Archive for the ‘Politics’ 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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In the run to the Brasil Festival Amsterdam Dutch NGO Caramundo organized an expert meeting on urban art. It’s a kick off to the new R.U.A (Reflexo on Urban Art) project taking place in Amsterdam next month and a follow up of the R.U.A. project in Rotterdam in 2009. In this project Brazilian street artists/grafiteiros came to the Netherlands and painted several walls of big buildings in Rotterdam, showing the Dutch a little of the Brazilian street art culture.

The R.U.A. (rua means ‘street’ in Portuguese) project  is an exchange initiative to introduce Brazilian grafiteiros to Dutch street artists and encourage them to learn from each other and to collaborate. Brazil is renown for its lively and vibrant street art culture and the government has a relatively open attitude towards graffiti for the decoration of public spaces and as a form of ‘public art’. Regina Monteiro, the director of SP Urbanism, sector of urban planning in São Paulo, tells us about the law Lei Cidade Limpa she introduced in the city of São Paulo. The law prohibits billboard marketing in the city, which means that São Paulo is now a paradise for mural art and graffiti and radically changing the visual landscape of the city.

Graffiti and ‘pixação

A discursive distinction, however, is made between ‘street art’ and ‘pixação’ (tagging, scratched text). German researcher Matze Jung from the Berlin based Archiv der Jugendkulturen presents his research on graffiti in Rio de Janeiro from a geographical point of view. Whereas graffiti is seen as urban beautification, artistic expression and even, he argues, as the ‘voice of the favela’ (even though, in my opinion, most graffiti artists are middle class creatives and activists), the pixação is seen as an urban plague and optical pollution. Street artist Gais from Rio de Janeiro argues that graffiti should be seen as an improvement of public space for the pleasure of the audience, thus pleasing others, while tagging is as a rather egocentric act writing down your name. However, some argue that the pixação is more than a pointless act of writing down one’s name. Rio de Janeiro architect Ludmila Rodrigues touched upon how pixação can also be seen as a struggle over space, or power, as they can often be found at the most inaccessible places, like high buildings. In this way, pixação serves another ‘function’ than street art, but I think it should therefore not be regarded as ‘vandalism’. Whereas graffiti can serve a political function, pixação in many ways does too.

Dutch policy

Contrary to Brazil’s progressive policies, in the Netherlands graffiti is prohibited and the word itself carries a very negative connotation. An artist in the audience comments that when she asks permission for a graffiti project the answer is always ‘no’. But when she describes the same project as a mural project it will often be accepted. Murals are art, graffti is vandalism. But can the two really be separated? That question is subject to a heated discussion.

Several comments and examples are coming from the audiences, varying from The Hague policy, where artists can subscribe at a ‘street art agency’ that calls these artists when there will be a mural project in the city. In Delft is a tunnel open for artists to paint, similar to a fence/wall in Amsterdam Oost. In addition, a student in the audience briefly presents his bachelor thesis on street art, in which he proposes a solution to the ‘polluting graffiti’ by fining tagging and rewarding ‘beautiful artworks’ with a grant, or subsidy thus stimulating ‘beautiful graffiti’. Several artists from the audience react indignantly: You cannot distinguish between the two! Who is to decide what art is ‘beautiful’ and what is ‘ugly’? Where lies the boundary? And besides, for someone to become a good artist, he needs to experiment and train himself. A mural doesn’t emerge spontaneously!

A Dutch street artist and founder of the Amsterdam Street Art Foundation Jarno (anecdotally though with a sense of irony he explains that since he founded his Foundation, people, and especially the municipality, takes him much more seriously being art director of a foundation instead of a ‘mere’ street artist). He explains that for him, and many graffiti painters with him, the drive to tag is uncontrollable. It’s something he needs to do. Therefore, it’s totally different from graffiti art, but just as important. However, he does recognize the transforming potential of graffiti art. It can totally recover a degraded area; improving the view and the atmosphere. But still, Dutch policy doesn’t facilitate painting. As Angelo Bromet, the initiator of Hotspot Heesterveld, notes: Dutch policy makers adore the Favela Painting project by Haas & Hahn in Rio, but only as long as it stays there.  They don’t want it in Amsterdam Southeast.

Painting: process or product?

Matze then adds to the discussion on pixação vs graffiti art that we might not only want to look at the outcome of street art. The painting is a creative experience and learning process and therefore, any form of painting is valuable. In this regard, I think that precisely the struggle over space and places to paint is part of this, as a struggle over voice and personal and artistic space. Another comment comes from Onno Vlaanderen, experienced as a former member of the amenities committee of the municipality of Amsterdam, who argues that as an artist you are always bending and stretching the rules and laws, see how far you can go. Isn’t that what art is? An experiment? Here we find a major difference between Brazil and the Netherlands: the space the artist experiences to paint. Ludmila, currently living in the Netherlands for her studies, has noticed that the cities of the Netherlands (and Europe) are much more controlled than Brazilian cities. Vigilance, increased security, strict policies, bureaucracy, and so on, hamper painting in many ways. Note how in the video above, when interviewing the artists in Rotterdam, police men constantly walk by. Also, the rapid privatization of public spaces calls for new ways in which graffiti art can occur in the city.

Taking over the streets?

There is a long way to go for Dutch street artists to ‘take over the streets’. But is it desirable to open up the dialogue with the government? Shouldn’t street art stay away from bureaucracy and remain ‘underground’ and spontaneous, and uncontrolled? Anouk Pipet from Caramundo explains how they realized the spaces in Rotterdam in 2009 by lobbying and negotiating with the owners of particular buildings. Most of the artworks are still there today, as the public enjoyed it and wanted the paintings to stay.

The debate by far exceeded the time and still, two hours of discussion wasn’t enough even to define what street art includes, let alone what policies should exist. The R.U.A. project in Amsterdam next month will at least provide new thought for artist and policy makers, demonstrating some more Brazilian creativity on the antique Dutch walls of the Westergasterrein.

[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!!

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?

It became once more clear to me that protesting here is a lively business. This friday, there was another intervention on the streets of Bogota organized by the students of several universities to remember Nydia Erika Bautista. Latter was part of a student organization called M19 in he 80´s, which at that time was still known as guerilla insurgent movement. During that period, many people have disappeared without judicial orders, under which Nydia Erika Bautista who was tortured, raped and eventually murdered.

The 3rd, 4th, and 5th of may, students from several universities gathered to remember the cruel actions of the state and protest against more impunity. Antena Mutante was there as well to support the students technically and audiovisually. As well did I see many of the people that I met during other interventions, such as Diego, from Desarme and Esteban, whom I met through Antena Mutante and is involved in working with political prisoners in Bogota. More and more do I see how this small group of like minded people appeal to each other to make these interventions reality. Erik and Diego made provided for the speakers, Ali the laptop and cables for music and everyone else that was there helped carrying, connecting and transmitting untill every passant tuned his or her head.

In the next video, the students ´reclaim´ the streets with music and humor which drew a lot of attention from the bystanders. Police was present, but did not interfere and all the actions were allowed to the extent that it did not completely disturb the traffic. I doubt whether such action would be permitted in Holland, but time of mass protest and activism often just seems far away. People complain, but don´t do much about it and there remains a mentality of: ¨someone else will fix it¨. In that respect we can learn from whatever happens here, the creativity of the protests and the way people still believe in change.

Escratche Street Intervention from Fei An Tjan on Vimeo.

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.