Rain, mud deluge Brazilian suburb of Guaratiba
Officials move events related to papal weekend visit
The change will mean major economic losses in community
A Christian Carnival. That’s how some in Rio have described the mood in the streets of Copacabana Beach, where hundreds of thousands of young pilgrims follow every step of visiting Pope Francis, an outspoken champion of the poor.
But not everyone is celebrating in Rio.
About 50 kilometers away, in the working-class suburb of Guaratiba, a last-minute change in the pope’s schedule due to heavy rainfall had devastating consequences on the lives of local merchants, many whom invested their life savings on preparing for his arrival. They were expecting hundreds of thousands to flock to their community over the weekend.
Saturday’s events and Sunday’s closing Mass were supposed to take place in Guaratiba – but were moved to Rio’s Copacabana Beach.
Marcelo Rosa and his friends jumped up when they heard the news, announced earlier this year by Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes, that the pope would come to Guaratiba this weekend.
Rosa got together with his friends and borrowed about $50,000 in U.S. dollars to buy drinks and food to feed the pilgrims. One friend sold his car, another borrowed from the bank. When news came of the event changes, it was devastating to many.
“When they told me it was canceled, I said you’re joking, you’ve got to be joking,” Rosa said tearfully. I fainted on the spot.”
Celia Dias Carneiro, owner of the Maroeste restaurant, had gone to Guaratiba’s main square and heeded the call to action: local merchants rushed to stock up on foods and beverages.
“Since the expectations were so high, that tens of thousands were coming, I got scared,” said Carneiro, who borrowed about $4,000 at a 7% rate to buy extra seafood.
“I was hoping to get my feet out of the mud … and now look what has happened to me. I am stuck again in the mud again,” she said.
Local organizers heard talks of money-making opportunities and prepared for the big day. An opulent stage was built over a huge field that was formerly part of a protected marshland.
After this week’s heavy rains, the field became impassable, even by the trucks delivering goods.
The area has been cordoned off, but the scene of devastation was very visible, attracting angry passers-by shouting in protest and disbelief.
According to a Globo news report, the organization responsible for Campus Fidei tried to drain the water, unsuccessfully.
Local newspapers, including Portal Guaratiba, said while federal and municipal taxes were used to build Campus Fidei, they were left with the ecological and sanitary repercussion of building a field over marshland and the loss of mangroves.
According to a municipal study, this area was part of three marsh systems essential to local fishermen who rely on the local flora and fauna.
Paes is expected to address issues related to the cancellation at Guaratiba.
In the meantime, Guaratiba residents want their voices to be heard. Local merchants said all they asked for was to be able to sell their merchandise in Copacabana to make up for losses. Others, just wanted to see Pope Francis.
“This left us with such an emptiness, such sadness,” said Gabriel Giovannotti, a local business owner.
“If he could only drive by and give us a blessing… we would be happier,” he said.
CNN’s Miguel Castro contributed to this report.