As the governor of Rio de Janeiro for the last 4 years, Sergio Cabral has been pivotal in turning the fortunes of the state around. In an exclusive interview, he talks about laying the foundations for peace and development and why Rio’s rising fortunes are set to continue well into the future.
1. As Governor of Rio since 2007, what do you think have been the principal developments in the state and the people?
Without a doubt, one of our greatest achievements is one that is essential to the whole fabric of society: the retaking of the areas that used to be controlled by criminals through the pacification of these communities by the Police Pacification Units (UPPs). This security allows Rio to really take off, and as a result we are seeing lower crime rates, growth in the employment sector, the arrival of new companies and a rise in the number of tourists. With every step forward in our security policy, combined with the improvement in national affairs and the growing economy, Rio is back to being a state of distinction, recognised as such on a national and international level, which is what is happening now. Giving back these areas to the population is something that defines our government and this new period that Rio is going through in a very positive way: peace is the foundation for all other achievements.
2. What is your vision for Rio on a national and international level and what challenges lie in the city’s path to reach this vision? How do you envisage these challenges being overcome?
Rio is on the right path. When we first took office in 2007, the state found itself destitute, with an oppressive lack of resources. The city had less that R$ 100 million reais in its reserves, it only paid its employees on the 15th day of every month and we never paid our suppliers on time. We got to the stage where we owed more than R$ 600 million in services rendered and not paid for. It was impossible to carry out any public policy in security, health, education and infrastructure without first having a spring clean of the state’s affairs and organizing its finances. As a result of a series of measures to assess the management structure and put the public funds to better use, in 2010 we received the investment grade from Standard & Poors, one of the world’s most important assessment bodies. We were the first state government in South America to receive this classification, the same obtained by Petrobras and Vale, which are both based in Rio, and by the Brazilian government. So, it was a great achievement of the state in relation to how we handled public policy. We are keeping this focus on effective management because it enables the other public policies to be successful.
3. In the choice of José Mariano Beltrame for the Security Minister, and by implementing the pacification of the favelas and the UPP’s, what has the effect been on the different social classes? What is your time frame for installing the UPP in the remaining favelas?
In our government, the fight against crime is a public policy, a permanent commitment to the population. The secretary Mariano Beltrame is an expert in what he does, a great partner, who has put together an excellent team that works independently in such a sensitive area and that, for a long time, has been dominated by lesser political interests, I would say for the most part, electoral. The effects of this are felt primarily by the people living in the communities. The mother who doesn’t sleep when her son goes out, the residents who can’t get a job because of others’ preconceptions about people who come from a place dominated by violence, the children who can’t play because of stray bullets. Thousands and thousands of people today live a different reality. And we are going to continue to advance to bring this sort of peace to the entire state. The neighbourhoods next to these pacified communities also feel the result of this work. Every month, the crime figures are falling and this is also the result of the work undertaken with the Police Pacification Units, the UPPs, along with the targets established by the Military and Civil police, with a semi-annual award ceremony for those policeman who reach their targets in reducing crime. My promise is, by 2014, to pacify all the communities in the state that are still controlled by armed criminals.
4. You were born in Rio – what makes the city special to you?
Rio de Janeiro is a city that is truly blessed, one of the most beautiful in the world, with stunning natural beauty. But none of this would mean nearly as much without the Carioca people, a people who are receptive and warm, festive and charming. This is the most special thing that Rio has. This is linked to a fighting, courageous spirit that turns the Carioca people invincible. It was no small thing that Cariocas were voted the world’s happiest people in a recent survey by Forbes Magazine.
5. Can you describe your perfect day in Rio?
Rio on a day of sunshine and warm breezes, just like it is now in autumn, is something you cannot beat. What borders on perfection is when I manage to divide a day between work, which is always relentless and never-ending, and dinner at home with my family.
6. What is your favorite barrio of the city and why?
I don’t have a favourite neighbourhood, Rio in its entirety is fantastic, every place has its special characteristics. But some are more special than others in my heart, like New Engenho, Copacabana and Leblon. This is because I was born in New Engenho, which is situated in the suburbs of Rio, and even after I moved to Copacabana with my parents, I always used to go back to visit my grandfather- my memories of sitting on my grandfather’s lap are very special. Copacabana may seem like a cliché, but it is the place where I grew up, playing football on the beach and where I spent my youth. And, to finish, Leblon where I live now, with my family. Each of these places is a little part of the Rio that I love so much.
7. What inspires you?
After my family, my wife and kids, is to be the certainty that every day I am achieving the commitments that I have taken on for the people of this state. Even knowing that there is still a long and difficult road ahead, this is what inspires me and gives me pride.
Interview by Lauren Holmes