Posts Tagged ‘Rio de Janeiro’


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

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!!

Graffiti / street art in Rio – commissioned by the municipality. Usually NGOs working with art projects or graffiti artists paint these walls.

It looks really nice and I like the way in which this form of art is used to liven up the street view. Brazil has a very rich graffiti scene especially in São Paulo and Rio.

Wikipedia states that “poverty and unemployment … [and] the epic struggles and conditions of the country’s marginalised peoples,” and […] “Brazil’s chronic poverty, [are] the main engines that “have fuelled a vibrant graffiti culture.” In world terms, Brazil has “one of the most uneven distributions of income. Laws and taxes change frequently.” Such factors […] contribute to a very fluid society, riven with those economic divisions and social tensions that underpin and feed the “folkloric vandalism and an urban sport for the disenfranchised…”

NGOs and social inclusion projects respond to this tradition offering graffiti courses and workshops, especially for the less privileged. Intersting is the fact that in the poorest neighbourhoods you don’t see much graffiti. I asked an artist living in Complexo do Alemão why there isn’t much graffiti in their community. “People have other things on their mind than painting walls. They need money to eat.” Also, once regulated and stimulated by the government and NGOs, an interesting discussion is what this means for the socio-political (and underground) character of graffiti.

However, the popularity of graffiti by NGOs and social projects doesn’t counter the fact that in general the Brazilian street art/graffiti scene is very inspiring and rich (and political).


Two weeks in Rio, of which one week Carnaval so that doesn’t really count as a week, already learned me a lot about a drastically changing everyday life in this marvellous city. As the UPPs (the pacifying police) are my object of study I am of course referring to the changes in relation to this pacification project. However, the general idea of “organising the city” goes way beyond the pacification of the favelas.

I haven’t yet had the time to make up my mind, to think about the things I hear and see and to draw relevant conclusions from the information I got. That’s why I am writing this blog.

The first days I was staying at a friend’s place in Ipanema – Zona Sul, the elitist, touristy and rich part of the city. He told me how the city has changed in the last couple of years. Not only had violence decreased drastically and was Rio becoming much safer, the city increasingly becomes “organised”. I used to like the Brazilian bus driver’s mentality because they let you in the bus even when there’s no bus stop. They wait for you when you’re late and running to get the bus that is about to leave. Today, they don’t do that anymore. They have a strict time schedule to stick to. Of course, for the public transport system to work this is necessary.

Another situation was yesterday when I was waiting for my friend to pick me up from the subway station. It took a little while so I was walking around the station, kind of bored. This guy who was selling home made coconut candy came to me and gave me one, to try. I liked it and bought some and we started chatting. He told me how he got kicked out of another subway station by the guards as he didn’t have a licence to sell food. Up until recently he didn’t need such a licence. The same goes for vendors of snacks and beer walking down Ipanema and Copacabana beach. And the “ugly” beach stands selling caipirinhas, beer and coconut water are replaced by cleaner and better looking bars with terraces and toilets. Places that sell food and drinks must provide bathrooms as well.

Two Germans I met told me how they were having a sandwich in the botanic garden when a guard politely asked them to have their picnic at the “picnic area”. They complained: “but that’s what we use to like about Brazil”.

These are small, but in my view, significant changes in the mentality of a “País Tropical”. Some people like it: “finally our country starts to function”, others don’t: “a country has to be disorganised, we should not take Europe as an example”. The UPP police and the “Peace Forces” are other examples of the organisation of places considered “disorganised” in order to increase security and order in the city.

Some examples of changes in the pacified favelas are an elevator in Cantagalo. Those favela residents living at the top of the hill no longer need to climb the endless stairs (Note that favelas are usually built on hills). In Providência, down town, a resident told me that they want to construct a little train that goes up the hill. In Complexo do Alemão, the complex of 14 communities that has been occupied since November last year they built a cable car connecting these communities. In some cases houses have to make way for these installations. Also, houses at risk of collapsing are demolished. The residents of these houses are replaced to new apartments blocks. This all results in some contrasting architectural cases. Big colourful and new buildings right next to simple and small houses or sometimes even huts.

(See yellow building – cable car station – on top of the hill.)

The above I found particularly interesting because I came to Brazil to investigate the UPP in terms of territoriality and the claiming of these areas by the state. The Brazilian state has been absent in these communities for decades and now tries to obtain power. Through “pacification” these favelas can and will be organised, which will allow the inclusion of these communities into the bureaucratic processes of the state. Interesting, I think, is how the state does this. What new rules and processes are used by the state in this attempt to increase power and control over these areas? In this light, the above examples show how this process is going on in the entire city, and not only in the pacified favelas. The latter are part of and reflect a larger process of organisation. The the coming weeks I will go deeper into the changes and consequences of the pacification. What does it mean? What does it change? How does the pacification of these particular areas paves the way for development?

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)..