Posts Tagged ‘tourism’

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.

Two weeks ago someone told me about the cable car (Teleférico) that was built in Complexo do Alemão after the occupation. From that moment it got my attention. I was curious to know more about such an installation as a means of public transport. Just imagine using a cable car as your daily way of transport to your work, or to visit a friend. This is the general reaction of people not living in Complexo do Alemão. “That thing is so going to improve their mobility”.

Last week, when I visited Complexo do Alemão for the first time, I got to see it. It’s not working yet, but I did see the cars moving as from time to time they test drive to ensure safety before the actual inauguration next month. I decided to try to take this “object” as a way to investigate the general opinion on the ocupation/pacification* of their community.

First some general information about the Complexo do Alemão. It’s a complex consisting of 14 communities and in total counts about 400.000 residents. That’s more or less the size of the third biggest city of the Netherlands. It used to be controlled by the Comando Vermelho until the invasion of the Brazilian army in November 2010. The invasion was the initiation of the PAC (Acceleration of Growth Program) and the pacification of the area. Different than the other communities that are being pacified by the UPP (pacification police unit – police that have been trained to interact with the community residents) Complexo do Alemão is occupied by the army. The pacification paved the way for companies to enter community. Commisioned by the municipality construction companies build apartments, squares, roads, stairs, and the cable car. Thus, the cable car is one of the many changes in the community, but it reflects a certain idea persistent in the community about the general approach of the project.

People explain me that althrough the cable car will be the major form of public transport, there were built 5 stations in order to attend the entire community (of 400.000 people). I could also see by myself that the cars, equipped with no more than 6 seats – in buses passengers not necessarily need a seat, in a cable car I imagine they do – don’t move very quickly. The capacity to transport the amount of people is doubtful.

I could also perceive a certain distrust or resistance towards the stations, which serve as the bases of the army. People told me how the stations are strategically positioned rather than facilitating the transport within the community. If it really were to benefit the community residents they would have been asked where to build the stations. Instead, they feel their opinion and knowledge of the structure of the community is neglected.

Besides the idea that the cable car does not really match their needs in terms of transport, people explain me how it could possibly generate the community. People could have stands inside the stations and sell goods (e.g. Food, drinks, snacks, movies/cd’s, etc.). As far as they know, however, this is prohibited as the stations are owned by the cable car company, which will not allow these types of commerce.

When I ask them why they think the cable car has been built most people answer: “for the government to show the favela to tourists”. It turns out that the cable car in Complexo do Alemão serves a cable car’s more common function as a tourist or fairground attraction. It responds to the increasing popularity of “the favela” by NGOs, social projects, artists and tourists (see: favela tour). The people I spoke with do not reject this curiosity about their way of life at all. They just want to have a voice in the way their life is exposed to others. Not to be used as an object of tourism, but to interact with visitors, to learn from each other, and establish mutual understanding and knowledge about their cultures. And if possible, to have a share in the profit. Only than development can be sustainable and fair.

And about the pacification and development of their community? A similar answer returns often. They know their community best. Why aren’t they consulted about what works best in their community?

I wonder what will happen next month. Will the cable car be used by the local residents? Will it really be a tourist attraction? I’ll keep you posted.

* Note the controversy: occupation and pacification are supposed to go hand in hand in this context.