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The Bric countries may be the future of the global economy but even Brazil, Russia, India and China still have their erm “issues”, as one UK fund manager discovered in São Paulo. Sitting in Faria Lima, the Brazilian city’s banking street, he waxed lyrical for an hour about how the emerging markets have already emerged and he has moved most of his investments into the Brics.

Towards the meeting’s end, as the conversation moved to small talk, he sheepishly inquired about the crime situation in São Paulo. Apparently he had some experience only a day earlier. He had been sitting at a café in the city’s smartest area, Jardins, when two strangers walked up. They had taken a keen interest in his wrist watch, which they regarded as a promising investment. He was relieved of it at gunpoint.

Crime has declined in São Paulo, especially murders. But muggings and other robberies have not exactly stopped. Occasionally bandits take over and shake down entire apartment buildings or parts of shopping centres. During a visit to a shopping mall in the São Paulo satellite city of Campinas one night earlier this year, the guards warned against trying to use the automatic teller machines inside the complex. They had been blasted open with explosives by thieves hours earlier.

In fact, the humble ATM has found itself at war this year in São Paulo state, with 727 robberies of cash machines, almost one-third of them using explosives. Security footage of one attack shows hooded thugs shoving dynamite into the ATM of a convenience shop, which erupts and showers the store in potato chips. The prevalence of such incidents leads Brazilians to suspect police involvement. Indeed, ATM robberies in São Paulo state declined in September after the arrest of a large number of suspected gang members, among them 13 police officers.

A load of hot air

Consumption is a big part of life in the new Brazil, leading to a ballooning number of shopping malls. One of the biggest, Shopping Center Norte in northern São Paulo, has as its slogan “the family mall”. There is only one complication – there is so much methane under the centre that the state environmental agency forced it to shut for fear the gas could suddenly ignite.

While the centre denied it was in violation of environmental laws, the rising levels of noxious gases coming from an old rubbish dump under the site forced the decision. The centre reopened after pipes were installed to carry away the methane but latest reports suggest the danger had spread to nearby housing.

The problem of subterranean gas is not isolated to Shopping Center Norte. Underground gas leaks in Rio de Janeiro have resulted in 60 cases of exploding manholes since last year. Cars have been flattened, windows smashed and two US tourists were so severely burned in Copacabana that the US state department issued a travel warning declaring “manhole cover explosions occur in all areas of Rio”.

As in the São Paulo case, the problem has been dragging on for years as different government agencies engage in a blame game. Red tape is the most commonly cited reason for delays in improving Brazil’s creaking infrastructure. One can only hope, however, that the landfill to be used underneath Brazil’s stadiums for the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games two years later will be less susceptible to spontaneous combustion.

Bridal party

A group of Brazilian women have stolen back the initiative on women’s empowerment in the country after the cause seemed to suffer a setback following a series of advertisements by Gisele Bündchen. The supermodel advises her compatriotas in the ads that if they have maxed out their hubby’s credit cards or crashed his car, they should soften the blow by breaking the news to him clad in sexy lingerie. An office of President Dilma Rousseff petitioned the industry to suspend the ads but the move was rejected by Brazil’s advertising self-regulatory body.

However, at the weekend, the group struck a chord for women’s independence by marching through São Paulo in full bridal dress. The Brides Parade, an event popular in some parts of Europe, allows single women to enjoy wearing a wedding dress, or married women to relive their special day, without the hassle of a groom. The message – no men required – is a strong statement in a society known for its machismo.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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