Wednesday, October 19, 2011

a short-term goodbye

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – One month after a poorly maintained Santa Teresa bonde (trolley car) derailed and flipped killing five people and wounding nearly sixty others, Rio de Janeiro witnessed another avoidable tragedy.

On October 13th an explosion completely destroyed Filé Carioca, a restaurant in downtown Rio’s newly renovated Praça Tiradentes, killing three people and injuring nearly twenty more.

For the complete version of this article, please visit The Rio Times.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

conquering the enemy within

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Every once in a while a scandal comes along to remind us that despite the soon-to-be-hosted 2016 Summer Olympics and the successes of the 3rd Rock in Rio Festival, “all is not well” in the Marvelous City.

Rio State’s Security Secretary, José Mariano Beltrame, says he is losing sleep. Well, he is not the only one.

For the complete version of this article, please visit The Rio Times.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

and the r$1 trillion goes to...

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – São Paulo’s Commercial Association (Associação Comercial Paulista) announced that the sum of taxes paid by Brazilians since the beginning of 2011 reached one trillion reais 35 days earlier than last year. So where is it all going?

Welcome to the land of the highest taxes and corruption rates in the entire world.

For the complete version of this article, please visit The Rio Times.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

you can put the blame on...

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – I guess over here you can put the blame on whomever or whatever you want – the key is to not be held responsible, let alone be punished, for anything.

Unavoidable accidents do happen – as do avoidable ones. But how a society and its authorities react to it (in no way an inevitable feat of life) says a lot about its character.

For the complete version of this article, please visit The Rio Times.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

living in the marvelously expensive city (part deux)

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – I was quite surprised and truly pleased with the response to my last article on the soaring costs of living in our marvelously expensive city, Rio de Janeiro.

I absolutely loved the nearly 200 Facebook “Likes” and comments! Thank you!

But surprise and pleasure aside, I got to thinking about some articles I wrote on public security policies, public education and government corruption.

For the complete version of this article, please visit The Rio Times.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

zero hora bets on hyperlocal content and younger audiences

Marcelo Rech, the first general director for products at RBS Group, sees the future in hyperlocal news and a proactive and innovative online strategy to engage younger audiences.

Zero Hora, the group’s flagship title, is Brazil’s sixth largest newspaper by circulation, with 4.37 percent of the national market and an annual average circulation of 186,157 daily copies, according to Brazil’s circulation body, Instituto Verificador de Circulação.

For the complete version of this article, please visit NewsBizBlog.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

estadao bets on a stronger brand for the future

By Samantha Barthelemy

Silvio José Genesini Júnior sees the future of print in a stronger and more credible product. To adapt to a changing media market, the newspaper’s main strategy is to use its offline and online content, together, to solidify its traditional brand, says the chief executive officer of Grupo Estado, which publishes Brazil’s fourth largest newspaper, O Estado de São Paulo.

For the complete version of this article, please visit NewsBizBlog.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

living in the marvelously expensive city

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Everyone is talking about the soaring costs of living in Rio de Janeiro – the 12th most expensive city in the world for expats according to Mercer’s 2011 Worldwide Cost of Living Survey.

We are all feeling the pain.

I moved back to Rio in July – after years of living between New York and Paris, the 32nd and 27th most expensive cities in the world, respectively – and am shocked at the price of everything.

For the complete version of this article, please visit The Rio Times.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

the "tragedy" of corruption

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Worse than having a government plagued by corruption – a problem by no means exclusive to the Brazilian society – is denouncing corruption and then allowing it to remain unpunished.

We are becoming complacent, conformed. Under the anesthesia of successive corruption scandals little seems to shock us, and nothing spurs us to action.

For the complete version of this article, please visit The Rio Times.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

making smart use of the brain gain

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Moving to the United States seemed an obvious path to many of my generation. If you were among the lucky ones with the opportunity to study and work abroad – where higher salaries and a better quality of life were a certainty – why not take it? I did.

Now thousands of compatriots once in search of the American dream are coming back to be a part of the new Brazilian reality. And we are not alone, as foreign investors and residents follow suit.

For the complete version of this article, please visit The Rio Times.

Monday, June 27, 2011

eight ways to change the world


“Let us be clear about the costs of missing this opportunity: millions of lives that could have been saved will be lost; many freedoms that could have been secured will be denied; and we shall inhabit a more dangerous and unstable world.”[1]

With these words in mind, let us develop on the United Nations Millennium Development Goals 1 and 2, children and the case of Brazil. A sustainable end to world poverty as we know it, as well as the path to peace and security, require that citizens in every country be empowered to make positive choices and provide for themselves and their families.[2]

As stated by the current Secretary-General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, education plays a key role for reaching the eight targets for slashing poverty, illiteracy and all other major socio-economic ills by the year 2015.[3] We have had ample evidence that education improves individual incomes, economic growth, child and maternal health, families’ well being, equality between the races, classes and sexes, resistance to diseases and environmental practices.[4] Closing the education gap is the only way to ensure that children everywhere in the world will receive the education they deserve and put individuals and countries on a sure footing towards a stable future.[5]

What is unique about this work is that it goes beyond a country analysis into the development of a project proposal to be implemented in Brazil in partnership with United Nations local agencies – such as UNDP, UNICEF and UNESCO – and local NGOs. In general terms, the objective is to utilize what has been learned throughout the course of the academic semester, throughout this extensive research and through the received feedback to inform and to strengthen Brazil’s youth. We want to teach children about the United Nations, an institution we admire greatly, about the Millennium Development Goals and their rights and duties as citizens of this world.

Holding the fundamental conviction that everything starts at the base, at the very roots, we have chosen to tackle MDGs 1 and 2, with a focus on children, for we believe children are the basis for change and that the fight against poverty, hunger, violence, inequality, diseases, environmental degradation or any other issue facing our world, will only be achieved effectively and sustainably through education. In a search for change, we are looking to influence attitudes and mentalities.[6]

Even though all eight Millennium Goals are essential to ensure a stable and sure future, no objective can be successfully attained if we do not combat poverty, hunger and the lack of education first.[7] Evidently, we cannot ask for universal education if people do not have the minimum necessary to survive – which is the freedom from extreme poverty and the freedom from hunger. After all, how can we expect those who are going hungry to learn how to read or write, and how can we expect those who cannot read or write to fight for their and others’ rights? Let us not forget, education beats poverty and gives people tools to help themselves.[8]

Raising our voice, and raising awareness, we can make education a reality for the millions of boys and girls who remain out of school in Brazil.[9] Thus, we are looking for a long-term solution to what we consider to be a “generational transmission” of poverty, hunger and inequality plaguing our beautiful and vibrant society.[10]

This text is an excerpt from a long and beautiful research project (01 - 08/2010) on the Millennium Development Goals 1 & 2 in Brazil. If you have any interest in seeing the rest of the material, please contact me directly.

[1] Kofi Annan, former United Nations Secretary-General, in the Foreword to The Millennium Development Goals Report, 2005.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] We share the fundamental belief in the importance of diffusing information about the United Nations and its Millennium Development Goals. As we have already discussed, societies in developing countries, such as Brazil, suffer significantly from the lack of education and information provided to its people. The MDGs campaign has increased awareness of the issues and problems facing the world’s most destitute. And, the more people are aware of a problem, the more populations, governments and organizations can assist in tackling global issues such as poverty and extreme hunger.

[7] Millennium Development Goals Report, 2009: 15. The large numbers of out-of-school children is specially worrisome because of the impact it will have on other MDGs. Evidence shows, for instance, that an increase in the share of mothers with a primary or secondary education is associated with a reduction in child mortality rate, and that educated parents have better nourished children. Parental literacy also plays a role in whether children attend school. Education has been shown to have a positive effect on the success of HIV prevention and increases the probability of accessing decent employment.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] We are not advocating for grand realizations, but we believe that without this basis guaranteeing the elimination of poverty and hunger and the access to education, we cannot and will not achieve the other Millennium Development Goals. How can we ask for the implementation and enforcement of rules and laws if our country’s population, which is supposed to respect and be protected by these same rules, is not aware of their most basic, inalienable, rights? Those who cannot read or write are more likely to be unaware of their rights and unaware of the actions they can take to fight for what is rightly theirs.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

coming soon

opinion, published by The Rio Times, on how Brazil should make better use of the new "brain gain."
"we cannot change the direction of the wind... but we can adjust the sails."

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

pt history repeats itself

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – This has been a turbulent month for Dilma Rousseff’s government. As commented on by the Curmudgeon, former Chief of Staff and “de facto Prime Minister” Antonio Palocci, the president’s right-hand man, increased his net worth by some R$20 million between 2006 and 2010, when he was a federal congressman.

Without any credible explanation for the sudden accession of wealth “from political consultancy” (not that we really expect one), the Palocci affair is nearing a pretty anti-climatic and all too familiar ending.

For the complete version of this article, please visit The Rio Times.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

the bus that brings relief

By Samantha Barthelemy, Tatiana Cabral-Schnurr, Paula Cerutti and Sankalpa Dashrath

THE BRONX - With a large cup of coffee in one hand and oversize Chanel sunglasses framing her delicate face, Alice Noriega could be just another New Yorker enjoying her Saturday morning. The hesitation in her every step and the dark clouds in the sky blocking out all sunshine are the only hints that something is amiss. Alice is blind and her path has not led her to a Manhattan café but to the free food and counseling services she receives at the Relief Bus.

Alice has been coming to the Relief Bus since 2003. The Bus was an idea that bloomed in the arid Texas desert two decades ago. In 1989, Richard Galloway, a successful entrepreneur found his carefully constructed life crumbling around him. His addiction to alcohol and cocaine was taking a toll on his marriage and on his soul. Finding no solace in wealth, Galloway and his wife, owners of three houses and eighteen cars, decided to turn to God.

“It was like God saying to me, ‘If you really want to know what I care about,’” Galloway describes, “‘this is it: set the oppressed free, share your food with the hungry, provide the homeless with shelter’” (Isaiah 58:6-12). So, Galloway left his life to move to New York and transform a yellow school bus into a mobile resource center to serve the city’s poor and homeless.

A non-profit organization, the Relief Bus has fed over 3 million people, connected 120,000 to help and hope, and mobilized 30,000 volunteers. Staff members raise a large portion of their own financial support and the organization is funded through the generosity of private donors.

“The Relief Bus connects people with different resources,” says 25-year old Lance Farrell, Outreach Team Leader. “We do shelter, we do free legal help, housing and immigration issues. We can get a free attorney, get someone to detox, get them into rehab. We connect them in that way. Pretty much any physical or spiritual need there is on the street, we try to meet. We try to get people on their feet. In whatever way that we can.” After 21 years of service, the Relief Bus now operates with two vehicles, alternating between three locations; Chelsea, South Bronx and Harlem.

It begins to rain as Alice reaches the South Bronx location, on the corner of Brook Avenue and East 148 Street, accompanied by her home attendant, Alma. As the rain pours steadily the bus comes to life. The day’s volunteers set up the bright red tent, makeshift tables and plastic stools that will later accommodate elderly residents sipping their soup and young children. Inside the bus, the steaming signature rice and vegetable soup is ladled into white Styrofoam cups and laid out on plastic trays; a line of hungry people is already forming outside.

The soup and the fresh Portuguese rolls have travelled a long way from the Elizabeth, New Jersey, kitchen where volunteers get together at 7:30am to prepare the day’s meal. Most of those impatiently congregating around the bus live much closer. There are young children toddling with their tiny hands clasped in their mothers’, old grandmothers dwarfed by giant umbrellas as they huddle together to avoid the rain and men who walk with a slight droop of shoulders.

The volunteers, a mix of Relief Bus staff and adolescents from an affiliated ministry, hand out clothes from the back of the bus; flashes of color on a gray, rainy day. Someone starts playing a song in a language somewhat foreign to America, but native to those gathering around. Keisha Pruer, a former drug addict and now Relief Bus volunteer, brings out some paint and brushes and soon the children are walking away with hot chocolates, and rainbows and butterflies painted on their faces.

People stop by, some stay a while; they like the sense of community. Some arrive as early as 10:00am and stay until the Bus takes off at 2:00pm. Most come for the soup and bread and leave quickly. The South Bronx is the Relief Bus’ busiest location. By the end of the day, 300 to 500 people will have stopped by.

Alice is not particularly fond of the soup. She prefers the sweet bakery goods that are specially set aside for her and the volunteers love her. Alice has come a long way from the first time she stepped inside the Relief Bus. “I’ve been coming ever since they began in this area. I just introduced myself one time and I got hooked,” Alice says. “Ever since 2003 or 2004 I’ve been coming every Saturday, except for the Saturdays when they are on vacation for the holidays and they take two Saturdays off.”

A former teacher, Alice had to abandon her job when she lost her eyesight to Lupus, a chronic inflammatory disease that can affect various parts of the body. Along with this loss came another when her husband of 27 years abandoned her. “I became blind and I felt so alone. Because a lot of my friends — I thought they were my friends — turned their backs on me,” Alice recounts. “I wasn’t worthy anymore, of being their friend. They weren’t around for me. I never received a phone call. If I needed help with something, getting something, getting around, going to church or coming back, anything like that, they were not there for me.”

And then Alice found the Relief Bus. “They received me with open hands and open arms. They don’t judge me, they didn’t judge me then and they don’t judge me now. I felt very comfortable. And I know that I could talk to them, whoever is here, about anything,” Alice says as a tear makes its way down her cheek.

“People at the Relief Bus have given me a lot of advice when it comes to my problems with family issues. Like for example my son does drugs,” she adds. “He was almost killed with gangs. They helped me when he got stabbed, [with] the hospitalization. They’ve helped me with my diseases. Well ‘the’ diseases, I shouldn’t say mine. The diseases. Because I have [Multiple Sclerosis], Lupus, Scoliosis and Osteos.”

See a video and an audio slideshow about the Relief Bus.

“A couple of times I needed cash and they gave me 20 dollars if I had an appointment, to take a cab or something,” Alice continues. “They have helped me when I had a broken pelvis, they even drove me home and took me up the stairs, because I could hardly walk. I consider the Relief Bus part of my family.”

Alice is one of the few who were assisted by the Relief Bus in such a way that they are now able to give back. She volunteers as a Spanish translator, an invaluable asset in the South Bronx location, where the majority of beneficiaries are of Latin descent.

Edwin Vega, a stout and affable 57-year old Puerto Rican with salt and pepper hair, is another Relief Bus beneficiary-turned-volunteer. Upon a closer view a visible glaze covers his eyes and a slurring of speech is apparent. Edwin has been involved with the Relief Bus ever since he graduated from the Hope Christian Center, where he spent time recovering from his crack addiction. He now works as a teacher and supervisor at the Center, which sends addicts to the Relief Bus as part of their rehabilitation process.

“I like to help people that went through the same things that I went through, you know,” says Edwin. “Give by grace what by grace I received. If God did it with me then he can do it with them too. I tell the guys I teach in my program that as I was sitting in that seat as a student, it never came through my mind that I was gonna be here teaching now, you know.”

“I got a picture of me when I came in and right now I show it to the guys, and they say ‘now I really believe in God,’ because they see the way that I was, I looked like an eighty years old man! I looked bad, all messed up,” Edwin recounts. “And now you see me, you see that there is an example that the transformation works.”

Alice and Edwin are exceptions. Most of those coming to the Relief Bus are still in no position to give back; they need all the help they can get themselves. “Last week, there was a gentleman who had seen the bus before, but never stopped by.” Lance says as he continues to fill out the day’s paperwork. ”He came up to me and said that he needed to get into rehab. He had been smoking crack for the better part of twenty years and just felt the need for radical transformation.”

“He was about to be homeless, he was just really down and out and just felt like he needed to go for change. So I talked to him and said, ‘you know, we have to assess whether or not you are ready.’ If they are not ready, we are not going to send them. But we encourage them, and love them until they are ready,” Lance says. “We cannot try to force any change. When people need help, they know where to come every single week. And we are here, just waiting and serving.”

The Relief Bus’ success is assisting those in need comes in large part from the sense of trust and reliability they created in the South Bronx community. “We are at this same spot, every week, week after week,” says Lance. “Rain, snow, cold. This whole winter, brutal as it was, we only had to cancel once because it took four hours to dig out the bus.”

“People come to rely on us, not just as a source of food, but as a source of hope, strength, and stability,” he adds. “That’s how we build a relationship with the neighborhood, by being steady and giving [it] a place of stability. People can count on us, no matter what. Whether they need food, whether they need a hug, need to get into rehab, or if they ever need a lawyer, anything like that, we are here, week after week.”

For Alice and many other South Bronx residents, the Relief Bus Saturday visits are the highlight of their week. “I look forward to Saturdays just to come and say hello. I feel that I am missing something when I cannot come,” Alice says. “It’s like waiting for a Christmas present under a tree.”

Thursday, June 2, 2011

schools of tomorrow

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – As an advocate for quality public education in Rio de Janeiro, I am pleased to read, daily, education-related news on Brazil’s mainstream newspapers and to watch, nightly for the past two weeks on Globo’s Jornal Nacional, special features on Brazil’s education system. It seems we have just recently discovered the subject.

For the complete version of this article, please visit The Rio Times.

Friday, May 13, 2011

"It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles. Then the victory is yours. It cannot be taken from you, not by angels or by demons, heaven or hell." - Siddhartha Buddha

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

how much do you know is known about you?

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Every day we spend hours online, reading the newspaper, checking our emails, wasting time, browsing our favorite blogs, communicating with friends, shopping and navigating social networking sites; instantly sending and receiving endless amounts of information.We have willingly surrendered to the wonders and usefulness of online tools. In fact, many of us are unable to operate without them.

For the complete version of this article, please visit The Rio Times.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

after the tragedy, which way forward?

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Residents of Rio de Janeiro state enjoyed February with the lowest rates of homicide since statistics started to be recorded in 1991. There were 368 killings in the second month of 2011, compared with 473 in February 2010 – a 22.1 percent drop, according to Rio’s Institute of Public Security (ISP).

For the complete version of this article, please visit The Rio Times.

Friday, April 15, 2011

facebook... have we lost control?

I remember being a freshman at Tufts University and having my best friend sign me up on this “really cool new thing.” In late 2004, Facebook was a private space for communication with a select group of friends. Suddenly it became a platform where our information was made public by default – visible to our friends, their friends and their friends’ friends. Today, as a member, we have no choice but to allow certain information to be public and shared with Facebook’s partner websites.

While Facebook is easy to use, and certainly brings simplicity to many of our casual relationships, figuring out our relationship with Facebook itself may be more complicated. One thing seems certain: we may not have as much control as we think we do.

SIPA colleagues told Communiqué Facebook is “invasive,” “evil,” it has “no boundaries,” “no privacy,” and “I hate it – it’s the worst thing in the world.” But the technology is relatively neutral, right? And whatever “evil” it may do – isn’t that just a result of users’ behavior? Well, not entirely.

You may think Facebook doesn’t know what you personally don’t tell it. Not true. The settings allow others to share information about your life and “tag” you to it – link your profile to whatever information they’re sharing, whether in a image, video or a status update – without your consent.

One person told me of a friend, who a couple of hours after giving birth to her first child, saw pictures of her newborn on friends’ profiles (think about the fact that this baby will essentially grow up online, with photos from the day he was born). Another friend was distressed because pictures of her private wedding were broadcasted online during the party.

Both women could take the unsympathetic route of “untagging” themselves – the images would no longer be linked to their account, but the information would still be accessible to others in the network. They could risk seeming paranoid or unreasonable by taking the extreme step of asking their friends to delete the photos.

Finally, they could “report abuse” to Facebook (likely to no avail, since in a country where the law does not require the removal of unauthorized photos for privacy reasons, including the U.S., Facebook “will not remove unauthorized photos at your request.”).

What about the information you don’t know Facebook shares about you or allows others to share about you without your explicit consent? “We are building a Web where the default is social,” said founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg in 2010. This means much of our information is public by default and that we have to opt out if we wish to keep it private. Facebook just forgot to tell us about it.

I recently went from having nearly 150 photo albums on my account to zero. After editing album by album to allow only friends tagged in the pictures to view them, my settings were magically changed to “everyone,” twice. For weeks, 500 million+ users had access to what I naively believed to be private.

Maybe it was my fault. Maybe I should have read Facebook’s policies more carefully. But who knows how to navigate its settings? The site’s privacy policy has grown from 1,004 words in 2005 to 5,830 words in 2010 – longer than the U.S. Constitution, without amendments. Users need to navigate through more than fifty settings with over 170 options to effectively manage privacy settings. And even then, you may still not understand what is going on.

Even if you change all of your settings to private, if you fail to check the right tabs (ie, “Applications and Web Sites” and “Facebook Ads”), Facebook allows your friends to share your name and personal information with third party web sites and applications. Did you know that?

I don’t want to delete my account – note that if you deactivate your account, Facebook saves your information “in case you want to come back at some point.” I want the reminder for my friends’ birthdays, the invitation to events and the connection to childhood friends, former bosses and professors.

Here’s a crazy thought: why not make all information private by default and ask for permission prior to sharing anything about us? So if we feel a sudden urge to share everything with everyone we will actually have to work for it – navigating through fifty settings and 170 options.

This article first appeared in the April 12th issue of Communiqué.

Graphic Design: Michelle Chahine.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

proudly brazilian

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – I’m half-Belgian, a fact most people don’t know about me. It’s not that I’m not proud of my European heritage, but saying “I’m from Brazil” is just so much cooler and always followed by “I love Brazil” or “I really want to visit.”

I cannot empathize with American friends who tell of trying to conceal their nationality when traveling abroad. I’ve been fortunate to visit nearly thirty countries in the past twenty years and, every time, to be greeted with nothing less than smiles, open arms and praise for being Brazilian.

For a complete version of this article, please visit The Rio Times.

making the world better, one sipa bathroom at a time

A SIPA* professor recently claimed, in class, that I was sitting among the best and brightest minds in the world. I wouldn’t want to disagree with him, but I can’t help but wonder why some of these bright minds seem incapable of throwing leftover food in the trashcan. Even getting used toilet paper where it belongs is an apparent challenge.

“Imagine the contradiction of people who say they want to go out and make the world a better place, yet they cannot take care of their immediate environment,” said a male second-year.

First-year Michelle Chahine told me about two leading presidential candidates who set up campaign tables with brownies and chocolates during last fall’s SIPASA election. “I was sitting nearby when voting closed,” Chahine recalled. “The candidate I had voted for moments before looked at his watch, picked up his backpack and walked away, leaving a huge mess of crumbs, food containers, flyers and posters.”

“I couldn’t believe my eyes!” she continued. “This was an individual aspiring to lead SIPA’s student body. A few minutes later, a cleaning lady passed by. She stopped in her tracks at the sight of the mess. I watched her visibly sigh as she removed all the trash, recycled the paper and wiped down the tables. This made me truly regret my vote.”

News flash, SIPA students. Yes, we do have a cleaning staff. They work hard. But they are here to maintain the building, not pick up after you.

Some claim that not cleaning up after ourselves is a matter of convenience: it is easier to walk away from spilled coffee than to take the time to wipe it off the floor. But I don’t remember hearing that SIPA was supposed to be easy. If we can handle GREs, Econ and Stats, surely we can flush the toilet. Or can’t we?

“I cannot believe that women, well-educated women, cannot flush,” said second-year Mónica Adame. “Sometimes our facilities are worse than those at Penn Station.” Second-year Camilla Lyngsby jokingly explained, “Some ladies think they have to flush before they use the bathroom and not after. That is not good!” To be fair to the ladies, I’ve heard the same is true of the men’s bathroom.

If the excuse is that you don’t want to dirty your hands, then use your feet! Or simply remember that you are (hopefully) on your way to washing your hands.

While we are on the subject of bathrooms, here are some thoughts: Why does used toilet paper decorate the stall’s floor (also, why are unmentionable lady-specific fluids sprinkled all over the toilet?)? Why are there used paper towels spread around (that’s right around – not in) the trashcan? And why, oh why are beans, corns, peas, lettuce, hair and tealeaves floating around in the bathroom sink?

The mess extends beyond the bathrooms. Anyone who has searched for a spot on the sixth floor café can empathize with first-year Christopher Reeve. “I was looking for a table to eat lunch and there was rice everywhere – on the table, on the seats – and there was orange juice on the floor,” said Reeve. “Where is the shame in walking away from your mess? It seems that people think their mothers work here.”

Such actions may stem from a lack of respect, consideration, personal hygiene or simple awareness. I’ve heard failed justification attempts ranging from “without our mess, people would not have a job” to “we pay US$25,000 a semester, don’t make us feel bad about it.”

“Saying that cleaning up after SIPA students is someone’s job, that that’s what people get paid to do, I find it so unsettling,” said a male second-year. “Those are the same people who are graduating with a top degree, and claim to be riding on a white horse to better people’s lives around the world. It’s an elitist attitude. A lack of accountability.”

Fellow students point out that the “Dirty SIPA” phenomenon comes from a sense of entitlement, from belonging to a privileged group. Could it be that our “best and brightest” status has a downside? Are we so absorbed by it that we believe it excuses us to act like pigs?

Just as I am confident that we will go out and make the world a better place, I firmly believe SIPA doesn’t have to be a disgusting cesspool. Let social change begin in the bathroom.

* Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs.

This article was written for and published by Columbia's Communique.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

it's all carnival in brazil

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – You know the saying that people will not take you seriously unless you take yourself seriously first? The same goes for respect, and this seems to be a major problem in Brazil, politically and socially. We are adept in complaining about our inefficient, corrupt and sometimes plainly ridiculous political leaders, conveniently forgetting that, more often than not, we put them in office.

For the complete version of this article, please visit The Rio Times.

Friday, March 4, 2011

funk and controversy in rio

"Funk still hasn’t happened. When I was a child nobody listened to funk inside the slums. Nowadays it is the main soundtrack. Today’s children will make funk happen. In a country as diverse as Brazil, with things like capoeira and maxixe, we need to bring together different ideas into funk. We want to unite funk and hip-hop, giving funk a little bit more of the ‘conscience’ that hip-hop has,” says MC Leonardo.

For the complete story, please visit HELO Magazine.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

hey maconheiro!

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Why is it that when talking about the “problem of drugs” we are quick to point the finger at those “evil drug traffickers” of the notorious Comando Vermelho (Red Command), Terceiro Comando (Third Command) and Amigos dos Amigos (Friends of Friends) and assume that by “dealing” with them we will resolve Rio’s (in)security dilemma?

For the complete version of this article, please visit The Rio Times.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

beheading crime

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The news are hardly surprising. But that does not mean they are not upsetting. While authorities celebrate the São Carlos Complex operation’s success, on February 6th, Cariocas seem divided over the pacification plan as traffickers flee occupied or soon to be occupied territories to terrorize residents of other, neglected, areas.

For a complete version of this article, please visit The Rio Times.

rio divided over pacification ideal

NEW YORK – Two days after warning drug traffickers of an upcoming incursion, Rio de Janeiro’s security forces occupied nine slums of the São Carlos Complex, on February 6. By 8:30 a.m. police officers had raised the flags of Brazil and Rio de Janeiro atop Morro dos Prazeres, signaling their effective take over of the territory.

The operation was part of the government’s ambitious campaign to pacify and regain control of Brazil’s Marvelous City ahead of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games. Since 2008, nearly 40 communities have been wrested from criminal groups.

Drug trafficking gangs, which have controlled most of Rio de Janeiro’s 1,000-odd slums for the past three decades, contribute significantly to the city’s high murder rates. According to government figures, there were 4,631 homicides in the metropolitan area in 2008. That is nearly thirteen people a day.

In less than two hours, 846 policemen and marines assisted by 17 armored vehicles swept through the complex. Not a single gunshot was fired and one minor and an outlaw were arrested, along with 650 bags of cocaine, 1.5 kilo of cocaine paste, 235 crack stones, a homemade grenade, weapons and ammunition, the authorities said.

The communities of São Carlos, Fallet/Fogueteiro and Prazeres/Escondidinho are scheduled to receive, respectively, Rio’s 15th, 16th and 17th Police Pacifying Units (UPPs) by July. The special police program is expected to benefit more than 26 thousand people.

While authorities celebrate the operation’s success, Cariocas (natives of Rio de Janeiro city) remain divided over the pacification program.

“Thank God the occupation was peaceful and the community is now safe,” said Elisa Brandão, president of the Residents Association at Morro dos Prazeres. Some residents claimed there was no confrontation because traffickers fled the communities as early as one week before the police arrived.

“The safety of slum dwellers is a priority,” asserted Roberta F., a client associate at JPMorgan Chase. “But how do we expect to bring anyone to justice if we are giving criminals a 48-hours head start?”

For Carolina G., a lawyer in Rio de Janeiro, the situation is increasingly dangerous. “Traffickers are fleeing occupied or soon to be occupied territories and terrorizing residents of other, neglected, areas,” she stated. “I may represent the minority thinking, but I believe we are covering up the symptoms while ignoring the root causes of violence in our city.”

beheading crime

According to the Military Police Chief, Álvaro Garcia, the next step is a thorough search of all houses and corners of the occupied slums for hiding places, weapons and drugs. The measure is greeted with wariness by some Cariocas as evidence of security forces’ corrupt practices abound.

On February 11, the Federal Police launched Operation Guillotine to crack down on gangs formed by civil and military police officers accused of selling weapons to drug traffickers, controlling militias and clandestine games and leaking information of police operations. One group reportedly received up to $60 thousand a month to protect Antonio Bonfim Lopes, the leader of drug trafficking activities in Rocinha, Brazil’s largest and most notorious slum, investigators said.

“It is impossible to advance with the pacification ideal without dealing, simultaneously, with our rotten security forces,” states Carolina. “Otherwise this is a half-plan, doomed to failure.”

The investigation, initiated in September 2009, revealed that instead of arresting drug traffickers, the accused police officers often robbed them. At least nine military and civil police members were caught stealing from residents and drug traffickers of the Penha and Alemão Complexes, the territories pacified by security forces in November 2010.

Officers were caught on tape negotiating with drug traffickers the transfer of weapons and drugs to be left behind in Alemão. Among the 27 policemen currently under custody is the Civil Police’s former undersecretary, Carlos Antonio de Oliveira.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

a rio problem

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Since 2007 the federal government planned 392 projects on urban and social infrastructure for municipalities of Rio de Janeiro state within the PAC, or Programa de Aceleração do Crescimento (Program for Growth Acceleration).

Of those, 298 were scheduled to start between 2007 and 2008. While state and local governments received nearly one third of the R$6.9 billion allocated, today only 15 works have been completed.

For a complete version of this article, please visit The Rio Times.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

sharing responsibility

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – A colleague recently asked if I could explain what I mean by saying that we, as a society, are all responsible for Rio de Janeiro’s “problems.” Here’s a try.

The heavy rainfalls that castigated the Região Serrana, the mountainous region of Rio de Janeiro state,and claimed nearly 800 lives in the past weeks forced us to remember the tragic consequences when there is a lack of political will to care for the most vulnerable.

For a complete version of this article, please visit The Rio Times.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

elite what?

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – This week I went to Cinemark Barra Downtown, twice, to watch director José Padilha’s Tropa de Elite 2 (Elite Squad 2). I was quite late, as over eleven million spectators watched the hit film before me, breaking a 34-year old box office record and making it Brazil’s top movie of all time.

For a complete version of this article please visit
The Rio Times.