Political Risk Latin America Blog @PolRiskLatam

Inspiration from a Favela not on Obama’s Rio Agenda

Posted in News and Articles, Political Risk by politicalrisklatam on March 17, 2011

by Jason Marczak for Americas Quarterly, March 17th, 2011.

The route from the international airport into downtown Rio de Janeiro along the Linha Vermelha passes through parts of the city unnoticed by the casual business traveler or tourist. Instead, a first-time visitor is likely to focus on the favelas dotting the hillsides in and around Rio, or on that first glimpse of the sea in anticipation of the beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana. This Sunday, U.S. President Barack Obama—in his first trip to Rio—will be taking that same road on the way to his first stop of the day: Rio’s famous, 130-foot Christ the Redeemer sitting atop the Corcovado mountain.

But the President—like other visitors—may unfortunately not notice the community of Maré, which sits adjacent to the Linha Vermelha leading into the city center. The wall constructed along the highway to block the view of Maré, which seemed bigger when I recently visited Rio and Maré, is a concrete reminder of the isolation of one of Rio’s largest favelas. With 140,000 people living in Maré, its population is on par with that of Kansas City, KS, or Savannah, GA. But that is where the similarities—at least on the surface—end.

The youth of Maré have long faced an uphill battle in being able to move up the socioeconomic ladder, a major factor of which is a lack of education. Among Maré’s 16 communities, there are just three public high schools and 16 elementary schools. Of these schools, 88 percent do not have a public library according to data from Rio Como Vamos, a Rio-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) that measures the city’s quality of life. But even more worrisome, schools are sometimes closed for a month or so at a time with teachers simply not showing up for work. And shockingly, less than 0.5 percent of Maré’s youth receive a university education. This compared to the 16 percent of Brazilians nationwide from the lowest income quintile that go on to post-secondary institutions—a number that is still low when compared to the 52 percent attendance rate for those from the highest quintile. (continue reading… )

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