CAMPOS, Brazil Recession? Unemployment? While economic hard times grip much of Brazil, there’s little sign of trouble here, even in the slums.
Asphalt is being poured over dirt roads. Sewer pipes are being laid. Schools are popping up. A big new hospital is nearly ready to open in this southeastern coastal city, 150 miles northeast of Rio de Janeiro. In the shantytowns of Campos, a new program to stamp out child labor is paying families to keep their children in school.
Conversations don’t focus on the factory layoffs elsewhere in Brazil or a stock market that is down about one-third from a year ago. People are talking about education, health and the extension of the four-mile bicycle path through downtown.
“They say the economy is in trouble, but here we are selling as much as we sold last year,” said Paulo Roberto Ramos Cardoso, manager at a bicycle shop. Car dealer Ezequias Lima is even more upbeat: “We’re selling more than last year.”
The source of the bonanza that has befallen this city of 500,000 is oil. Since 1998, Campos and its neighbors along the offshore oilfields of the Campos basin have been prospering from a downpour of petroleum royalties.
Campos and neighboring coastal cities contain fewer than 1 million of Brazil’s 170 million people, but have jurisdiction over some 90 percent of the country’s oil production, and have earned the nickname “the Brazilian emirates.” Authorities quip that if the state of Rio de Janeiro were an independent country, its daily output of more than 1.3 million barrels would qualify it to join the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.
It was a dramatic change in fortunes for Campos, which for most of the last century survived on agriculture first coffee, then sugar. But as sugar prices fell and the government cut subsidies, the mills started shutting down. Of 31 sugar mills in the 1970s, only eight remain.
The turnaround came when the national government ended the monopoly of federal oil giant Petrobras as part of a drive to make Brazil more self-sufficient in oil.
Royalties are calculated in dollars, and the oil region’s income started rising as Brazil’s currency, the real, began weakening in 1999. Three years ago, Campos received 9 million reals (currently $3.5 million) in annual royalties. Over the last 12 months, it took in about $44 million.
The law required the city to spend the windfall on infrastructure, so Campos initiated a development program of which most of Brazil’s 5,000-plus municipalities can only dream.
Neighboring towns are linked by modern roads. Schools and colleges were built. The network of hospitals and clinics was expanded and received new equipment. A huge new hospital to care for as many as 1,200 people daily is to open next month.
“Except for bone-marrow transplants, our doctors perform even the most complex surgeries,” said the municipal planning development manager, Romilton Barbara.
In the Rui Barbosa slum, not far from Mr. Barbara’s office, the oil money enabled Luis Fernando de Oliveira to give up a dead-end job guarding parked cars at night and to enroll in a new program to improve his grade school education.
Luis, who is 13 but looks barely 7, proudly shows off his T-shirt with the logo of the Child Labor Eradication Program. “After school, you spend the rest of the day doing homework while learning new things. It’s great,” he said.
The main goal of the program, which started this year, is to remove children from the streets or sugar-cane fields and put them into grade school.
For sending Luis back to school, Mr. and Mrs. Oliveira receive 40 reals ($16) a month. That’s one-fifth of what his father makes as construction worker and twice what the boy earned in tips as a “car watcher.”
The program has signed up more than 3,000 children in Campos, for which officials estimate the annual cost will be about $385,000.
“It is little when compared with the benefits: Kids being educated, at least with the basics, instead of being in the streets, where they would be an easy prey for crime,” said Mr. Barbara, the planning secretary.
Nearby, workers are building a soccer field. Cement pipe is laid out for installation in a sewer system scheduled to be finished this year a rarity among the thousands of Brazilian slums.
The changes have brought a new mood to the slum, said Luciano Grain Lemus, president of the local residents association: “This is a place where there is hope.”