Archive for March, 2011

Graffiti / street art in Rio – commissioned by the municipality. Usually NGOs working with art projects or graffiti artists paint these walls.

It looks really nice and I like the way in which this form of art is used to liven up the street view. Brazil has a very rich graffiti scene especially in São Paulo and Rio.

Wikipedia states that “poverty and unemployment … [and] the epic struggles and conditions of the country’s marginalised peoples,” and […] “Brazil’s chronic poverty, [are] the main engines that “have fuelled a vibrant graffiti culture.” In world terms, Brazil has “one of the most uneven distributions of income. Laws and taxes change frequently.” Such factors […] contribute to a very fluid society, riven with those economic divisions and social tensions that underpin and feed the “folkloric vandalism and an urban sport for the disenfranchised…”

NGOs and social inclusion projects respond to this tradition offering graffiti courses and workshops, especially for the less privileged. Intersting is the fact that in the poorest neighbourhoods you don’t see much graffiti. I asked an artist living in Complexo do Alemão why there isn’t much graffiti in their community. “People have other things on their mind than painting walls. They need money to eat.” Also, once regulated and stimulated by the government and NGOs, an interesting discussion is what this means for the socio-political (and underground) character of graffiti.

However, the popularity of graffiti by NGOs and social projects doesn’t counter the fact that in general the Brazilian street art/graffiti scene is very inspiring and rich (and political).


Two weeks ago someone told me about the cable car (Teleférico) that was built in Complexo do Alemão after the occupation. From that moment it got my attention. I was curious to know more about such an installation as a means of public transport. Just imagine using a cable car as your daily way of transport to your work, or to visit a friend. This is the general reaction of people not living in Complexo do Alemão. “That thing is so going to improve their mobility”.

Last week, when I visited Complexo do Alemão for the first time, I got to see it. It’s not working yet, but I did see the cars moving as from time to time they test drive to ensure safety before the actual inauguration next month. I decided to try to take this “object” as a way to investigate the general opinion on the ocupation/pacification* of their community.

First some general information about the Complexo do Alemão. It’s a complex consisting of 14 communities and in total counts about 400.000 residents. That’s more or less the size of the third biggest city of the Netherlands. It used to be controlled by the Comando Vermelho until the invasion of the Brazilian army in November 2010. The invasion was the initiation of the PAC (Acceleration of Growth Program) and the pacification of the area. Different than the other communities that are being pacified by the UPP (pacification police unit – police that have been trained to interact with the community residents) Complexo do Alemão is occupied by the army. The pacification paved the way for companies to enter community. Commisioned by the municipality construction companies build apartments, squares, roads, stairs, and the cable car. Thus, the cable car is one of the many changes in the community, but it reflects a certain idea persistent in the community about the general approach of the project.

People explain me that althrough the cable car will be the major form of public transport, there were built 5 stations in order to attend the entire community (of 400.000 people). I could also see by myself that the cars, equipped with no more than 6 seats – in buses passengers not necessarily need a seat, in a cable car I imagine they do – don’t move very quickly. The capacity to transport the amount of people is doubtful.

I could also perceive a certain distrust or resistance towards the stations, which serve as the bases of the army. People told me how the stations are strategically positioned rather than facilitating the transport within the community. If it really were to benefit the community residents they would have been asked where to build the stations. Instead, they feel their opinion and knowledge of the structure of the community is neglected.

Besides the idea that the cable car does not really match their needs in terms of transport, people explain me how it could possibly generate the community. People could have stands inside the stations and sell goods (e.g. Food, drinks, snacks, movies/cd’s, etc.). As far as they know, however, this is prohibited as the stations are owned by the cable car company, which will not allow these types of commerce.

When I ask them why they think the cable car has been built most people answer: “for the government to show the favela to tourists”. It turns out that the cable car in Complexo do Alemão serves a cable car’s more common function as a tourist or fairground attraction. It responds to the increasing popularity of “the favela” by NGOs, social projects, artists and tourists (see: favela tour). The people I spoke with do not reject this curiosity about their way of life at all. They just want to have a voice in the way their life is exposed to others. Not to be used as an object of tourism, but to interact with visitors, to learn from each other, and establish mutual understanding and knowledge about their cultures. And if possible, to have a share in the profit. Only than development can be sustainable and fair.

And about the pacification and development of their community? A similar answer returns often. They know their community best. Why aren’t they consulted about what works best in their community?

I wonder what will happen next month. Will the cable car be used by the local residents? Will it really be a tourist attraction? I’ll keep you posted.

* Note the controversy: occupation and pacification are supposed to go hand in hand in this context.

Two weeks in Rio, of which one week Carnaval so that doesn’t really count as a week, already learned me a lot about a drastically changing everyday life in this marvellous city. As the UPPs (the pacifying police) are my object of study I am of course referring to the changes in relation to this pacification project. However, the general idea of “organising the city” goes way beyond the pacification of the favelas.

I haven’t yet had the time to make up my mind, to think about the things I hear and see and to draw relevant conclusions from the information I got. That’s why I am writing this blog.

The first days I was staying at a friend’s place in Ipanema – Zona Sul, the elitist, touristy and rich part of the city. He told me how the city has changed in the last couple of years. Not only had violence decreased drastically and was Rio becoming much safer, the city increasingly becomes “organised”. I used to like the Brazilian bus driver’s mentality because they let you in the bus even when there’s no bus stop. They wait for you when you’re late and running to get the bus that is about to leave. Today, they don’t do that anymore. They have a strict time schedule to stick to. Of course, for the public transport system to work this is necessary.

Another situation was yesterday when I was waiting for my friend to pick me up from the subway station. It took a little while so I was walking around the station, kind of bored. This guy who was selling home made coconut candy came to me and gave me one, to try. I liked it and bought some and we started chatting. He told me how he got kicked out of another subway station by the guards as he didn’t have a licence to sell food. Up until recently he didn’t need such a licence. The same goes for vendors of snacks and beer walking down Ipanema and Copacabana beach. And the “ugly” beach stands selling caipirinhas, beer and coconut water are replaced by cleaner and better looking bars with terraces and toilets. Places that sell food and drinks must provide bathrooms as well.

Two Germans I met told me how they were having a sandwich in the botanic garden when a guard politely asked them to have their picnic at the “picnic area”. They complained: “but that’s what we use to like about Brazil”.

These are small, but in my view, significant changes in the mentality of a “País Tropical”. Some people like it: “finally our country starts to function”, others don’t: “a country has to be disorganised, we should not take Europe as an example”. The UPP police and the “Peace Forces” are other examples of the organisation of places considered “disorganised” in order to increase security and order in the city.

Some examples of changes in the pacified favelas are an elevator in Cantagalo. Those favela residents living at the top of the hill no longer need to climb the endless stairs (Note that favelas are usually built on hills). In Providência, down town, a resident told me that they want to construct a little train that goes up the hill. In Complexo do Alemão, the complex of 14 communities that has been occupied since November last year they built a cable car connecting these communities. In some cases houses have to make way for these installations. Also, houses at risk of collapsing are demolished. The residents of these houses are replaced to new apartments blocks. This all results in some contrasting architectural cases. Big colourful and new buildings right next to simple and small houses or sometimes even huts.

(See yellow building – cable car station – on top of the hill.)

The above I found particularly interesting because I came to Brazil to investigate the UPP in terms of territoriality and the claiming of these areas by the state. The Brazilian state has been absent in these communities for decades and now tries to obtain power. Through “pacification” these favelas can and will be organised, which will allow the inclusion of these communities into the bureaucratic processes of the state. Interesting, I think, is how the state does this. What new rules and processes are used by the state in this attempt to increase power and control over these areas? In this light, the above examples show how this process is going on in the entire city, and not only in the pacified favelas. The latter are part of and reflect a larger process of organisation. The the coming weeks I will go deeper into the changes and consequences of the pacification. What does it mean? What does it change? How does the pacification of these particular areas paves the way for development?