By Anne Applebaum
RIO DE JANEIRO—In the sunshine, this is a city of bright colors, fast movement, soaring vistas. But in the rain—and it can rain very hard indeed—the colors fade to grey, the traffic slows to a halt, and the vistas disappear into the fog. In the favelas, the tin-roofed slums that cover the hills just behind the famous beaches, the steep walkways turn slippery and slick.
Which is why it was so surprising, on a recent rainy day, to climb up into the favela that spreads out behind Copacabana and come upon Bar do David, a famous favela eatery, as well as David himself. We didn't exactly get dry while chatting with David and eating his seafood croquettes, but we did hear about the multiple awards he has won for "favela cuisine" and read the reviews framed on the walls. He's been in business three years, he said. "And if I'd been here four years, I would have won an Oscar by now." Next door, the news blared from a large flat-screen TV.
The economics of favela life are complex, not to say mysterious: Then next day, I met an articulate teenager with a fifth-grade education and brand-new sneakers. But then, of all the nations misleadingly known as "developing" economies, Brazil might be the one that most emphatically defies stereotypes and expectations. Once, the world imagined that international trade meant that people in poorer countries would provide "hands for Western brains," as the writer Adrian Wooldridge put it. Instead, Brazil is one of several "developing" countries that have become innovators in their own right, producing not only entrepreneurial businesses such as Bar do David but also multinational companies such as the plane manufacturer Embraer or Natura, which makes a fortune out of organic perfumes and cosmetics. The country is an international leader in the production of biofuels and the use of ethanol in cars; Brazilians tweet more than any other nationality except Americans...
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