Differences: Dealing

Cidades Futuros Possíveis Seminar, at Casa de Rui Barbosa, 9-11 August, 2011

Para Diferenças: Modos de lidar clique aqui


Questions and paradoxes

Some provocative reflections from two of the most important thinkers and actors in the city’s integration, at the Differences: Dealing with Them panel

Silvia Ramos, a policing specialist, conducts research at the Centro de Estudos de Segurança e Cidadania, at Universidade Candido Mendes. During the first incarnation of the Social UPP Program, when it was still a state-run entity, she worked with Ricardo Henriques. Yesterday she said that the time has come for cariocas to ask an extremely difficult question– with serious implications for the present and the future.

  • “What happened? We never stopped to ask this question about the favelas. The Germans still do this, about Nazism. In the 1980s, illegal and armed groups, both drug traffickers and militias, came into the favelas. This increased in the 1990s. We had the Vigário Geral favela and Candelária church steps massacres, and then the Viva Rio NGO came into being [to reduce urban violence]. The worst was the last decade, after 1999, when Luiz Eduardo Soares headed up the state Public Safety Secretariat. This was at the beginning of President Lula’s first term, after he took office in 2003. We drew an imaginary oline and we let things happen. It didn’t happen far away, it was right here, in Ipanema, Botafogo. In the last decade, 26,000 people were killed in the city of Rio de Janeiro, 6,800 by the police. In greater Rio, there were 67,000 homicides, 10,000 by the police. Most of these were young blacks from favelas. Between 2008 and 2009, the annual homicide rate in Brazil was 25 per 100,000 inhabitants. Among the population of young black favela residents, the rate was 400 per 100,ooo. Luiz Eduardo Soares calls this genocide. We got used to living with these two worlds. We had two cities.”
  • According to Ramos, this is the situation that the police pacification units, or UPPs, which gained prominence in 2009, were created to deal with. “It’s about human rights, freedom, normal city life.”
  • “How did we let this happen? When I give talks outside of Brazil, the question I always get is ‘Why didn’t you do this before?’ What is a UPP? Simply good old community policing. Today, 18 UPPs are in 30 favelas where 280,000 peopel live, with a force of 3,000.”
  • “[Abolitionist] Joaquim Nabuco said that we’d have a 200-year legacy of slavery. Now we’re seeing a strong legacy of the years when favelas had bosses who ruled over everyone, when women transgressors had to shave their heads, which was just one step before having them cut off. There’s a lot of gossip, rumors. In UPP favelas, changes of command still occur. Someone gets out of jail, having served his sentence, and comes to live in the favela. The residents then say the favela has switched to a new criminal faction. But how, we ask them, if there’s a UPP? ‘It’s all about suggestion,’ they explain.”
  • “The problem of favelas isn’t a state problem. It shouldn’t be a Social UPP problem.” It’s everyone’s, says Ramos. “The right thing would be that when Habib’s opens a snack place in the favela, they are the ones who fix up the street out front.”

Ricardo Henriques, an economist who formulated the federal Bolsa Família income transfer program, spoke on the same panel. Now president of the Instituto Pereira Passos, Henriques led the startup of the Social UPP program, now housed at the Institute. The Social UPP follows each pacification force, mapping local needs and managing municipal response. The Institute is reponsible for municipal strategic planning and a range of technical work related to public policy in Rio de Janeiro.

Just as UPP favela residents assume that they still have bosses, with changing command, in the Morro do Borel favela no one  uses a wide road that connects one part of the hill to another. “Everyone walks down, takes Rua São Miguel, and walks back up,” said Henriques. “Because before the UPP, the drug traffic banned passage.”

He raised Rio de Janeiro’s central paradox, its existence as a city both divided and of so many encounters.

The paradox pertains to few cities. Perhaps the encounters spring not only from practical necessity (labor, jobs), but from the coping mechanisms developed on both sides of the socioeconomic and cultural abyss.

Today, with the promise of less inequality and fewer urban divisions, the future of this phenomenon isn’t clear.

At the moment, Henriques says that we must depend on each other.  “You need dialogue, to bring closer that which is different and reduce inequality,” he explained. This is the philosophy behind the “hard listening” that the Social UPP pratices, to produce results.

The vision of the future that Henriques described is another paradox: a “pragmatic utopia of encounters, that breaks down material and symbolic frontiers.” This tension, he added, “produces an integrated and sustainable city”, that boasts an extremely rare and underestimated kind of capital — 52% of its urban territory given over to nature. “Only 4% of the city is favela,” he pointed out.

There was dialogue at the seminar. A young UPP favela resident complained of being searched by police eight times. He told of a neighboring family whose rent had gone up so much that the 14-year-old son was forced to get a job. He described the exodus of residents to distant neighborhoods, forced out by city removal.

A UPP Social manager at the Morro da Providência favela spoke of her difficult in dealing with more than 900 removals caused by the Morar Carioca urban upgrade program. She said that shopkeepers complain of fewer parties in the favela, since the police control events taking place in common areas.

“It’s unacceptable to be searched eight times,” said Henriques. “We’ve seen that this type of police behavior occurs among particular police units, that maintain shakedowns derived from other situations, from the past.” Police party management makes no sense, he added. That’s not police work.

“There’s a need for transition rules. Slipups and errors exist. They can be fixed. We need to monitor and evaluate public policy, which isn’t usual in Brazil. People think it’s technical work.”

Henriques reminded critics of the pacification policy that until the 1980s Rio favelas weren’t on city maps.

“At first, peace allows for the normalization of public services. Then comes a focus on quality, which is the priority of all Brazil. During a war it’s impossible to focus on quality.”

About Rio real

American journalist, writer, editor who's lived in Rio de Janeiro for 20 years.
This entry was posted in Brazil, Transformation of Rio de Janeiro / Transformação do Rio de Janeiro and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Differences: Dealing

  1. A good question was asked: “Why did this happen?” Few people want to understand how things became the way they did. Only when a Martin Luther King in my own country began asking this question was the problem put in context for a generation to follow. At the time a black man as president was unthinkable. King’s historical narrative is often never tried even today, yet the answer to the question of how things became the way they did provides many useful perspectives. It is not just an academic exercise, but rather a necessary step in setting goals. Without seeing where the problems began no one can see the benchmarks of success. In far away Somalia in the 1920s, for instance, there was a splendid village was created out of a desert; Green fields full of crops were made, a thriving labor force earned profits from their labors; an inland port for exporting crops was built, a railroad, cars, hospitals were built and staff, a movie theatre, schools, plumbing were made. The village lasted until it was destroyed in 1993. Somalia was not always what it is perceived to be now, but it was the work of many who followed one man’s vision. Yet today, the western powers can only think of throwing bread crumbs to the poor or taking military action in Somalia. (Sound familiar?) The problem is not a problem of the poor, it is a problem of not asking the right questions. And asking “Why did this happen?” is a good place to begin.

  2. Rio real says:

    Well put, Michael. Interesting story about Somalia–

    • Thanks, Julia. Somalia was a chapter in a biography I wrote about the Duke of the Abruzzi. He began the village nearly a century ago and this rare model could work in the favelas. For starters, the model wasn’t impeded by politics. It was pretty remarkable.

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