Pacifying the Favelas: Preparing for International Attention
June 6, 2013 8:45 PM   Subscribe

Brazilian favelas have a long and sordid history, initially constructed as a shanty town by soldiers who had nowhere to live. Then the poor people from rural areas moved to the cities for job opportunities, expanding the favelas. Today, there are over 500 favelas, with about a third of Rio de Janeiro's population, and they're growing. The three primary drug gangs that fight for control in the favelas formed in the 1970s (PDF), but they were formed not solely by fighters, but also political radicals, and these gangs provide some social services where the government does not. That is, until the Pacifying Police Units were formed in 2008, with the goal of pushing the gangs out and providing government stability from a live-in police force. But this isn't just to an effort to end the gang violence -- the slums are being swept ahead of the tourist rush, and the shanty towns are now seeing a rapid gentrification from non-Brazilians and speculators.
posted by filthy light thief (15 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
A few of the previous favela posts: See also: Since February of 2012, Spanish photographer Rafael Fabrés, 30, has been covering the process of pacification, a strategy with many complications. (Wired Raw Story, article with gallery)

“My goal is not to answer the question of whether it’s bad or good,” he says. “But I will say [the process] is definitely not black and white. It’s gray.”
posted by filthy light thief at 8:50 PM on June 6, 2013

Some of this 'pacification' makes me think of Vietnam. :(
I realize there are no easy answers but gentrification seems so not to be an answer.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 9:26 PM on June 6, 2013

from that last link:
"I think there are a lot of young people and a lot of students who come here with this idea of: How can we come and live here and really try and learn from a place?" [Kate] says. "How can we really try and insert ourselves in the community?"
Well, how about sushi bars and yoga studios? Will that make you feel more comfortable about really trying to learn from this new place?
posted by fredludd at 9:49 PM on June 6, 2013

Just send all those poor folks into the rain forest to create their own homestead. They can take down the trees and plant crops, grow food. Presto. Poor no more. /hamburger

Hamburger? Oh, wait...
posted by Goofyy at 10:13 PM on June 6, 2013

This is what we call "The dictatorship of the bourgeoisie."
posted by symbioid at 11:21 PM on June 6, 2013

I can't claim to understand the complexities of what's happening in Rio, but I'm not sure that the changes with respect to the favelas is entirely bad. I visited about a year ago and stated with a local Carioca who said her family had to leave Rio for a number of years in the 1990-2000's because the crime was so bad. She was held at gunpoint when she was carjacked, which apparently was a daily occurrence. The word "Pacification" certainly has a lot of negative connotations, but the one thing we heard repeatedly during our visit was that the city has become dramatically safer as the drug lords have been cleared from the favelas.

It did sound like real estate prices have risen dramatically as the city has become safer; we only heard about this regards to established neighborhoods, not inside the favelas. Not surprising if prices are going up as murders and kidnappings go down, but honestly that seems like a fair trade rather than something sinister. Also, if you've seen these places at all, it would seem ridiculous to suggest that the favelas are being bulldozed and replaced with sushi bars, yoga studios, and college students. They're dense, unplanned and unincorporated piles of dwellings going up the hillsides. I bet they'll be mostly safe from Starbucks for some time.
posted by pkingdesign at 11:49 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

"Dwellings"? That's being generous.

In Sao Paulo, people told my partner to not even consider going to Rio, due to the crime. And that was just a few years ago. Sao Paulo is one of the places we could be asked to move. It has its attractions, but I'm not clear the security issues are worth the risk.
posted by Goofyy at 12:06 AM on June 7, 2013

Part time Rio resident here.
Yes it is complicated. Very complicated.I'm no expert, I know the vibe, I read the papers.
Its not as if a whole lot of very intelligent people aren't trying to solve the problems. Meanwhile day to day life goes on.
If you haven't seen Cidade de Deus watch it.
Also Project Morrinho is an eye opener.
The city is certainly safer than 10 years ago but it is still edgy especially after dark.
Rio is complicated because of its geography. Lots of steep hills, everywhere.
Thats where many of the favelas are, looking down on the city.
Rents in Rio are outrageous especially in the Zona Sul where most people of a certain class want to be, so the gentrification drive isn't out of concern for the poor people but more ''theres some cool cheap real estate with a great view''.
I could ramble on for hours about this.
The haves have, and those that don't try to get by, and if they can't do it legally they will just take what they want.
If it's after dark and the street is empty I walk in the middle of the road - just in case. Remember it's the tropics so after dark is early.
The Gang lords looked after their people in that they threaten and have blown up the electric substations if the electric company took off the hot wire clamps. They inforced some order on the chaos but in a medieval gang lord way.
One of the main Favela problems is no infrastructure and retrofitting isn't easy.
Some friends of mine volunteer in a community centre in the Favela above Sta Theresa, teaching kids english, theatre, photography, expression; the kids adore it and the mothers when they come to the performances are frequently in tears (men dont seem to go so much - macho culture). Anyway a couple of week back this tall young Dutch guy arrives ashen faced and shaking. He's big and was lost when he got out of the collectivo and withinside five minutes had two guys put guns to head.He managed to explain "Community Centre" and one lead him to the building. They wee just protecting their patch.
The politicians and police all have their cut on all the nefarious deeds. A little here and a little there all adds up. All the great samba schools come from and are part financed by favela, / drug / illegal gambling money. This has futher complications with TV wannabes, Enormously rich soccer stars etc etc. who get involved with gansters and their molls and so it goes on.
The ultra right wing is also involved in this black money for the assassination and extorcion trade and guess where the assassins come from..... yada yada.
Last week a german kid was shot wandering around Rocinha where there are ''Favela'' tours. He went down the wrong alley.
Even down in the city you don't wander around with your $1000 camera and $1000 smouchi watch, you won't have it for long.
Also last week three guys wandered into a restaurant in Botafogo at lunchtime closed the doors, took all the wallets and cell phones, wandered out, all over in under five minutes, no shouting no arm waving, the patrons wanted lunch and life. The same sometimes happens on the buses.
UPP is definitely working as a solution as the favela inhabitants would prefer to deal with a cop than a smacked up trooper from one of the gangs.
It's just a little unnerving to find them all kitted out and ready to go when you round a street corner on an otherwise normal day.
The last linked article about Babylon above Leme is a little glossy. In January a gang leader from there who had just been released from his shortened prison sentence (He had knocked off a truckload of full order working rifles being used for a film) had to shoot a couple of people to get his trade back and that kind of simmered on for a few months. Every bullet in the air comes down somewhere, but at least the gangs aren't firing at each other across the motorway like they used to.
I was wandering down the street with my girlfriend and lots of rockets were going off in a favela behind the area. I asked her if it was a local fiesta or some such. No she replied, they are just announcing that they have a consignment of crack to sell.
posted by adamvasco at 2:24 AM on June 7, 2013 [7 favorites]

I don't think gentrification is the right way of thinking about this. I lived in Santa Teresa and saw and heard pacification myself. Not that I'm an expert. The police moved in and were met with full automatic resistance. And grenades. When they moved in, it was into enclaves that were essentially not a part of Brazil. No schools, no official power infrastructure, no real plumbing (sanitation problems), no law unless it was law of the strong man. . .

It's strange to me to see some indignation expressed. The residents are not being pushed out for real estate development. Most residents seem pretty happy about the government moving in; it wasn't going to happen unless by force. This isn't about bourgoisie, this is about building schools and working sanitation systems.

If you live in the first world and want to be indignant about something, let it be about anyone you know who buys cocaine.
posted by TheTingTangTong at 5:03 AM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Great post and comments, thanks filthy light thief et al.

As well as the above-mentioned Cidade de Deus, the Elite Squad movies, Tropa de Elite and Tropa de Elite 2 - O Inimigo Agora É Outro, touch on a lot of the issues this post and comments bring up. The first film takes place during a favela pacification program leading up to the Pope's visit in 1997. The sequel, Brazil's highest grossing film of all time, gives us a top-to-bottom look at the entrenched causes of poverty and violence (it's like all five seasons of The Wire in just under two hours) and the difficulty society faces in trying to address them. The director, José Padilha, says these two films complete a trilogy beginning with his documentary, Ônibus 174, about the 2000 hijacking of a city bus in a wealthy part of Rio by a former street kid.

Though I read extensively and watch a lot of movies, I have never been to Brazil so I can't accurately gauge these films' verisimilitude, but I can say that at least the sequel (it isn't necessary to watch the first one to grok the second) is one of the best films I've ever seen.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 6:23 AM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

The movie Onmibus 174 is about Sandro Rosa do Nascimento who had witnessed the Candelaria massacre.
This is a good commentry on Jose Padilha's movies.
Times have moved on and the authorities are trying to resolve the problems of acute poverty not just in Rio but across the country.
Love him or hate him Lula did good work in this aspect and Dilma has followed.
Deep Brazil has some insight on Brazilian society issues after the Street kid photos.
At the end of the day anything which can bring those most marginalised into society must help.
A chic hostal in a favela, OK there will be a pay off somewhere, probably several but if it gets cash into the hands of the have nots it helps. The macro projects are much more difficult and take much more time. Pacification is only one way forward but there also has to be the backup with education and health care projects and giving the community hope, and even simple things like pride in the community. Asa Branca is the example here.
Also getting more peope from the outside into the favelas is probably a way to go. Locals won't go near them but the gringos do. Dead gringos are not good for business therefore the market in this case will win out.
posted by adamvasco at 7:06 AM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Great commentary on Padilha's films in that link. It almost seems as if the director read that article before he made Tropa de Elite 2. I get the feeling that the first Elite Squad movie was a little like Dirty Harry in the disconnect between intent and reception -- the filmmakers may have meant it to be more obviously ambivalent, intending that viewers would be shocked by the fascistic actions of the police and perhaps wonder how things could reach such a desperate state -- but the audience came away thinking "That was so cool, especially when he made that joke before blowing that guy away" or even "Yeah, we need somebody to gun down the bad guys, that would solve our problems." Of course, the director's enthusiasm for his subject matter has a lot to do with this, but I thought in the sequel (which was the first of these movies I watched) the ambivalence about pacification's effectiveness was clearer.

Those street kid pictures and descriptions remind me of Ali Zaoua, prince de la rue, which of course is about Casablanca, not Rio, but the depictions are similar.

Thanks again for the comments and links, adamvasco.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 7:58 AM on June 7, 2013

Evictions, Gentrification & Displacement
Three short documentaries on the forces shaping Rio today via Rio On Watch.
posted by spamandkimchi at 2:39 PM on June 7, 2013

Pacyfing Rio for the Olympics: just stage it, who's going to notice it's staged on TV?
posted by elpapacito at 6:33 PM on June 7, 2013

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