Rio de Janeiro is trying to fight drug crime with the construction of a library that it hopes will win 'hearts and minds.'
Rio de Janeiro
• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.
On a recent holiday, school children rode bikes or stretched out on park tables around this pristine library complex. Inside, all ages can watch DVDs on flat-screen TVs, take art history courses with prestigious professors, and browse tables with books on Hinduism or travel in Turkey.
What’s less apparent under these bright, high-vaulted ceilings is that they’re surrounded by the city’s largest cracolândia – where scores of crack addicts huddle near armed dealers – known within Rio as the “Gaza Strip” for the frequency of lethal shootouts between police and traffickers.
The year-old library is Rio’s most audacious attempt to follow a crime-fighting strategy from neighboring Colombia, which promoted constructing top-quality public works in its most desperate neighborhoods as a way of winning the “hearts and minds” of residents living under drug traffickers’ control. This Biblioteca Parque de Manguinhos – a refurbished military warehouse – still echoes with the crackling sound of gunfire as police raid drug holdouts.
Grandmotherly Sandra Gullino works in the library’s nursery, where children learn to fold origami creations and flush a modern toilet for the first time. She says she encourages each child to get a library card, “even though the kid doesn’t know how to read.... This is a stimulus.”