Urban disorder in Rio: call of the abyss

do carioca Guga Ferraz

By carioca Guga Ferraz

Para Desordem urbana no Rio: o abismo atrai, clique aqui

Such chaos!

Mariana Albanese lived in the Zona Sul favela of Vidigal for two years. A São Paulo transplant, attracted by Vidigal’s strong community spirit, she was lucky enough to witness the arrival of pacification. In a post hosted in Douglas Belchior’s blog, on Carta Capital magazine’s site, she says that residents slept with their doors wide open under druglord rule. There was no trash in the streets and traffic flowed smoothly. And after:

There are the shifts. Shifts in character. People know that, depending on an officer’s intentions, good or bad, a party will be permitted, or not. Because, in addition to the violence that everyone has seen, there’s extreme social control over daily life. The philosophy of pacification is based on the principle that everyone is suspect until proven otherwise. 

Vidigal residents, like those in many Rio favelas, depend on a “shift in character” to figure out the rules for a particular night. But they’re not the only ones in Rio who feel the lack of clear and dependable rules.

We’re at the moment discussing if it’s ok or not to defend a robber set upon by citizens, acting in the absence of police officers.

And, in the absence of doctors, is it reasonable to bring in foreigners and pay them less than a Brazilian would earn?

Can a firecracker be lit even when your soccer team isn’t winning and there’s no festa junina?

Can you tell your maid she has to stay and work late, without paying overtime?

Is it right to charge R$ 3,00 to ride the bus, without providing detailed information on price inputs?

And pay R$69 for a pizza?

Since the end of the military government in 1985 (and before, probably), Brazil has been discussing the issues of the day, shifting between the self-centered interests of groups and individuals, on the one hand, and the good of the nation, on the other. The former prevail, mostly. But it could be that today’s debates are of a different nature. They occur in a different context.

“There’s a cultural rupture,” state legislator Marcelo Freixo recently told American journalist Wright Thompson, in an article that puts last June’s protests into historical context. “There was a common [notion] in Brazil[, of] believing things in Brazil were unfair and would never be changed. After what happened this year, nobody says that anymore.” 

For decades we knew the rules. Now, with forty million people out of poverty, we don’t know much at all. Actually, we do know one thing: those who weren’t part of the formal economy, of the game, a decade ago, today have greater access to their rights of citizenship. That changes everything. There’s no way back from this.

Until now, the police played the role of a buffer or interest broker, between rich and poor. What should be their role now, in the favela, the public square, in the neighborhoods?

It’s easy to mistake the chaos unleashed by social integration for a cliff that beckons vertigo; to miss the possibility that what’s really occurring is a dispute over newly-vacated territory. The territory of urban order.

No force, be it police, business interests, politicians, protestors, criminals or the media, has ever fully or unilaterally dominated that territory. It’s an ongoing dispute, alliances constantly made and remade, whether we see them or not.

The challenge is to come to a new arrangement, better-suited to the needs of a city that’s not only changing socioeconomically, but is attracting tourism like never before. We know, for example, that police violence and corruption must lessen. There are proposals to unify the various police forces and to demilitarize them.

The way is full of pebbles, slippery slopes, cul-de-sacs and switchbacks. Who knows if we’ll rise to the occasion, or what sort of arrangement will emerge from all this. But it’s worth a try. Imagina after the Cup.

Keep your eye on RioRealblog, coming up soon with short videos. 

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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.

One Response to Urban disorder in Rio: call of the abyss

  1. PTRio says:

    While I disagree with Soares on combining the investigative Policia Civil with the enforcement Policia Militar I do wholeheartedly agree the Policia Militar need to be totally and completely replaced with a citizen police force. Treating citizens as guilty until proven innocent is no way to develop a more cohesive, inclusive or even law abiding society. Trust in the PM is virtually non existent, they only thing I have been told they can be trusted for is to shoot first, shoot lots, and then make up stories about why. The near daily incidents of car chase gun battles, indiscriminate favela shootings and other insanely dangerous shooting episodes involving the PM’s is enough to make you wonder if we are in Afghanistan or Rio de Janeiro!

    Traficantes functioned as better police in a number of favelas for several reasons, they were known, they were swift and decisive in punishing wrong doing, and they were a part of the community. The downside, of course, is their lack of accountability and the obvious and easy availability of drugs which do nothing to help educate or provide healthcare or sewage treatment systems to favela residents. Lots of gold chains, but the longer term thinking which is a major reason for governments to exist simply wasn’t there. Unfortunately, the Brasilian government, and Rio especially, haven’t done much if any better.

    It is all very complicated, as they say. The Policia Militar/Milicias/Traficantes/ all seem rather blurred around the edges, with nothing keeping them separate and in fact with politicians feeding and profiting off the whole process. I do have to congratulate the Policia Civil on their recent successes. Locating Caio Silva in Bahia and bringing him back to Rio to face prosecution deserves praise. Develop a similar replacement for the PM and Brasilian society would be better off for it.

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