18 June 2012


The muck-a-mucks of Eco'92
In last week's blogpost I spoke of my first visit to Brazil on June 12th, 1992, a/k/a Dia dos Namorados, or Brazil's St. Valentine's Day. It happens that something much more important was going on in Rio de Janeiro at the same time. From June 3rd to June 14th of 1992, Rio was hosting the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, known here as Eco'92. Most of the heads of state who attended this summit arrived during its final weekend, landing just about when we did. Though security in the airport was extremely tight, and Mark and I didn't actually see anyone, we later figured out through news reports that we had come in somewhere between François Mitterand and George Bush, Father. (And we actually did see Mitterand, days later, visiting the Pelourinho of Salvador at the same time we were.)

Turner and Fonda and admirers
Those were difficult times in Brazil. Companies were leaving the country in droves, citing violence as one of the many reasons for pulling out their investments. Rio was living the worst of its drug wars, and all during Eco'92 a jittery federal government sent army tanks to patrol the streets. There were 64.57 murders for every 100,000 residents of the city, and nobody wanted a conference participant to join that statistic. Mark and I spent most of Eco'92 in Salvador, Bahia, where several heads of state (besides Mitterand) came to visit after the summit. I knew, for example, that Prince Rainier was in Salvador, because while we were visiting an over-the-top pousada on Itaparica Island called Quinta Pitanga, its owner, an American named Jimmy Valkus, kept looking at his watch. (Rainier was expected the next day, but bad weather kept him from showing up.) Once Mark and I got to Rio, I remember being more interested in learning who was staying in what hotel. I remember that Ted Turner made a big splash along with Jane Fonda at the elegant Gloria Hotel. And I remember there was an African delegation that tried to skip out on its huge bill at the Novo Mundo Hotel (they were stopped at the airport).

Wasn't Bob Hope in that one...?
Twenty years have passed and Brazil is about to host the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, known here as Rio+20. This time around, things couldn't be better for Brazil. Investment money is pouring in, and financially the country is doing better than most of the rest of the world. Rio's murder rate has dropped to 22.2 per 100,000 people, and most of the favelas (slums) that served as the backdrops for past drug wars are now "pacified." But in some ways things are so good that they're bad. In a burst of (abusive) capitalistic fervor, most Rio hotels jacked up their prices threefold for the duration of Rio+20. A spate of cancellations (such as the European Parliament's), sharply reduced delegation sizes and the resulting bad publicity have left everyone here very worried about what will happen during the Copa do Mundo in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016.  Although the federal government intervened and forced the hotels to return to their pre-Rio+20 rates, there's been no follow-up, nor has there been any news about relief on the lodging front. Whatever the prices, space is short, so much so that the mayor of Rio has been asking people to open their homes to accommodate all the visitors. The last we heard, Arnold Schwarzenegger still can't find anyplace to stash his sweat pants. Ted Turner is making an appearance again, this time sans Jane. Michael Bloomberg is already scheduled for his favela tour with Rio's mayor, Eduardo Paes. And there's a lot of buzz about Hillary Clinton's presence, with its "With Bill? Without Bill?" whisperings. Instead of Prince Rainier, this time it will be his son, Prince Albert. Instead of Fidel, it will be Raúl.

Needless to say, I think it's ironic that we're here again in Brazil during another ecological summit. Mark and I will again be spending it outside of Rio, in yet another place to which some of the participants will undoubtedly travel post-summit for their "see-a-bit-of-Brazil" visit. I'll be waiting for them in Búzios, tending my sustainable garden.

No comments:

Post a Comment