If Rio was still the capital

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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.

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