Archive for the ‘Conflict’ Category

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL PRESS RELEASE

14 November 2011

Brazil: Forced evictions must not mar Rio Olympics

Olympic organizers must urge Brazilian authorities to stop forcibly evicting hundreds of families across Rio de Janeiro amid preparations for the summer 2016 Summer Olympic Games, residents’ groups, local housing activists, Amnesty International and WITNESS said today in a joint letter to the International Olympic Committee (IOC). 

The organizations said that families in dozens of the city’s low-income areas have lost or are at risk of losing their homes as the authorities build infrastructure for the international sporting event.

“Forcing families out of their homes without adequate notice, prior consultation with those affected and without offering adequate alternative housing or provision of legal remedies flies in the face of the very values the Olympics stand for, and violates Brazil’s laws and international human rights commitments,” said the organizations.

“The Olympic organizers should use their influence to put an end to this practice now, before it’s too late. The IOC must not be complicit with human rights abuses carried out in its name, and should publicly and unequivocally condemn all forced evictions in Rio de Janeiro.”

Favelas and informal settlements around the city have already been affected over the past year and more are slated for future planned evictions by the authorities. 

Key infrastructural works, such as the construction of three express bus lanes (the TransOeste, the TransCarioca and the TransOlímpica), works around the Maracanã stadium and the modernization of the port area have already led to serious violations. As these works continue, several communities – including Vila Autodromo and Arroio Pavuna – are now fighting imminent eviction.

Although Rio de Janeiro’s officials maintain that no forced evictions have been conducted and that all families are being appropriately compensated before losing their homes, independent research by local NGOs, Rio de Janeiro’s Public Defenders’ Office and international organisations including Amnesty International and WITNESS has proven otherwise.

In the gravest cases, the authorities have arrived in a community without prior notice and begun tearing down homes and businesses.

On 22 October 2010, bulldozers arrived at the Restinga community and began demolishing homes and small shops that had operated in the area for more than 20 years.

Edilson, a Restinga resident, described the operation:
“At 10am there were machines, police officers, riot forces with large weapons and they started emptying out the houses. If someone refused to leave they would take the bulldozer and start breaking down the door. The officers would come into your house, take you out by force and then demolish it.”

Many of the families that used to live and work in Restinga have since lost their jobs and sources of income, while children from the community have been unable to transfer to new schools, resulting in months of missed education.

Former community residents have not received adequate compensation or suitable alternative housing, violating international human rights standards.

This pattern of abuse has been repeated in other communities over the past year, with authorities often putting pressure on residents for months on end to accept sub-standard offers instead of following procedural and legal safeguards before evictions take place. The harassment is seen as a tactic to coax families to relocate in most cases to remote areas, far from their jobs, schools and community.
The situation became so severe earlier this year that the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, Raquel Rolnik, intervened to demand that the Brazilian government “stop planned evictions until dialogue and negotiation can be ensured”.

“We recognize that Rio de Janeiro’s authorities need to install adequate infrastructure to ensure the success and safety of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics,” said the organizations.

“But this must be carried out in a spirit of consultation and collaboration with the affected communities, to ensure that their rights are protected in the process.”

For a full copy of the letter, please see: http://www.amnesty.org/sites/impact.amnesty.org/files/AI-WITNESS letter to IOC Nov 2011.pdf

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The ‘pacification’ of the favela Complexo do Alemã0 in Rio de Janeiro has caused many changes in the everyday lives of the residents. A territory that used to be occupied by drugs gangs is now being (re-)taken by the Brazilian state through the occupation by the army, in order to increase security in these areas, as part of a larger pacificiation project in the run to the World Cup and the Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro (2014/2016).  The presence of the army not only means the replacement of a local power and the eviction of the drugs gangs, but also the imposition of the state’s laws and rules, the entrance of the market (criminalization of informality) and an increasing attention by NGOs and cultural/social projects. The favela becomes increasingly popular as a potential market for private companies as well as for reporters, researchers and the implementation of social projects. In other words; the favela is ‘hot’ and opening up.

During march and july 2011 I lived in Complexo do Alemão and conducted an ethnographic study on locality in a territory that is subject to radical changes. Download thesis

[I used Google Translate due to lack of time/thesis writing stress]

(Original text written by Pela Moradia; the blog of a collective aiding urban occupations of the “movemento sem teto” (movement of those without roof) in Rio de Janeiro).

Employees of the contractor hired by the city of Rio de Janeiro had the help of military police unit Pacification Police (UPP) installed in the Morro da Providencia (the oldest favela of Rio de Janeiro), in the city center to take the square Americo Brum, located within the community. The square began to attract public in 2008 when three young men were abducted by military personnel and handed in to a rival faction, which then killed the boys.

The area is being requested by the municipality to start the building of the cable car (see other blogpost), which is part of the community redevelopment plan and the project “Marvelous Port”, a project for the regeneration of the port. This work will involve the removal of dozens of families. Together with the houses that the municipality claims to be at risk areas, the number of buildings to be removed comes close to 700. As has occurred in other areas of the city (currently 150 aproxidamente slums are threatened or in process of removal), there is no dialogue with local residents, who do not know exactly what will happen to them. The city did not provide details on the redevelopment project, much less explained the need to build a cable car. The only thing people know is that their houses  are marked with the inscription “SMH”. The lack of information marks the relationship of government with the residents, who question the need for removal of houses.

This morning, residents had scheduled a breakfast, as a form of protest against the order of the square Americo Brum and by not removing the housing. However, with the help of local police UPP, those responsible for works invaded and surrounded the square, preventing the entry of the residents. Importantly, this is the only recreational area in Providence, largely used by young children in the locality. Yet at no time was discussed with residents the need to end this living space, much less whether it would be rebuilt elsewhere. Just arrived, surrounded and prevented people to use. The municipality even respected the school holidays. Many young people, with this arbitrary action, will be without a space in which to meet and have fun, since there is no other place close by and free for leisure activities. Not only the right to information and housing, the municipal government breached the right to leisure, sociability as important to children and young people.

Residents are preparing another protest at the moment. They think the form of treatment by the municipality is unfair and demand to be heard by the public.

 

The example of the Cable Car in Complexo do Alemão has demonstrated the impact on the lives of the residents. Hundreds if not thousands of people are replaced, dumbs emerged where houses were removed, violation of privacy as the cars pass closely above the houses and rooftops, resident’s fear of height and therefore avoiding to use the cable car, etc. To my surprise, it has indeed been inaugurated two weeks ago, with the presence of a very proud president. A Dutch Newspaper (will add source later) wrote how this would benefit the community! However, for now, it only works between 10 and 14hrs, from Monday to Friday, thus prodiving a new form of leisure for the local youth rather than an efficient form of transport. As I have heard, though, these kids messing around in the cable car are loving it!!

The public school/highschool Colégio Jornalista Tim Lópes at Estrada da Itararé in Complexo do Alemão hosts a big and nice swimming pool, meant for the students. But, due to a lack of lifeguards or teachers the pool has, since the school’s inauguration almost a year ago, not been used.

Before

After


Boys on the lookout for soldiers

Residents now claim the pool, and they’re right! Isn’t it their (public) money that is used for this pool? It would be a waste not to use it. Residents broke the cage and invaded the pool to find some refreshment on hot days. A couple of kids stay on the lookout for soldiers, who’ll punish them if they catch the kids in the pool. Last week I couldn’t withstand them calling me to join. I believe true ethnography is immersion. In this case, in the pool.

On March 23 I wrote one of my first blog posts about Complexo do Alemão and the occupation. I wrote about the cable car (Teleférico) that is a project of the government’s PAC program and built as a new form of public transport within the community. Supposedly it would improve the mobility of the community residents; one couldn’t imagine the benefits it brings to the community! But this fairy tale hasn’t yet a very happy ending. Until today the cable car hasn’t been inaugurated…

The thing would be inaugurated on the 7th of April, two weeks after my — already not too positive — blogpost on the general opinion of the residents. I rescheduled my flight to Colombia to be able to join the event. A lot of important people and the press would cover this remarkable day for the Complexo do Alemão. “Finally the mototaxi’s and the vans could be substituted by the teleférico….”

The 7th of April nothing happened. The end of May nothing either; no precise date would prevent people from getting too many expectations. Sometimes we saw the cable car functioning, but that were only test drives.

Now that June has arrived, new promises are made for the “end” of this month. Interestingly, I heard my neighbours talking about a group of strangers — “probably Americans” — who came to visit and inspect the cable car, and proclaimed that the thing would place the houses and buildings below its cables at risk. Meaning that all the houses below the cable car should be removed.

That makes us wonder why a cable car, which has cost around a billion Dollars, if the houses have to be removed anyway. Why not a asphalted street? Or perhaps that wouldn’t even been necessary, as there already are streets. Asphalted, with well-functioning though informal transport (mototaxi, vans). Besides that, over the last couple of weeks more and more people tell me that they wouldn’t use the cable car anyway, as they are afraid of height. While transport is already functioning well in the community, wouldn’t it be more valuable to build a school? A university? A hospital? A library? ….

Residents are starting to realise that the cable car will not be inaugurated, yet. Will it ever? What would Sergio Cabral (the governor) decide if it they really have to remove all the houses and replace the residents (which will cost another billion, if not more)? What weighs more, the shame of “cancelling” the increadibly expensive cable car and admitting that it’s a worthless thing, or investing another billion of dollar for the removal of the houses? Hopefully Cabral can face his error of implementing a useless object and save the houses of the many residents living below the cable car. Because it would be very painful to be forced to leave your house for a cable car which you would be afraid use.

As I wrote earlier, residents — and I share their opinion — think the cable car merely as a tourist attraction. It’s a very impressive construction on the top of hill; you can see the stations even from the city centre (Complexo do Alemão is located in the North Zone, far from the centre). Moreover, it’s about the only construction on top of the hills, as most of the PAC projects are built below, near the asphalt. Apparently, as an architect told me, the focus on the lower part of the hill is justified as there’s a general consensus among urban planners that there shouldn’t be built anything above 100 meters because of ecological reasons (erosion, parts of the favela sliding down through heavy rainfall, etc.). Either this is nonsense and just serves to justify certain choices and interests (favela residents got furious when I discussed this with them: “They just want to remove the favela!”), or the cable car is build in areas of risk. In any case it’s contradictory, which is in itself is terrible as the favela isn’t a place for urban experiments, but the home of a large part of the population of Rio de Janeiro.

The cable car is a hot topic as it has radically changed the face of the favela. People are excited because it’s such a massive construction, and the inauguration will attract a lot of media attention, events and famous people to the community. However, for now and as always, the residents are left poorly informed, watching the empty cars passing above their houses. When?

Before I started my research three months ago, I visited a sociologist based in Rio de Janeiro, Bernardo Sorj. We discussed my research topic and he warned me not to focus too much on the misery. “You Europeans have the tendency to focus on the bad things, making the favela seem like a miserable place”. In the past three months I have thought about his comment a lot. It’s being a struggle not to write about the misery, and simultaneously not to be too positive, or rather, naïve. In the case of the “pacification” – I still can’t write this word without parenthesis – there’s a lot of problems to report about, while the media only highlight the success of the initiative. Someone has to tell the truth, but.. Which truth?

My friend Eddugrau always says “negativity attracts negativity, and positivity attracts positivity”. Therefore it’s dangerous to always criticise the current situation. Currently I am participating in a cinema course in Complexo do Alemão, organised by Cine TeleBrasil, and with a group of 7 adolescents we have to produce a short film. When we were discussing the topic of our film, one of the girls proposed to make a documentary on “Violence after the Pacification”, referring to the decrease of gunfire and homicides, but the simultaneous increase of burglary and domestic violence (violence against women and robbery used to be prohibited in the past, when the drugs gangs held power. This law functioned at the time, but today the soldiers don’t solve these kind of problems). This is something that hasn’t been disseminated by the media, and therefore an interesting and important story to tell. At the same time, however, the favela again is framed negatively. The media – who likes to scapegoat the favela – will pick this up and, perhaps, even distort the argument, causing more damage instead.

An example in this respect is a news item by Dutch correspondent Marjon van Royen on the abusive behaviour of the UPP police (Pacification Police Unit) in the pacified community Cidade de Deus. She interviews two girls that tell how the police have inspected them, demanding them to take off their shirts and touching their intimate places looking for any drugs. I know that the cases she reports on do occur, as I have heard of similar stories in Complexo do Alemão (abusive behaviour of the soldiers in the case), and Providencia (UPP as well). However, rather than providing a constructive criticism, the video is very sensationalist. Such criticism is very dangerous. Not only does it put the girls, who openly and explicitly wish that the drugs gangs would return, at risk. The criticism is very ill-founded, offered without any contextual background. The Dutch audience now has this very negative vision about the situation, but who are the girls who express such criticism? What is their relation with the drugs gangs? Why would they tell such a story to a journalist they don’t know? Why not communicating a more nuanced story about the situation, offering several perspectives? Journalism is business and negativity sells..

The favela is framed as a dangerous, disorganised and barbarous place. Even today, after the “pacification”, people are scared to visit the community. On of the participants of the cinema course told me that when he got off the bus the first day in front of the community, he had doubted for a second. Shall I? Only when he saw the soldiers he took the courage to enter (after all he admitted that his fear wasn’t necessary at all). It’s the media that constructs this distorted image, stigmatizing the favela. Partly it is precisely this stigma that creates this imaginary wall around the favela, segregating the residents. The word “segregating” is rather radical, but I have experienced myself how you are not so much only physically, but also ideologically, excluded from the outside world. The friends I used to go out with in Lapa, Glória, Botafogo and Santa Teresa haven’t visited me once even though I have invited them several times. Not only because they are afraid, but also because this place I live is not seen as an attractive place to go (there aren’t any “good” parties, there isn’t any qualitative good music, etc.). The favela is never sold as a serious opportunity to go out or spend time. It’s this vicious circle of a division between the favela and the outside world hampering any interaction that reinforces the stigma. It’s in this way that negativity harms the favela. Negativity attracts negativity.

This topic keeps me thinking a lot, and I don’t know the answer (yet?). Because we can’t simply neglect the inequality and discrimination, and the fact that the “pacification project” is lacking in many aspects. There’s a lot of “bad” things in the favela that deserve attention, but often the focus is too much on the favela rather than the cause of this misery. Instead of simply reporting on increased domestic violence, the victims and the perpetrators (those criminals!!), it would be more interesting to focus on the ill-functioning of law and the absence of any juridical body inside the favela for the people to consult. In this way would the criticism more constructive?

The criminalization of Funk in the pacified favelas is a hot issue. Funk is criminalised for several reasons. Funk, and especially the proibidão (the “prohibited” one, often with lyrics about drugs gangs and trafficking) are seen as praising, or justifying drugs trafficking or criminality and gang leaders (“apologia ao crime”). Also, at the funk parties – known as baile funk – a lot of drugs is being consumed. Many people gather, which is difficult for the police to maintain order. Funk is often seen as very closely related to criminality. But also, as George Yúdice writes in a chapter on the Funkification of Rio in his book “The Expediency of Culture” is how Funk is also used to discriminate the favelado (resident of the favela). Those who listen to Funk lack any artistic sense. In an interview I had with MC Leonardo, a famous MC in Rio de Janeiro, he explained me how it is prohibited to exclude or discriminate people on the basis of their “race” or ethnicity,  but not on the basis of their taste of music. That is, there isn’t any legal consequence when referring to Funkeiros, while often this is just as discriminatory. What it comes down to, considering these examples, is an association of Funk with favela life, which is seen as dangerous, disorganised and an breeding ground for criminality.

The problem here is a devaluation of Funk by the middle and upper classes. Funk is neither recognised as a cultural expression, nor as a cultural movement. In many cases Funk goes far beyond sexist or criminal lyrics and ordinary parties. Moreover, it’s much more than music only. The criminalization of funk simplifies something as complex and as “funk” into the bailes, thus making an end to the main site at which this form of culture is practiced.

MC Leonardo, a rapper born in Rocinha (a favela not yet pacified) entered the funk scene in 1992. Defending the rights of the funkeiros, he founded APAFUNK (association of professionals and friends of Funk) and established a law that recognises Funk as a cultural movement. A couple of weeks ago he told me about the implications of the criminalization of funk.

“We defend Funk as a means of communication in the first place. I consider Funk, more than a form of cultural expression, as a powerful tool to communicate.” Whereas the media construct a particular discourse about favela life, Funk allows the people living in these communities to communicate about their local reality. “Secondly there’s the cultural side of Funk. The Right to Culture is included in the Human Rights Declaration, so neither Lula (the former president) nor Cabral (the governor of the State RJ) provides me access to this right, because it already exists. So ever since I founded APAFUNK, we fight for the preservation of Funk in order to defend, a.o., the right to communication, the right to culture and the right to work, which are several rights we have. This means that Funk goes far beyond the mere right to entertainment.”

Today, in the pacified favelas, this right to communication through Funk is impeded when the bailes become criminalised. MC Leonardo argues that the current situation in the pacified favelas could be compared with a dictatorship, a situation in which the (heavily armed) police hold power.

“The police has to function as police! Everyone wants a police patrol at the corner of the street. But the job of the police is to protect the citizens. To serve and to protect them, but not to control and to watch! Today the pacified favelas are living a modern dictatorship in which the police has the power to shut down Funk, which serves as a tool for communication. At 3:00 a.m. in the morning the police invades a party and says: ‘I don’t want baile funk in my area’, and the party has to be ended immediately.”

APAFUNK tends to defend the rights of the people that want the bailes in their community. The problem, however, is that people don’t want to express their discontent about the current situation. “They are afraid to express their opinion about the atrocities committed by the police. How am I going to defend someone who is afraid express his criticism?” Mobilization in Brazil, and particularly in Rio, is (still) very limited. When we continue talking about this particular topic – people being afraid to protest, to criticise – I realise that the problem is a little more complex. It’s not only a fear of this new authority, the lack of criticism and mobilization is also a result of a history of oppression, discrimination of the favela residents and a systematic lack of (access to) education.

“We are children of a false liberty. Boys are arrested and go to jail, they don’t have the opportunity to study, not even primary education.” In addition, MC Leonardo explains that there’s a lack of knowledge among the MCs to put the criticism in a constructive – and non-offensive – way. “The kids talk about the crime without any responsibility, which is picked up by the media and the elite as an apology to crime.” The fact that their texts are the result of the state’s neglect of cultural and educational matters are not recognised, or distorted by the discriminatory discourse. They lack the capacity to provide a critique without offending the authorities. Therefore, he explains me, it is important that MCs sing about the absurd way in which the state combats the use and trafficking of drugs. They should talk about the state’s lack of instruments to understand the complexity of the favela life. And about the fact that the state spends more on munition than on class rooms.

Today, the discrimination is reinforced through the criminalization of Funk in the pacified communities and a discourse associating Funk with criminality and drugs trafficking, particularly disseminated by the media. This resulted in the arrest of, a.o., MC Smith, a famous MC from Vila Cruzeiro, one of the favelas that are being occupied by the army since November 2010. His lyrics talk about the local reality of his community, and about the drugs gangs who used to control the area.

I tried to translate, but it’s full of slang and not easy!

“He went to the parties of fight

Took a ride and borrowed clothes

He was one of the most talked about, tough in the fights,

But no one can live of fame

He wanted money, he wanted power

He involved in Article 12 through the C.V.*

FB** is on alert, but look who’s talking

No one gave him nothing

He is very strong in the hierarchy

Messing around with women

He is the […] of the faction, on top of the R1

The thickness of his necklace causes a “zum zum zum” ***

But it’s several women, several rifle at his disposal

The battalion of the area is eating out of his hand

He has disposition for the bad and the good

The same face that makes you laugh makes you cry as well

Our life is bandit and our game is tough

Today we are party, tomorrow we are dead

A tank does’t scare me

We don’t escape from conflict

But we’re also armored by Jesus Christ’s blood”

*Comando Vermelho

** FB is one of the former traffickers the Complexo da Penha

*** A noise


He was arrested for association with trafficking and “praising/justifying” crime. “There’s nothing prohibited in this lyric! Telling the truth became a crime in Brazil”, argues MC Leonardo. In fact, another truth is constructed through the media. A reporter, Wagner Montes, says things like ‘Lock them up, punch them, make them talk, etc.’ about MCs, or rather, funkeiros. “Rather than someone like MC Smith talking about the local reality, which is in fact the result of the state abandoning those areas for decades, the reporter’s words are what incites violence!” While MCs are locked up, reporters can say what they want, even though they don’t know the local reality as they never enter the favelas. And those who report from inside the favela are being neglected. Our conversation about Funk reflects a more general critique on the pacification of the favelas expressed by some of the residents I have talked to in Complexo do Alemão. “Peace without a voice is fear”, is a famous phrase sung by O Rappa, a Brazilian band, that often returns.

APAFUNK continues to defend the rights of the funkeiros, not only through the recognition of Funk as a cultural movement, but also the artistic rights of the MCs. Where on the one hand Funk is criminalised by the elite, on the other hand MCs face difficulties as they are exploited by two major producers that claim the rights, copy and distribute the songs, leaving the MCs without any benefits. Strikingly, whereas Funk fulfils an important role in terms of communication and culture, those producers don’t have any ideological or cultural intention and see funk merely as business. The difficulty in mobilising the funkeiros and the favela residents to defend their own rights is that there isn’t a market for politically charged lyrics. A combination of a lack of education and consumer focused production of funk songs closes a vicious circle of the association of funk with crime and favela life.

Concluding, I just want to point at the fact that although Funk is very present in the favelas, it’s not at all the only form of entertainment and artistic expression. When discussing the topic with teenagers, many of them don’t like Funk, and prefer Rock or MPB (Musica Popular Brasileira). There also numerous artists composing, playing and producing kinds of music other than Funk. While they could construct an alternative image of the favela, few of them are recognised. This weekend the final of the “Favela Festival” – an Idols kind of contest promoting MPB from the favelas – will take place in Complexo do Alemão. My friend Eddugrau is one of the finalists!

 

After this weekend more blogging on this festival.