Rio de Janeiro & Sao Paulo
May 9th– 10th, 2011
The beguiling out-stretched, welcoming arms of Rio’s iconic symbol stood in stark contrast to the long lines that awaited us at customs, something the city will definitely want to have addressed before the arrival of the Olympic Games. Our trip from Rio’s International Airport via the Linha Vermelha, one of Rio's most important highways, skirted us past the Complexo do Alemão (Portuguese for German's Compound) a group of favelas in northern Rio de Janeiro, which until recently was the fortified stronghold of one of Rio’s most notorious gangs, the Commando Vermelho (CV-Red Command). As you may recall, in November 2010, Rio de Janeiro police and Brazilian military launched a large-scale assault on the area in what they termed a “pacification” action. Once in, the government launched its version of community-based policing with permanent police forces named UPPs (Unidades de Polícia Pacificadora - Pacifying Police Units). The recent battles that have characterized this city’s move to regain control are apparently sending the right message if expat enrollments in the American School are any indication. We learned that in recent months their numbers are rising and can reasonably be interpreted as a positive reflection of the opinion the Expat community generally holds with regards to Rio’s future.
As we did last week in Monterrey and Mexico City, we paid a visit at the U.S. Consulate, situated not far from the Santos Dumont Domestic Airport where airplanes land after making an approach that involves a dramatic 360 degree, steeply banked decent that artfully misses Sugarloaf Mountain (Pao de Acucar) from which hundreds of tourists watch with mixed emotions of both apprehension and admiration. Dennis Hearne serves as the Counsel General in Rio. He and his team graciously briefed us on the evolving situation in Brazil generally and Rio in particular. They’re quick to point out that of all the BRIC countries contending for our investment dollars none is more culturally and historically aligned nor possessed of values more consistent with those found in America than Brazil. At one time it even went by the name “the United States of Brazil.”
Later in the afternoon, Carlos Roberto Osorio, Rio’s Secretary of Conservation & Public Services, hosted us for a tour of Rio’s new state of the art Operations Command Center, recently completed with the help of such US companies as IBM and CISCO. While the rest of the city may yet have much to do in preparation for the upcoming Olympics, this command center is ready. Its monitoring capabilities include data coming from both inward and outward facing cameras on 8000 Rio buses.
Early the next morning, we bid good-bye to Rio as we grabbed a flight brimming with business men making day trips to Sao Paulo. Rather than land at the International Airport at Guarulhos, famous for its long lines and traffic, we landed instead at the Domestic Airport of Congonhas. From there it’s a short trip to what is undoubtedly the nicest U.S. Government consulate we’ve yet visited on this trip, situated conveniently in the upscale neighborhood of Morumbi.
The Consul General, Tom Kelly, welcomed us and sat with us for over an hour, sharing a number of astute insights into Sao Paulo. One of the more interesting data points he shared was that of the Fortune 500, 350 are already there and the other 150 are moving to establish a presence as fast as possible. The local American School, like its sister organization in Rio, is also growing, notwithstanding the fact that when it comes to major gang activity, the city’s not without its challenges as well. In the case of Sao Paulo it’s the PCC - Primero Comando da Capital – established and managed perplexingly, we’re told, by prison inmates.
We followed up our meetings in Sao Paulo with a short hour and a half ride to neighboring Campinas, where the next day Dell hosted, at its local facility, a plenary session of the Sao Paulo Country Council. Also in attendance, in addition to the RSO of Sao Paulo, was the RSO from the Embassy in Brasília. Both took particular note of a disturbing trend that became evident during the roundtable discussion of what could only be characterized as a dramatic increase in the number of recent truck hijackings. They, together with the members of the Council, agreed to “lock shields” in advancing a united front when it came to engaging the appropriate government officials with their concern and the need for assistance. The cooperation was reminiscent of that which I saw exhibited by the Baghdad Country Council back in February during our visit to Iraq.
Our traveling team parted ways after Campinas, some for other parts of South America…others for Africa…and yet others for the return trip to the U.S.
Next up….Asia. In the meantime continue look for exact dates and times of Country Council meetings at www.OSAC.gov.