Rio protests: saying the unsayable

And doing the undoable? Morar Carioca –total favela upgrade — at a near standstill

Whose houses get town down to make space and bring light and air to favelas?

Whose houses get torn down to make space and bring light and air to favelas?

It’s winter, not springtime, but a new kind of clarity rides the bountiful light that makes this city so unique. People are asking questions — and answers are starting to appear. We used to compartmentalize experiences and knowledge. Now these are coming together, into one damaging picture. In the last week, several blog readers have stepped forth with information tidbits.

It’s not that a totalitarian state stopped spying on us. Post- and mid-protest, people feel that saying the unsayable might make a difference.

“When the Pope came to Poland [in 1979], we went into the streets and it was the first time we could count ourselves. Most people were against the system, but it was only then that we could see how many we were,” says Monika Libicka, a journalist who writes for the Polish edition of Newsweek, among other publications. Libicka, a blog reader who spends a chunk of every year in Northeastern Brazil, says she identifies her experience of the end of Communism in Poland, with what’s happening here.

Our new freedom extends even to the smallest detail. Today, local Facebook users are asking why, three years ago, the whole country had to change to an electrical outlet format unique to Brazil, and who made money on it. No answer on that, yet.

This week, Rio’s City Council set up an inquiry into the city’s transportation contracts and contractors, with galleries  filled with protesters. Today, O Globo‘s Rio editor, Gilberto Scofield, published a column outlining what the Council will be looking into.

The thousands in the streets, many in small towns across the country, have changed the way the news is reported, as well. Last night’s Jornal Nacional, on TV Globo, dedicated almost five minutes to violence in the Maré favela, in Rio’s North Zone. Monday and yesterday, shooting there after a peaceful demonstration left at least one police officer and eight civilians dead. Underscoring possible human rights abuses, the Globo coverage ended with announcer William Bonner noting that the network had asked police if the dead suspects had prior police records. The police, he said, claimed they hadn’t yet identified those slain and would investigate the deaths.

Previously, the old saw, “bandido bom é bandido morto” (a good crook is a dead crook), still very much heard in these parts, colored Brazilian journalism, with few questions asked about deaths in favelas.

Meanwhile, a source close to Mayor Eduardo Paes has confirmed to RioRealblog what was long obvious to most informed observers: the Morar Carioca program, created to bring all of Rio’s favelas up to standard by 2020, at an estimated cost of R$8 billion, is almost at a complete standstill.

Announced with fanfare in 2010, the program was said to be part of the social legacy of the Olympic Games and is described on the EOM (Municipal Olympic Enterprise) Olympic City site. It’s not a specific part of the actual Olympic bid, though this does mention “improved housing”.

Forty projects, selected in a highly publicized contest held in 2010 by the Rio chapter of the Brazilian Architects Institute and the city housing secretariat, were meant to start work two years ago.

“In fact, Morar Carioca seems to have been totally left off city hall’s priority list,” says Jailson da Silva, coordinator of the favela advocacy group, Observatório de Favelas. “But, anyway, [it] didn’t consider residents’ points of view.”

Officially, city officials say the program is still going to happen. Last month at an OsteRio debate, Washington Fajardo, president of the city’s Rio World Heritage Institute, reassured a disgruntled architect that it would soon get under way.

According to the source close to the mayor, Morar Carioca has no funding beyond that of an Inter-American Development Bank loan, which is only enough for two ongoing projects. The source added that city hall, strapped for funds, has apparently given budget priority to large-scale infrastructure projects, over favelas, with an eye toward the 2016 Olympics.

Funding could come from the federal government, responsible for PAC II programs in Rocinha, Jacarezinho and Complexo do Lins which also consist of urban upgrades.

Rio lacks sufficient incentives for private real estate developers to help pay for such upgrades, or any kind of low-income or mixed-income housing, specialists say. The right to build is awarded with no social requirements embedded in contracts, as is often the case in other cities, including São Paulo.

Implementation difficulties may go beyond funding. When read in light of the events of the last two years — particularly the last two weeks — the program description sounds unrealistic. How indeed, to involve residents in determining priorities and deciding whose homes will give way to needed open spaces?

Only time will tell, as events accelerate and politicians initially bow to pressure, just how favela residents will dialogue with city hall and if Rio de Janeiro will manage to keep its ambitious promise for urban integration.

Catherine Osborn helped research this post

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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 Rio protests: saying the unsayable

  1. Oscar Cox says:

    Hi Julia, about Rio, I found this post from today quite interesting: diegoviana.opsblog.org/duas-tres-muitas-escolas-friedenreich/

    The same blog published an enormous, but very good, post about Brazil as a whole this weekend. The post has been going around a lot.

    • Rio real says:

      Thanks, very interesting indeed. I have also had this thought about Rio, but one must be careful — a recent visit to Sao Paulo got me on autocorrect, for a bit at least. They rarely talk or think about Rio, same as us regarding their city…at any rate I did think that a Globo headline last week: “prisoes em Bangu, acampamento no Leblon” was just amazing, almost poetic, a sign of a huge shift

  2. Pingback: Socio-Urban Integration and The Brazilian Uprising | {FAVEL issues}

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