Posts Tagged ‘Pacification’

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

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

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.

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?

“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 🙂 .

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?

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.