Don't bother looking for the Complexo do Alem√£o on a Brazilian tourist map. Not long ago, this farrago of raw brick, cinder block and iron scrap was a bandit fortress, ruled by teenagers in flip flops and toting assault weapons and shortwave radios as they barked out the day's offers: "Blow for 10! Blow for 20!" Privately, some officials despaired of ever winning back the Alem√£o - or any of the other outlaw strongholds that threatened to turn this fabled town into a failed city and Brazil into the Colombia of the bloody 1990s. Now all of that may be changing.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† photo Marcello Casal
Remember the port of Sepetiba? It was to be a major deepwater port, the biggest shipping hub in the South Atlantic. Instead, we got the port of Itagua√≠, the hub to nowhere.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† photo Osmar Carioca
If there is one thing that shouts out in the aftermath of the deadly rains and mudslides that devastated¬†the mountains of Rio de Janeiro this summer, it is the fragility of the human condition. Today, more than at any other time in our history, we must try to understand the consequences of this tragedy and learn from them. Blaming the victim won't wash.¬†What brought on Brazil's worst natural disaster on record¬†was not¬†just the spread of irregular settlements - poor and working class people gouging¬†their way into¬†the precarious slopes and river banks of the mountains behind Rio.
¬†Rio de Janeiro's campaign to pacify the favelas is just beginning, but after hundreds of¬†police and armed forces invaded the Complexo do Alem√£o late last month, the¬†mission has been turning heads. Taking back the Alem√£o, a onetime farm that was swallowed by urban sprawl and then taken over by criminals, was¬†not on the official¬†agenda this year. But¬†a rash of gang violence in late¬†November¬†- in which drug thugs held up commuters, torched dozens of cars and buses, and machine gunned police posts - forced the government's hand.¬† And with Brazil grooming up to play host to two mega events with global audiences, the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games, rescuing Rio has taken on a new urgency.¬†