Presentation of Rondônia’s Capital: Economy and Tourism in Porto Velho

Mauro Nazif, Mayor of Porto Velho
Porto Velho is the capital of the state of Rondônia, in North Brazil. Its Mayor, Mauro Nazif, presents the city, its tourist attractions and main economic sectors. He also mentions some of the challenges of his municipality, discusses investments and shares his vision for the future.

Interview with Mauro Nazif, Mayor of Porto Velho

Mauro Nazif

Let’s start with a brief presentation of Porto Velho.

Porto Velho is productive and doesn’t explore this, so to me this is a huge challenge which we have. We have to be exporters and not importers. Porto Velho has the capacity and the potential.

Porto Velho is a city that is currently 99 years old, on the brink of the centennial. It has developed a lot in terms of cycles: first there was the rubber cycle, which was back during World War II; after that there was the gold cycle; and now there is the cycle of the power plants in the Madeira River, which are undertakings with a beginning, middle and end. It is a city that is growing and developing and with this development each person has left their legacy.

When the Madeira-Mamoré Railway was being built, it started the state’s history. There were several countries involved in building this railway, such as the United States and Canada, just so you can get an idea, there were actually 50 countries that participated. And this is something we can use for tourism and so people can learn more about it. We want to make a memorial for the Madeira-Mamoré Railroad today because of the 50 countries that were involved in its history. After the railway was constructed we started to extract rubber because during World War II there was a need for rubber to be extracted for tires for tanks and for trucks which were being used in the war. A lot of people ended up coming to Rondônia.

After this phase ended, we went on to the gold cycle which was a very rich period here in Rondônia and in Porto Velho, but specifically Porto Velho. This was an extremely lucrative time because it also had a beginning, middle and end.

And finally, is the period which we are going through now, what I consider the cycle of the construction of the power plants. It is a large undertaking and it is also amongst the federal governments projects. Just so you understand better, two of the three largest projects are here in Porto Velho which are the Jirau Dam and the Santo Antônio Dam. We know that within the next three years there is going to be a total deactivation of the building sites and with this deactivation we are going to have to look for another zone in the city so that the development can lead to industrialization. So this is a quick glimpse at Porto Velho’s history.

What are the main tourist attractions of the city and what are the opportunities for business tourism?

Porto Velho is a very rich city in regards to tourism because this sector hasn’t been fully explored yet. When you come here as a tourist you start to see the historical landmarks. The Madeira-Mamoré Railway used to go up to Guajará-Mirim and it has practically been deactivated. One of our struggles today is to reactivate it so people will be able to travel on the railway until the Santo Antônio Church, which is another beautiful tourist location around here in Porto Velho. We also have a lot of lakes. The Federal University is also seen as a heritage site. The actual government office (Palácio do Governo) and city hall (Palácio da Prefeitura) are some of the oldest heritage sites, especially for the state government of Rondônia. Porto Velho has a lot of potential, however, it still needs to be further explored and promoted. We want the people of the state of Rondônia to get to know it better, as well as the rest of the country and the rest of the world. We are right in a region of the Amazon which is an extremely wealthy region. We have areas here that are very important for the growth of tourism. Until today, Porto Velho has not at all been fully explored in regards to tourism. If you don’t promote a place, if you don’t take it abroad how is it going to be explored? It means that exploration doesn’t exist. From the moment that you have an administrative body in charge of it, such as the Municipal Secretariat of Tourism and Development, then you can start to wave your flag. I was telling you about the railway being a great landmark; so is the Praça das Três Caixas d’Água. These are memorial sites that we want to create and the municipality wants to recover them with the state government. We want to make sure that there is a type of exhibition of the 50 countries that helped to build the railroad which as a consequence led to the growth and development of the state of Rondônia. This is going to showcase Rondônia and the capital, Porto Velho. It will be a great location that we will have in Porto Velho.

tourism Porto Velho

What are the sectors that have the most potential of growing in Porto Velho?

I believe that Porto Velho is only really beginning today. Apart from the cycles that have already occurred and those that are occurring in the neighbouring cities, Porto Velho practically lives according to a cheque policy, where the main basis of our society today is the public servant. In order to develop our city we need to make a diagnosis. Porto Velho is a very rich city in terms of agroindustry or agribusiness, so if we know that we have this potential of agribusiness that is where we need to start exploring. We are rich in terms of cassava, in mixing agriculture with livestock breeding, in the dairy sector, in livestock, in the timber sector, in the gravel sector and in fish farming, so we have an enormous potential for growth. All of this makes us believe that we can make Porto Velho into a large centre of development focused on agribusiness.

When we talk about development or when you are dealing with a businessman, the businessman wants to know a whole bunch of things. These things are whether you have logistics and what the logistics are. They want to know if there is a railway, a waterway or a highway. Porto Velho has a highway, the BR-364, which goes all the way to the Pacific Ocean. We have one of the most navigable rivers, which is the Madeira River. In terms of logistics, Porto Velho is highly competent.

The second question we are asked is whether we have a buyer’s market. Porto Velho is rich because there is more than just the local market of Porto Velho and the state, but there is also the whole population of the Andes. I am talking about the Andean population, like Chile and Bolivia which have approximately 150 million inhabitants. Apart from them, the highway to the Pacific Ocean also opens us up to the Asian population.

The third question is whether we have raw materials. Porto Velho has raw materials. I mentioned prior that Porto Velho is rich in agribusiness. I see a lot of potential in the development of Porto Velho as long as we go through a cycle with a beginning, middle and that doesn’t have an end, this is the cycle of industrialization.

What are the different municipal programs at the moment to develop the economic sector?

Our programs today are aimed at making policies geared towards working within agribusiness. This would be done by working a lot with the farmers, by supplying them with: roads, health, basic education, the power to sell their products and micro industries working together with the cooperatives. For example, Porto Velho is very rich in terms of milk, but till this day Porto Velho doesn’t have a dairy farm, there is not even a micro dairy farm. All of the milk that is produced in Porto Velho and we are talking about an enormous quantity, is exported to the municipalities which are close to the city, so we need to pursue this aspect. When we talk about fish farming, which is another rich sector here in Porto Velho, everything that we produce is only consumed by Porto Velho and Manaus. We have a lot of potential so the municipal government is responsible to meet this potential. We would like to improve the furniture sector, through the associations and cooperatives with increments of the municipality. We have a policy geared towards making this happen. So it’s basically one thing setting off another thing.

Porto Velho

What are the greatest challenges of the municipality at the moment?

Porto Velho has enormous challenges. Number one, of all the cities that I have known in my life, Porto Velho is the flattest city that I know to this day. It is a city that, without construction, would be useful right from the beginning to the end. Porto Velho is situated in a plain and there is a positive and negative side to this. It is a city where, we know that because of the plain and the torrential rains, together with the lack of drainage, we have tough flooding problems.

Number two, in regards to sewage, Porto Velho has half a per cent of a sewage network. Today, together with the federal government we have managed to ensure R$800 million so we can bring 67% of the sewage network to the city of Porto Velho at the end of this year. The last time in which there was any construction of a sewage network was 100 years ago, when the Madeira-Mamoré Railway was being built and this is a great challenge for us. We are in the middle of a region which is highly endemic in terms of malaria and dengue, and that we are managing to reduce through basic sanitation.

Another challenge is the lack of exploration of what gives life to a city, which is its production. Porto Velho is productive and doesn’t explore this, so to me this is also a huge challenge which we have. We have to be exporters and not importers. Porto Velho has the capacity and the potential, and this is so even in the tourism sector. People leave Porto Velho to do tourism somewhere else, but how many people come here for tourism? It’s a tremendous difference. So exploration is a very important factor which is something we need to prioritize amongst our difficulties.

I would like to know what would make an investor come to Porto Velho. What are the greatest attractions that you have around here? Why should they choose Porto Velho and not another city?

Porto Velho offers what is essential to an investor. It offers logistics, raw materials and a consumer market. We are rich in raw material, in logistics in both the highway and waterway, and we have an extremely wealthy consumer market. We are at the door of the Pacific Ocean. Today I envision that the main centre of development and of growth in the country is Rondônia and Porto Velho. Since we are right here on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, we are neighbours of the Andean population. Today with the construction of the power plants in the Madeira River, where one of our biggest problems was the lack of energy, we don’t have this energy problem anymore. The main problems for an investor do not exist around here anymore. On the contrary, there are increments and incentives for investors to come and set up here, apart from the local market being very skilled. For example, in the case of the Santo Antônio Dam, 80% of its workforce is from Porto Velho. Our market is getting closer to reality in its qualification and technology for development. I believe an investor only would not come here if he/she didn’t have a vision of growing.

Does the municipality have any programs which make an investors life easier?

Madeira River

Government incentives come mainly from the state government. The municipality can work in regards to acquiring land plots, or in the case of finding space. However, the main motivator, which is why on a national level there is such a big discussion regarding stimuli of the ICMS (State Tax) where one state charges less than others, comes from the state government. So in greater terms this discussion is related to the state, and the municipality helps out in the case of the ISS (Tax on Services), which is low for industries. We would like to show the market abroad that today Porto Velho has everything that an investor needs and that together with the government of the state we can work on a policy of incentives and increments. However, in terms of incentive, the municipal government would only be an additional force to work together with the state government. I think the three points that I mentioned before are the main incentives that Porto Velho currently offers.

How do you envision the future of Porto Velho in 2-3 years, and also, in the long run, what is your dream for the city?

I see Porto Velho as a reference point for the Northern Region, both for its strategic position as well as for the policies of the municipal government which have been traced differently from other policies. We have a form of politics that has a beginning, middle and end. Our location is a huge generator of jobs, income and development of the city, because it is where the money is going to flow through. We were just visited by businessmen from abroad that want to bring extremely high investments to the shopping mall market. They are coming here because it is a market that is opening up. This is merely an example. So I see Porto Velho as being the capital city reference for the Northern region and I see important growth.

There will be growth in the quality of life, because it is a city that is practically starting from zero per cent. We are going after 67% of the sewage network right away in order to add a second thing. In the middle of the year we will be delivering 100% treated water. This improves the quality of living of our people.

It is a city where, together with the federal government, a plan has been accepted in terms of urban mobility which was estimated at R$10 million and for which we managed to obtain $90 million. We intend to build a greater and faster navigation system within the city. With these policies we see why it is going to be a reference point and we want to make the capital city Porto Velho look more like a capital city. The main thing is for us to know that we have a diamond in the ruff, that only needs to be cut, and that this diamond will be cut.

Is there anything else that you would like to discuss?

In terms of tourism we also have typical regional festivals which show our folklore, that are large events and which are promoted worldwide, via Rede Record Internacional, as a partnership between the channel and the municipality. Our festivals attract a very large amount of people, and sometimes even our hotel chains, which are growing more and more today, cannot keep up. There is the festival of the “Flor do Maracujá” (Passion Fruit Flower Festival), the Boi Bumbá festival and also regional foods which can be tasted at these very important events. We also have an additional Carnaval which is at a different time from the normal Carnaval. A lot of people come for it from all around the state during this period, which makes it a very large attraction in the region. Tourism around here has some very strong factors which can be explored.

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