brazilian california

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By RODRIGO DE FARIA*

Ribeirão Preto is more like “Haiti” than any other reality. “Brazilian California” is an invention of local elites spread by the press that it controls

The history of Ribeirão Preto has always been associated with wealth and progress. Since the end of the 1910th century, but especially since the XNUMXs, these adjectives would be reproduced and reverberated by the local elite with the support of the press. A wealth always associated with agricultural production. First, the export coffee economy in the early decades of the XNUMXth century, always reinforcing Brazil's place in the international division of labor as an exporter of raw materials and food products.

Since then, the municipality has always been associated with its role as “center” with the creation of narratives that give it the title of “capital of something”, in this case, the world capital of coffee. This same press from the beginning of the XNUMXth century also made the idea of ​​“metropolis of the interior”, “capital of progress”, among other symbolic qualifiers reverberate.

From the 1970s, its economy was directed to sugar and alcohol production. An activity that has since expanded throughout the vastness of the national territory. A flight over the Southeast and Midwest of Brazil is enough to prove that sugarcane and soy are always in search of a new agricultural frontier. Currently known as the “capital of agribusiness”, the municipality of Ribeirão Preto is home to the most important technology and agro-industrial inputs fair in Latin America, Agrishow.

During the interregnum between 1930 and 1970, the municipal economy experienced some productive diversification, in particular, the structuring of the tertiary sector with a focus on the provision of services and trade. It is also relevant in this process of diversification, the production of scientific knowledge in the most diverse areas, but, above all, in the areas of health, especially medicine, pharmacy and dentistry. The USP-Ribeirão Preto campus has always been the structuring institutional axis and major agent of this local scientific economy strongly associated with other institutions in Brazil and abroad. This economic axis linked to scientific production is completed by a set of private institutions, albeit with little activity in scientific production compared to what is carried out at USP.

The regional economy also plays an important role in local development. The proximity to the municipalities of Uberaba and Uberlândia make up the macro-region of Alta Mogiana-Mineiro Triangle (which could function as an inter-regional system of planning and management of the territory), a powerful economic and productive axis of the country. Uberaba is home to the most important genetic industry for bovine reproduction and improvement.

Uberlândia has always stood out as a commercial warehouse between the Midwest and North regions with the Southeast, in addition to other economic activities. Both municipalities in the Minas Gerais triangle also have relevant teaching and research institutions, the UFTM in Uberaba and the UFU in Uberlândia.

Within what is now the Metropolitan Region of Ribeirão Preto, there are important municipalities for the regional economy as a whole, including Franca and its footwear industry, despite all the difficulties that the sector has always faced. In an expanded axis towards São Carlos, another hub of the highest quality and density when it comes to the scientific economic sector, are USP-São Carlos, UFSCar and Unesp-Araraquara.

The urban-regional network in this part of the national territory is very dense from the point of view of the dynamics of circulation of goods, people and knowledge. Ribeirão Preto has one of the busiest regional airports in the country, with direct connections to the airports of São Paulo/Congonhas, São Paulo/Guarulhos, Rio de Janeiro/Santos Dumont, Campinas/Viracopos, Goiânia, Brasília and Araguaína, which gives it a national and international connection that is also very solid and fast. Uberaba and Uberlândia are also connected to the rest of the country by airport engineering systems.

The road system has quality and is intensely structured in communication networks that articulate this entire macro-region, whether towards the capital of the state of São Paulo and the port of Santos, or the country's capital in the central plateau. Trunk axes such as the Anhanguera Highway or secondary circulation systems such as the Cândido Portinari Highway and the SP-255 between Ribeirão Preto and Araraquara make up this road complex.

However, all this, all this wealth, does not change the fact that Ribeirão Preto is a municipality in a country that is profoundly unequal and that, since the 2016 Coup, has been experiencing the impoverishment of its population on a daily basis as a result of neoliberal radicalization. We are in the process of (re)orienting the national economy in a more developmental sense, but which, due to the short time of change, has still not managed to reverse the degradation curve that pushed us into the 1980s.

And even though a municipality is located in one of the richest regions of the country, it makes little difference when it comes to promoting public policies for its huge vulnerable population in terms of housing, food security, education, health, among many other urgent demands of the local population. of the population that was never inserted or received the benefits of this immense concentrated wealth.

The so-called “Brazilian California”, another invention of the local elites spread by the press that it itself controls, is more like “Haiti” than any other reality. Much is said about the poverty that occupies the streets of the upscale neighborhoods of São Paulo, but municipalities like Ribeirão Preto also experience the expansion of human misery. Its streets accumulate people who are desperate for a plate of food, without a place to live with the minimum possible conditions.

A social-economic microcosm of the neoliberal tragedy that pushed Brazil onto the hunger map as a result of Michel Temer’s “bridge to the past” and Bolsonarist fascism, Ribeirão Preto accumulates hungry, unprotected and abandoned people strutting through the streets of its central area. Elderly people, women subjugated by sexual exploitation in brothels located in the “downtown”, but, above all, children, like the children sleeping on a “cardboard blanket” and whom you can come across walking the streets around Praça XV or next to the famous Choperia Penguin. This is the reality of a municipality that, on the one hand, expands its urban area with luxury gated communities, on the other hand, witnesses the expansion of poverty and misery.

The northern zone of the city, the region where the oldest and largest popular housing complexes are concentrated, has never been the object of public policy attention that could create quality public spaces. Abandonment in this region is natural. The south zone, indeed, the holder of the attention of real estate speculation and the actions of the municipal public power, is a distant paradise for most people. Between both zones is the center, which for many years has been losing its vitality, its squares are abandoned, its streets are full of craters, insecurity is in all its corners and the only thing that expands is human misery.

However, Ribeirão Preto is not an exception in Brazil. The poverty that expands daily before the eyes of anyone who is minimally attentive is what characterizes Brazil itself. The rich no longer live in the city, they are increasingly locked up, moving between their closed condominiums and air-conditioned gyms with their armored cars.

The general population that still sustains itself economically, whether in the provision of services in commerce, in the uberization of the transport of ultra-processed foods or in the informality of pirated imports, is balanced in the also degraded transport system of Brazilian cities and in the precariousness of public services. As for the hungry, abandoned, criminalized, plundered, the only thing left for them to do is face the hunger that torments them every day. Hope is often found in a garbage can, the only place where one hopes to find some leftover food so as not to die of hunger.

It is in this country, in the country that has rich and developed municipalities like Ribeirão Preto, that you can find two children sleeping on a “cardboard blanket”, with their father beside them begging for some help. Two children who, perhaps, no longer slept, but lay, abandoned by the indifference of an entire Nation. Two children, probably two sisters, who shared the icy floor on the same “cardboard blanket” and whose futures will certainly never come, as the present they live is that of a shattered childhood.

These two children were on a street in the center of Ribeirão Preto, but they could have been in any Brazilian city, where thousands of other children are also, all of them, with their childhoods destroyed by hunger, violence, marginalization and abandonment of their own country. . How long will the country accept that its children have their childhoods destroyed?

*Rodrigo Faria Professor at the Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism at the University of Brasília (FAU-UnB).

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