Posts Tagged ‘Favelas’


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: letter to IOC Nov 2011.pdf

On April 26th BBC News reports on Google’s agreement to amend its maps of Rio de Janeiro after complaints by media conglomerate Globo.

“Favelas, sprawling shanty towns which are home to tens of thousands of people, are a defining feature of Rio. But the Globo newspaper said their labelling on the map and the absence of wealthier districts and tourist sites gave a bad impression of the city.”

First, this is a very typical complaint made by Globo. In Brazil, the media – and particularly Globo – play a determining role in the dissemination of an exclusionary discourse framing favela life as inferior, dangerous, criminal, and in this case, irrelevant even to be on the map.

Illustrative is the comment of a resident of the neighbourhood Humaitá (South Zone of the city) quoted: “The maps turn Rio into a favela. […] Anyone who doesn’t know the city would be frightened.” When I showed the article to a friend, a resident of Complexo do Alemão, he was shocked by the prejudging content. If favela life wouldn’t be framed in the way it has been – a frightening place – over the past decades, the problem wouldn’t be the prominence of those communities on the map. Moreover, the argument is a little overdone, as the favelas that have been mapped are very incomplete. What has been mapped are the main streets of the community, but the majority of the alleys and stairs in which the majority of the houses are located remain unmapped. Concluding, there’s still a lot to be mapped, particularly when looking at the favelas.

At the same time, the article shows the concern of the people with tourism and the image of the city, fueled by events such as the World Cup and the Olympic Games that will take place in Rio in the next couple of years, attracting plenty of tourists. In the preparation of the city for those events, the favelas are a complex issue to deal with. The large scale pacification projects by the state and federal government are implemented in a number of favelas that are located in the most touristy areas of the city in order to improve security in these areas. The pacification of these favelas leads to a love-hate relationship with these communities, as they become centre-stage and a true tourist hotspot, attracting many tourists and artists that want to take a look inside these communities.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about this phenomenon, which I called favela fever; emerging now that those “barbaric, violent and dangerous” areas are being “pacified”. Foreign as well as Brazilian tourists are curious to take a look inside these communities, which they only know from the news (Globo) and movies such as Cidade de Deus and Tropa de Elite. Whereas they used to be framed as inaccessible for the middle and upper classes – and tourists! The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs seriously discourages tourists to enter favelas – today a new image is emerging. The situation in the pacified favelas is tranquilo. The myriad of opportunities these areas offer, in terms of new markets and for social projects, are recognized by companies, NGOs and artists settling in these neighbourhoods.

The main question, now, is who is going to benefit from this favela fever. The residents of Complexo do Alemão, where I am currently conducting my research, are wary of these interests. At the one hand they could benefit their community, as tourists come and visit, spend money in their shops and restaurants and hire local guides to show them around. Also, it could lead to some interesting cultural exchanges, through which local residents and people from outside of the community can exchange experiences and learn from each other. Their main fear, however, are competing actors from outside, which basically ignore the community’s potential to establish local tourism and instead will exploit the area for their own benefit. Unfortunately, the latter often already have a better infrastructure, a lot of contacts, links with the media, and thus are much more likely in succeeding than the local initiatives. As such, new potentials such as tourism fail to break with the logic of the exclusionary discourse, maintaining the sharp boundaries dividing favela life and “civilized life”, and to a certain extent, “incapable people” and “capable people” to set up such projects. For instance, there’s one NGO that is currently organizing trips for (Brazilian) tourists, showing the cable car, recently constructed squares, banks, etc. I joined a conversation in which a lady of the NGO consulted my friend who lives in Complexo do Alemão, about how to get permission from the army, and about how to organize this event in the community. When my friend asked her how this would benefit the community, she responded that the NGO could eventually, when they would have generated some money from the tours, they could be training community residents as guides. What the lady didn’t (want to) realize is that among the many residents of the community there surely are plenty of people that would be better guides than any professional, not needing any training at all. People who know best how the community can benefit from tourism, people who know the most beautiful, awful and interesting stories about their community, people who know about the local reality.

Rio is a divided city, but physical boundaries are dissolving as the state, the market and the third sector increasingly enter these areas. Mapping the city reflects this complexity, and the fight over those divided territories. But what about the ideological boundaries? Discrimination, prejudices? When mapping the favela what will be mapped? And who will decide that? What would Globo say to Google when the favelas become actual tourist attractions, creating a positive image of the city? Google streetview, for instance, could easily show the world the projects such as the immense cable car and its prominent stations, the plenty of neat squares, the ATMs, banks, and the outdoor gym, and the cinema that are built in Complexo do Alemão.

Cinema in Complexo do Alemão

Cable car station Complexo do AlemaoOne of the 5 cable car stations in Complexo do Alemão (Bruno Itan)

For now, however, Globo rather than Google is taking account for the promotion of these projects. I don’t know what is right, because in any case – Google maps/streetview, Globo or tourism – there’s a very complex society hidden behind these construction works. In a very simplified version, that complexity is mirrored by the idea that favelas don’t deserve too much space on the map.

Currently I am attempting to write an essay about the pacification project by the government in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. This project aims at replacing the violent military police BOPE (as you might know from the movie Tropa de Elite) with a so-called socially trained police called Pacification Police Unit (UPP).

The main objective is the recovery “of these areas lost to trafficking and socially including the most marginalised of the population through the implementation of this special unit. The project’s official website explains that this unit is a new model of Public Security and policing which promotes a closer and improved relation between the police and the citizens. The main objective of this program is to integrate the police into community life. It is a strategic concept based on the collaboration of the citizens and the public security institutions.


How will this new protector be received? The feelings of a traumatised people that has given up to believe in the government’s goodwill are now mixed with new hope, but also with simultaneous disappointment as those promises are not entirely lived up to. This is reflected in the discussion about the UPP. On the one hand positive voices are heard. Violence has significantly decreased and most of the drugs lords are exiled from the favelas that are occupied by the UPP. In Cidade de Deus, for instance, is no more shooting. One particular news item reports on a high authority from the UK who visited the favela and the fact that there was no extra protection necessary in order to receive this woman.

Other reports, interviews and comments in discussions on the web argue that favela residents have embraced the new police men. They are accepted as new authorities in the favelas and have even replaced the drugs trafficker as the young boys’ hero. On the other hand, however, it is argued that politicians have a clear stake in the implementation, seeing a new possibility to gain votes by the middle class. Also, two major international events – the olympic games and the world cup in 2014 and 2016 – at which Brazil can prove its socio-economic improvements to the outside world are seen as important motives for “organising” the city. As they initiated the program in the favelas located in the city’s south (Zona Sul), the richest and most touristy area of the city, the effect would be much more visible to the middle class than starting in the peripheries or suburbs of the city. Moreover, it is argued that precisely these favelas in which the UPP has been installed are those that are considered less violent. In the most challenging favelas the operation has not started yet. These critiques are hard to prove, but reflect the wary attitude towards the government by a part of the population.

While the implementation of the UPP has proved to be successful in providing security in terms of significant reduction of violence inside the favelas within which they operate, one might argue what “security” entails. Is pacification enough? And will the end of violence bring peace, and not the least important, equality? That is, what do we consider violence, merely armed violence or violence in terms of lack of access to basic services? When these areas were under rule of drugs traffickers, access to water, electricity, cable tv and housing was democratised. No that these economies are formalised, costs rise and access to these services become very expensive for most residents.

But perhaps more important is the question of participation of the local people in this process. An article in Direito Para Quem, a human rights journal, gives a voice to Rapper Fiell, who explains that the famous Funk parties (Baile Funk) are now prohibited, just as the cyber cafés and other “illegitimate” forms of leisure. This same guy took the initative to create a flyer that informs about the rights of the people and how they are often abused by the police. He claims: “On the asphalt (middle class/elite areas) people like the work of the UPP, but here in the favela we are forced to adapt to the program without the ability to participate”. What about a participatory democratic process, in which citizens have a voice? Doesn’t the fact that the UPP occupies these favelas suggests that this is a form of repression?

Pacification certainly is a good step, but too often policy makers fail to take into account local structures. Something that struck me in Brazil is the very strong social organisation in the form of, for instance, neighbourhood or community associations that represent the voices of the people. To what extent do they have a role in the implementation of this project? It’s hard to form an opinion about an oversea situation… For now I just got upset by the fact that Fiell’s Funk parties had stopped. I just sent a friend request to the APAFUNK (associação dos profissionais e amigos do FUNK – association of professionals and friends of FUNK)..