Thursday, August 22, 2013

Sprawling waters - São Paulo

This is the view from my car of the work in progress on the monorail that will run from the Congonhas Airport (the national airport) to connect with business areas and other metro lines in São Paulo. It is one of the areas that most surprises me when I venture there every six months or so.

When I first lived here in 1998, this avenue was called Aguas Espraiadas (sprawling waters) and was largely a road to nowhere. I should say nowhere good. Next to the avenue, near the marginal Pinheiros, was one of the largest and worst favelas (shanty towns) in São Paulo. It was a place where you had to be on your guard against hold ups, and the horror stories were exactly that. 

In 1998, they were starting to raze the cardboard houses, but there was a significant percentage left to go. Where did the people go, I would ask? Well, they were given about US$1000 and sent off to live in other "communities" in the north and east of the city. About 40 residents who were in actual city housing received significantly more when they were at last told to leave in about 2003.

The old favela. Now squished.
The avenue is now named Roberto Marinho, though you can tell people's political beliefs or longevity in the city by what they call it. Those around longest call it still Aguas Espraiadas. Those newer or more precise will call it Roberto Marinho or the pretty postcard road (our former mayor Marta Suplicy called the suspension bridge built at its start "São Paulo's postcard"). And those who were opposed to the re-naming of the avenue (which was apparently an illegal change because of a municipal law governing name changes) referred to it as Avenue Vladimir Herzog.

São Paulo's postcard Ponte Estaiada. Cabled Bridge in English.

The long and short of it is this. Roberto Marinho founded Globo, one of the largest media conglomerates in the world. At the time of his death, in 2003, his net worth was around US$6 billion. But he was not well-loved by all, not only because he was a carioca (from Rio), but because he supported the military dictatorship that lasted from 1964-1985. To say it lightly, those were not Brazil's finest hours (and yes, I do know that the US hands are dirty too. Very dirty.) Vladimir Herzog was a journalist tortured and killed during the dictatorship; he died at the age of 38. Roberto Marinho lived well until the age of 98. During the building of the avenue, there were a number of protests that changed signs to Herzog's name rather than Marinho's.

One only has to scratch a tiny bit at the story behind daily photos to turn up an emotionally scarred past. The history of the military dictatorship is burbling underneath it all. Poverty too. Corruption the time, the building of the avenue was the most expensive road project in the world. Yet much of it allegedly went into the pocket of then-mayor Maluf.

The monorail is slated to open in 2014.

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