have prevented the invasion of the French and the need for the transfer of the court.

“Without the Portuguese Crown coming here, sooner or later some of Brazil’s provinces  would gain their independence,” says Lúcia Bastos, a professor of History at the State University of Rio de Janeiro, who is researching the influence of Napoleon in the Portuguese-Brazilian empire. “At that time, Brazilian deputies in Lisbon’s court didn’t speak in the name of Brazil, but in the name of Pernambuco, of Bahia, of Rio de Janeiro.”

The historian says that Rio Grande do Sul, the target of disputes between Spain and Portugal, would probably form an independent country attached to what is now Uruguay. “It’s possible that this region would have become a kind of Plata Republic,” says Lúcia Bastos. And the divisions would not end there. A new country would arise in Pernambuco – possibly annexing some neighboring states -, another formed by Pará and Amazonas, a nation in Maranhão … in short, the map of South America would be different.

And the most surprising thing: it’s probable that Cariocas, Paulistas, Mineiros and residents of Paraná would be living in the same country of Rio de Janeiro. “Even so, the city of Rio would probably be very different from what it is today,” says Luiz Celso Villalta. “As it wouldn’t have been the seat of the Portuguese court, the physiognomy of the urban downtown would be similar to that of a city like Olinda, without actual nineteenth-century buildings.”

Economic inequality between regions would be less. “The Southeast would remain an important economic center, but some Northeastern countries, free from the power of Rio de Janeiro, could have become richer,” says Lúcia Bastos. “The abolition of slaves would also have occurred much earlier in these states, since the delay in making this decision was supported by the coffee elite in the Southeast.” In the state of Ceará, for example, slavery had been practically abolished since 1870.

Another scenario would be for the Portuguese court to not come to Brazil and thus fall into the hands of Napoleon. “This is what happened to Spain, which was taken by France in 1808,” says Villalta. “What would probably have happened in Brazil is the same as in the Spanish colonies, which became independent.” Not having to be faithful to a king dethroned by Napoleon, the provinces would have soon attained independence. “In one way or another, it would almost be certain that the territory that’s known today as Brazil would be fragmented,” says the historian.

Even the Carioca accent wouldn’t exist if the Portuguese court hadn’t reached Brazil in the nineteenth century. “It’s clear that the arrival of 15,000 people in Rio de Janeiro has changed the way the majority of the population speaks,” says Ataliba de Castilho, a professor of Philology and Portuguese Language at USP. “It was more prestigious to speak like the Portuguese nobles, so population of Rio de Janeiro assimilated all the shh-sounds that today distinguish typical carioca speech.” He says that without the court’s arrival, there probably wouldn’t be many differences between the speech of a carioca surfer or a sertanejo singer from inland São Paulo. – Source (PT)

Samba in the voice of those who make it


In December 2016, TV Brasil aired a special documentary Sambas na voz de quem faz (Samba in the voice of those who make it), to celebrate National Samba Day 2016. If you want to watch it, click on the Source link below but be advised it’s in Portuguese.

From being persecuted in the favelas to being honored throughout the country, the rhythm of Brazilian tradition has a lot of history to tell. The 26-minute documentary explores the origins of samba, old sambistas, black composers and the women who made history, as well as showing how many sambas it takes to build a country. From regional to urban, from the north to the south of Brazil, the rhythm goes from improvisation of samba de terreiro to verses of samba de raiz, samba de roda from the Recôncavo Baiano to samba de Bumbo from the interior of São Paulo, from the samba enredo of samba schools to pagode carioca.

The voices of singer and composer Leci Brandão, musician Osvaldinho da Cuíca, young singers and composers Magnu Sousá and Maurílio de Oliveira from the group Os Prettos and musician Bruna Prado tell this rich and diverse history. – Source (PT)

If you’re interested in samba documentaries, I’ve got you covered. If you want to download the documentary above, paste the source URL here.


If Rio was still the capital


The following is a 2003 article I translated from SuperInteressante

Lula would already have a lot of people protesting at his doorstep. “This was the first idea that came to political scientist Carlos Novaes’ mind when thinking about a scenario where Rio de Janeiro is still the seat of the current government. In fact, if the capital were still on the seafront, public pressure on the federal government’s decisions would be much greater than what it is in Brasilia. The urbanization of Rio de Janeiro would make it possible to gather large masses in protest movements. Suffice it to say that in today’s Rio there are about 4,600 inhabitants per square kilometer. In Brasilia, the number drops to 350.

And this contingent would be much larger if the ‘Marvelous City’ still housed the federal administration. From 1960, the year the capital was transferred, til 2000, the date of the last census, Rio’s population was the least developed among [the country’s] capitals. It can’t be said that Rio would keep pace with Sao Paulo’s growth, nor that it would receive the migrants that populated Brasilia. After all, the capital of São Paulo experienced an unusual demographic explosion, motivated by industrialization, and the new Federal District was born out of nowhere, attracting many people interested in its construction. But it can be said that the change of capital stimulated two types of movement, which contributed to the emptying of Rio: immigrants began to prefer destinations such as São Paulo and Brasília, instead of the old capital, and former residents emigrated, some involved with Federal bureaucracy, others by the fall of the quality of life in the city.

In fact, the loss of capital status took the money linked to the presence of the bureaucracy with it, generating an impoverished city, which would culminate over the years in the growth of informality and the escalation of violence. According to sociologist Luís Antônio de Souza, from the Center for Studies on Violence at the University of São Paulo, the presence of the federal government could have avoided many of the hardships suffered by Cariocas in the last 40 years. “There could be greater control over drug and arms trafficking, with the presence of the Three Powers.” Souza does not, however, rule out another panorama, one that’s much more pessimistic. As a capital, Rio would receive a greater influx of immigrants, it would see the slums and suburbs grow even more and the richer and more secure areas would isolate themselves permanently. “In that case, the city would be even more violent.”

At the same time that Rio de Janeiro was emptying, Brasília was growing, based on massive foreign loans and inflationary financing. It’s estimated that the construction of the new Federal District cost 2 – 3% of the GDP over four years of construction. In current values, this would represent an investment of R$6 to 10 billion per year, a figure similar to Rio’s annual budget, estimated at R$8 billion for 2003. In other words, without Brasilia, our external debt would certainly be lower and, consequently, interest today would be lower.

But Brasilia’s construction had other consequences, in addition to burdening the public coffers. First, it stimulated the settlement of some regions in the Midwest, especially around the new city and along the highways built to link the capital to the rest of the country. Without this impulse, the country’s interior would still be a kind of far-west, half lawless, isolated for thousands of miles from the center of power. In addition, the change of the capital gave birth to a professional class that was nurtured not only with a lot of money, but with power to interfere in Brazilian political life: building contractors. “There was a lot of promiscuity in dealing with this type of businessman,” says Maria Victoria Benevides, a political scientist.

Brasília, however, didn’t just create political and economic problems. Some of Brazil’s main rock bands were born in the Central Plateau in the 80s. According to critic Arthur Dapieve, “the most politically engaged portion of our rock music was born there.” And it wasn’t by accident. The proximity of power, contact with foreign cultures through the sons of ambassadors, and the fact that most Brazilian rockers have parents linked to the civil service are some reasons for the emergence of this movement in the Federal District. Without this, say goodbye to verses by Legião Urbana, Plebe Rude, Capital Inicial and Raimundos. – Source (PT)

According to another article (PT) from the same magazine, about what would happen if Brazil was split up into different countries, the Republic of Rio – with its oil fields, port, tourism and cosmopolitan vibe – would have become the Singapore of South America.

If you’re interested in this kind of thing, I’ll soon publish another translation about what would Brazil have been like had the Portuguese court not come to Rio.