Archive for May 4, 2011

“Hey beautiful, this is the soldier you met yesterday. I saw you and even dreamt about you. I really want to get to know you, talk to you, but my phone’s battery died. I will be waiting for the day I will be face to face with you. A thousand kisses.”

This message I received yesterday from an unknown number. Lately I have been talking a couple of times with a girl working in a shop near a street corner that uses to be occupied by the army. She told me that she is dating one of the soldiers. She likes their uniforms, their arms, their status. When they’ve a day off they come back to the community to go out with the girls. She tells me that she really likes her soldier, but that he doesn’t love her. He’s married. She pushed me to go talk with the soldiers. “Go, talk with them!” When I got back, she asked: “And, what did you think of him?” I realized that she thought that I would be interested in one of those soldiers… Unfortunately for this soldier sending me a thousand kisses I have changed my mind about the romantic illusion of dating one long ago.

Gender is a serious issue. The armed forces have come to occupy the community, causing a lot of (positive as well as negative) changes in the daily life of the residents. On top of that, all soldiers are men. This causes a lot of problems for many women. I have heard reports on abuse and disrespect, and, as I mentioned above, soldiers dating women and girls in the community. While they have come to protect the residents, women in some cases feel very unsafe. Especially at night, and some prefer to stay at home. Other women are attracted by the soldier’s power and authority, which the latter use for their benefit. This creates some very confusing situations.I wonder whether the girls dating soldiers used to be interested in gang leaders. Do girls care about status, power and arms, or about legality?

In relation to this issue it’s very easy to blame the soldiers for their abusive behavior. However, when talking to those boys – they really are boys, most of them I must be around 18-22 years old – I realize that they find themselves in a very strange situation. They aren’t actually trained to serve the people. They don’t know how to interact with citizens. In fact, they aren’t allowed to interact with people. One day I offered one of the soldiers (it’s very well possible that it’s this guy who sent me this message) a pão de queijo (cheese bread) but he told me he wasn’t allowed to accept it. “Order”.

My roommate made a very interesting comment about the situation. Most of the soldiers themselves are born in favelas or periphery. The pacification now “opposes” those people that have a similar background and live in similar circumstances. Soldiers and the military police both receive very low salaries, just like most of the people living in the pacified communities. It’s striking how these people with a similar background misunderstand and disrespect each other, as the pacification process puts both of them in a difficult situation.

I haven’t replied yet the soldier’s message. I was shocked but the situation also got my interest. Not sure yet whether I will go into this. Obviously, for research purposes only 🙂 .

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A common reaction when I talk about drugs trafficking and the involvement of teenagers in these criminal activities is something like “Unlike hardworking people they prefer easy money” or “They prefer earning 1000 Reais a week rather than 500 a month”. Especially when I tell about those youngsters that complain about the “pacifying forces” and wish that the bandidos would return. It’s dangerous to think that bandidos or people involved in trafficking are lazy, prefer fast and easy money. This reinforces the discriminatory discourse framing those kids as the causes of the criminality in the favelas, the parallel economies and the problem of drugs trafficking and consumption, while in fact it is the other way around. Aren’t they in fact the result of the state’s absence in these areas?

Please keep in mind that the following is the opinion of a particular group and not a representation of the entire community, although this doesn’t diminish the importance of this opinion.

Yesterday night I talked with a group of adolescents in one of the communities of Complexo do Alemão. They got a couple of chairs from the bar around the corner and put them in a circle on the recently paved square. In no time about 15 boys of about 15-20 years old had gathered to talk with this gringa. “Wow, haven’t there been any gringos here before??” “No, they never enter the favela this deep. They always stay near the asphalt… Ah, unless that group of Japanese that came here the other day to take photos.” At first they would only ask me about my country. Holanda is very liberal, right? Is it true that “everything” is liberated? But then we started to talk about their reality. And how it has changed after the occupation. They tell me that is hasn’t been any good.

They have lost their liberty in their community. “We feel locked in our own favela! Before the occupation we used to sit here, smoke weed, listen to music and chat. But now they (the soldiers) tell us to turn off the music and go home after one o’clock. They treat us badly, without respect.” One of them tries to explain: “Imagine that you would be taken out of the Netherlands and are thrown somewhere you don’t know the rules, you don’t understand the local reality, the language. That’s how I feel here today. I don’t belong to this society.”

I was shocked to hear these radical criticisms about the current situation. Those boys unanimously agreed that it was much better before the occupation, when the drugs gangs used to rule. I asked them if the occupation, and the entrance of the state and the market constructing squares, the cable car for public transport, a cinema and a heath centre, haven’t brought anything good in their community. Or if they would perhaps think more positively about the situation if the state would create opportunities for them to study or find a job? “Ellen, lets be honest here. We liked the trafico and we won’t prefer anything but the situation before the occupation.”

I realized that these words “praising” crime (praising crime or a criminal, or apologia ao crime ou criminoso, is considered a crime in Brazil) weren’t a matter of choice. Besides a serious distrust and wariness towards the state and its interests, as it has never done anything to benefit their community before, people don’t see the opportunities of this other reality in which they study and find a job. Even though education is seriously lacking, in theory they could create a way out of this life. However, in practice this turns out to be much more complicated. Crime has been their reality as long as they can remember, and seems like the only opportunity. It looks like those words praising crime camouflage this idea that those opportunities don’t exist for them.

The lack of confidence in themselves being able to change their reality might also be a consequence of a lack of freedom. While these boys talk about the liberty they experience in those past times, they had to follow certain rules and obey the leaders. Today they are dominated by another armed force. Both societies are repressive. Although they might not experience the former as repressive, isn’t there a link with their incapacity to fight for their own future and change their reality?

I am writing this after one (though very long) conversation with these boys. That’s why I would like to elaborate more on these topics with them. I also realize that group pressure might have played a role in the radicalness of their arguments. Therefore I think it’s important to talk with them individually as well, to have a better understanding of this complex situation. One thing that many people have assured me over the last weeks is that precisely this group of youngsters between 13-20 are having major problems of adaptation to the “pacification forces”. The ideological issue – seeing those leaders as examples, heros – is important, and not only for children actually involved in trafficking. Also, I imagine that they now lack a feeling of inclusion, recognition and respect by their leaders. Hopefully I will be discussing these issues with them in the next couple of weeks.

A question that keeps me thinking is why some people manage to create opportunities and others not. I think it’s an experience that chances one’s mind, that changes the thought that some opportunities are out of their reach. A cultural activity, getting to know this person that switches a button, something that increases one’s self-esteem. Because that’s something fundamental. As the boy said: “I don’t belong to this society”.  How can we tear down the imaginary walls dividing these two societies?

Labour day is celebrated big in Colombia, with a capital B. Only in Bogota, 25.000 people hit the street to protest against the government of seated president Juan Manuel Santos Calderón. From students to taxi drivers and even neo-Nazis, we saw them all pass the streets’ catwalk. Antena Mutante had planned an urban intervention on Plaza de las Nieves, one of the squares of Bogota, together with SurdelCielo, an initiative of young rappers.Graffiti artist and protesters at 1 de Mayo

"Heroes exist in Colombia, they don't use weapons."

The idea was as follows: At 8 AM, we would all gather on the square to set up the installation, DJ turntables, waterproof tent (it rains a lot), and of course, the computer and cameras. The performance would be filmed by 2 cameras and then be transmitted live over the Internet. The day before, I went with the Antenas to one of the syndicates on the square to borrow their Internet connection. Other than in the Netherlands, WiFi is not yet available on every corner of the street. The location of the intervention was therefore dependent on the accessibility to Internet. Talking to Jimmy earlier, he told me that all their events were dependent of this fact, and some agreement with either an organization or friend was needed in advance in order to transmit.

It occurred to me that tactical media, at least in Colombia is restricted to technical possibilities available. Especially when interventions are politically charged, you can imagine that not all organizations are happy to offering their services. And while setting up the installation, the laptop happened not take the Internet signal very well, which prevented the MC’s to rap online. To make matters worse, the computer crashed which made transmission completely impossible. 1 hour later, Jimmy returned with another computer and the transmission was successful for the rest of the day, but I realized then how fragile such interventions are and how one little error can mess up a lot. Media activists will always be restricted and limited to the possibilities that technology brings along and they will always be somehow dependent on neo-liberalist practices. Be it not for the hardware itself, then it will be Internet access, cable companies, etc.

Antena Mutante could therefore be seen as some sort of social lab, trying to explore the network that makes up ‘the social’. Regarding the intervention, the planned effect was accomplished as over 300 people had watched the website. And for those who think 300 is not that much, numbers in this case is not what it’s about. Even if it were only 2 people that would have paid attention, that means that the mission had succeeded. Of course, the more the better, but the idea is to explore the network, to interrupt, to turn heads and maybe even to shock. And the reactions were overall positive, people passed, applauded, watched and continued their own struggle. That’s what an intervention’s about, and an intervention it was…

I added a small impression of one of the tensest moments of that day. Most of the time it wasn’t as bad, but in waves people got aggressive with the police. I ate a good amount of tear gas, but in the end, it was worth the experience. In the video, note also the music, where Rastro kept singing only a few metres away from the violence.

Bogota – 1 de Mayo – Antena Mutante and Sur del Cielo from Fei An Tjan on Vimeo.