Oscar Ribeiro de Almeida Niemeyer Soares Filho, or Oscar Niemeyer as most of us know him, died today. He was 104 years old.
The great Brazilian architect apparently kept alive by keeping busy. He’s largely responsible for the design of Brasilia as well as literally hundreds of other buildings throughout the world, including the United Nations complex on Turtle Bay in New York City. You might recognize its similarity to the buildings that house Brazil’s national congress.
But for me, the treat of all of Niemeyer’s buildings is the Museum of Contemporary Art that sits in Niteroi, across Guanabara Bay from Rio de Janeiro. It sits like a space-age flower on the edge of a cliff, overlooking the Bay.
You enter the museum by walking up a gentle curving ramp that sports a bright red paint job in contrast to the otherwise white exterior.
Once inside, you can wander around–literally around–the circular interior and look at the collection of modern art. Frankly, Janet and I were disappointed in the collection until we turned from the museum’s walls and looked out its windows instead. Wow! There, framed by window after window, hung one of the most beautiful cityscapes in the world: Rio de Janeiro.
I’m not sure if we ever turned back to look at the contemporary art.
I’ve interviewed more than a couple of people involved in those preparations, two of them government officials, and Meirelles has his work cut out for him. It’s not an impossible job, and he’s right, the Games will focus attention on the need to work together. Whether he’s up to the task remains to be seen.
Brazil has experienced so many failed coming out parties, that many people in the know are wary that the economic boom currently taking place in Central and South America’s largest country and strongest economy–and one of the four BRICs–will fail as well.
I don’t think so. This time it’s for real. I could point to all kinds of economic indicators to support my position. Instead, I’ll direct you to a YouTube video. But first, a little background.
Three years ago–February 2008 to be exact–my wife and I traveled to Brazil, her for the first time, me for my first visit since my two-year mission to that beautiful country back in 1971-73. I spent most of my time in Rio, though I also served in Vitoria, Espirito Santo, and in Joao Pessoa, Permanbuco. Janet and I spent 10 days in Rio. Among other things, we toured the Theatro Municipal, a beautiful building inspired by the Paris Opera of Charles Garnier. Though its previous beauty was obvious, the Theatro was in terrible condition due to years of neglect.
Today I was on the phone with Pedro Casotti of Rio Negocios, Rio’s business development agency. I asked him about the Theatro. “Were they ever going to refurbish it?”
They had already, he told me. I’d wondered about that ever since I’d read that President Obama gave a speech in the Theatro earlier this month. After we hung up, I searched YouTube for a video of the Theatro. What I discovered tells me that this time Brazil’s resurgence is for real. Watch the video. I think you’ll agree.
Walter Russell Mead writes in The American Interest that the relationship between the U.S. and Brazil have changed, for the better.
The new US-Brazilian relationship does not quite live up to [the US-India relationship], but the ramifications of the changing relations between the two dominant powers in the western hemisphere will nevertheless make waves. It is likely in the 21st century that Brazil will join the group of countries Americans listen to and rely on the most, and the countries whose interests Americans take the greatest care to address.
With the fall of the Soviety Union, Mead argues, the U.S. no longer has a reason to meddle in South American affairs. And for Brazil?
On the Brazilian side, something even more important has happened: Brazil has begun to believe that the world economic system might just work to Brazil’s advantage. . . . Brazil’s success in a range of industries, like aviation, and the success of Brazilian companies that have become fully-fledged multinational players (a Brazilian firm now owns Anheuser-Busch, for example) make more and more Brazilians feel that on a level playing field, Brazil can win.
That’s certainly the feeling I get as I read the Brazilian press. That was the feeling I had yesterday when I spoke to Roberto Garibe, Special Advisor of the Executive Office of the Presidency of Brazil. I was calling to interview him for an article I’m writing about foreign investment in Brazil in preparation for the upcoming World Cup and Olympics. I asked him about the Reuter’s story I posted about the other day, the one critical about PAC, Brazil’s accelerated growth program. He acknowledge that they might not meet the people’s expectations, but thought those expectations might not have been realistic to begin with. That said, he reminded me, PAC is much more than the Word Cup and the Olympics. Long after those sporting events have turned off the lights, Brazil would be busy improving its infrastructure and the standard of living of its people. He sounded like someone intent on making sure that would happen. And if my experience with him is indicative of the work ethic of the people working with him, Brazil will meet its development goals.
The governor of the state of Rio de Janeiro (where the Cidade Maravilhosa is located) is in the U.S. Today he spoke at the United States Chamber of Commerce in Washington D.C. where, according to the Jornal do Brasil, he spoke of the huge amount of investment his state is attracting, claiming that more than $111 billion will be invested in the state of Rio over the next three years, some he says is more investment money per “square kilometer” than in any place in the world.
Indeed, scenes like this are supposed to become a thing of the past here. Brazil plans more than $1 trillion in construction projects this decade to bring its woeful airports, roads and other infrastructure up to date — an ambitious building boom that will prepare the country to host the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, provide a bonanza of opportunities for foreign investors, and secure Brazil’s place among the world’s most dynamic emerging economies.
That’s the dream, anyway.
In reality, expectations are coming unraveled — fast. Brazil’s grand infrastructure plans now seem likely to fall well short of President Dilma Rousseff’s ambitions, according to a Reuters investigation of major building projects and interviews with nearly two dozen senior political leaders, investors, government watchdog groups and others.
I’m a big fan of Brazil in general and Rio in particular. I hope the Governor is right, but that Reuter’s story is disturbing.
Jason Mitchell has an interesting story in Institutional Investor about the role of private equity in Brazil’s resurgence. It caught my eye because I served a two-year mission for my church in Brazil many years ago and fell in love with the country. My wife and I returned for a visit in February 2008 and hope to return again soon. In fact, my mission president has invited us to serve with him and his wife in the Campinas Temple.
Whether we’ll be able depends on a lot of things happening. We’ll see.