Facebook Twitter



For the nearly 11 million inhabitants of greater Rio de Janeiro, this week's Earth Summit is already a resounding success, even if it fails to change a single aspect of the worldwide environmental crisis.

Accustomed to urban decline since the Brazilian capital moved to Brasilia in 1960, the citizens of Rio de Janeiro, better known as "cariocas," are enjoying the sensation this week that they have leapt from the Third to the First World.City streets are immaculate, public lighting perfect, traffic lights functioning, roads freshly paved, the airport expanded, parks and hotels spruced, a new convention center and a modern expressway connecting the city's Byzantine neighborhoods all attest to Rio's recent return to the select club of premier world metropolises.

In some places such as the famous Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, the garbage has disappeared. The urban sewer system was repaired to avoid the formerly common surge of rank waters in city streets, and a legion of municipal workers has lined the route between the international airport and the downtown area with bright green grass.

Some social institutions even launched campaigns to offer housing to the legion of homeless children and adults that has made the city's streets infamous in recent years.

The Rio de Janeiro telephone company installed 4,500 new lines just for the convention center that will be the headquarters of the 10-day-conference, lines that will be turned over after the meeting to inhabitants of the upper- and middle-class neighborhood of Barra da Tijuca, an area that has suffered a shortage of telephone lines for nearly a decade.

The Rio de Janeiro government even managed to end a wave of supermarket lootings in city slums known as "favelas" by doubling police guard and allowing street vendors to return to the city center to hawk their wares to the thousands of tourists and summit participants.

The cleanup, together with the traditional beauty of a city tucked between white beaches and tropical mountains, is sure to put on the best face for some 128 heads of state and an army of 20,000 delegates, journalists, environmentalists and tourists flocking to participate in the Earth Summit and dozens of parallel events by non-governmental organizations.

"We don't want to hide the truth, " said Carlos Garcia, president of the National Working Group in charge of organizing the summit for the Brazilian government. But, Garcia added, "if we are the hosts, we have to receive our guests well."

A legion of 15,000 army, federal and local police troops will be charged with providing security for the thousands of international government representatives this week at the headquarters of the summit, officially known as the United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development.

More than 6,000 people will work directly to assist the conference delegates and, in the largest parallel event, the Global Forum, more than 2,000 representatives of non-government groups from around the world will meet to discuss ways to better promote global environmental protection and sustainable development.

President Fernando Collor de Mello has promised to move his government headquarters to Rio de Janeiro during the conference, which will begin Wednesday and run until June 14.

In a country struggling amid a severe economic crisis, Brazilians cannot remember an event that has involved so much preparation or financial investment.

"This is an event without precedent in this country," Marcelo Alencar, mayor of Rio de Janeiro, admitted. "It is obvious that the city is benefiting and will benefit more for hosting an event of this magnitude."

The Brazilian federal government, the state and city of Rio de Janeiro have invested $500 million in the cleanup, much of which will serve residents long after the thousands of summitgoers have returned home.

Brazil also paid $2.7 million to the United Nations to host the meeting, according to Garcia.

"We have no idea if there will be an immediate return (on our investment), perhaps in tourism," Garcia said. "Our chief benefit is to bring this ecological consciousness to the (Brazilian) population."