And now for a bit of historic backdrop
Imagine a time when Rio de Janeiro favelas occupied white spaces on city maps and there was actual debate about whether or not favela children should be in full-day school programs, as anthropologist Darcy Ribeiro intended for his CIEP pre-fabricated schools, created in the 1980s and 1990s.
Nothing like chewing the fat — grilled sandwiches, water and juice, actually — at day’s end with a couple of old Rio favela hands.
RioRealblog did just this yesterday (as part of book research) at a café in Leme with Julio Ludemir and Écio Salles. After decades of experience among young people from favelas and poor suburbs, Ludemir and Salles in 2012 created the FLUPP, a vibrant literary festival and series of workshops connecting and supporting writers from these relatively poor neighborhoods.
Nothing like taking the long view. It’s customary to think of Lula’s 2002 election as a turning point for Brazil. True, the Workers’ Party’s time in government put poverty center stage, something never done before. But social inclusion has been happening, say Ludemir and Salles, all along — at least since World War II, when poor rural folk left home for the big city.
The late 1980s and 1990s, they point out, is thought of as an era of urban collapse in Rio, and it truly was the worst of times, with group killings, drug wars, kidnappings, and mass beach robberies known as arrastões. Banks and other businesses hightailed it out of the Marvelous City; even the stock market moved to São Paulo.
Many cariocas left Rio or walled themselves off to the danger. But a select few were moved to action, creating action and cultural groups such as Viva Rio, CUFA, Afroreggae, Nós do Morro, and what came to be the Observatório de Favelas.
These groups were preceded, Ludemir notes, by others such as FASE and IBASE, and the work of the Catholic Church and organizations springing from Liberation Theology.
There’s always been a power struggle in Rio between established interest groups and favela residents, say the FLUPP creators, with forward and backward maneuvers. But, they believe, the voz da rua (voice of the streets) has steadily become louder and more apt to find ears.
“You used to have organizations from outside, dependent on local representatives to help them carry out work in favelas,” recalls Ludemir. “Later, you had as many as twenty local leaders, taking initiatives.” Now, adds Salles, there are so many local activists that it would be a dangerous task to name the top 100. “They may well run us over,” says Ludemir, for whom this would be a welcome development.
Key to the boom in activism is the media revolution, of course, with young people now able to access information, create dialogue and influence events like never before. Improvement in the quality of high school education has also played an important role, adds Ludemir, noting that the current economic crisis forces cash-strapped middle class students to share classrooms, curricula and teachers with favela residents.
In addition, Lula and Dilma’s governments widened access to university education. University racial quotas (which existed before Lula but expanded during his terms) led Afro-Brazilians to declare their own race for a positive reason — for the first time, says Ludemir.
Amid all the daunting political and economic upheaval, Brazilian society is becoming more democratic, according to Ludemir and Salles. They point to last year’s law that at last extended full labor rights to domestic workers.”For many families, it’s become too expensive to have a maid,” says Ludemir. “Parents will have to teach their children to do chores.”
Here it’s worth remembering that the 2013 street demonstrations across the country focused on the poor quality of public services. Under Brazil’s traditional two-tier system, the middle and upper classes pay for their own private services, leaving the poor to fend for themselves when it comes to education health, transportation and public safety. Such a division is ever less acceptable, particularly since the 40 million who left poverty during the Lula years got a taste of a different sort of quality of life.
Salles names four young people he knows, one in São Paulo, who are interested in seeking political roles — great news given the low quality of our elected representatives, overall. “There is a kind of accumulation [of social change] happening,” he says, adding that young people now face the challenge of making space in an increasingly antiseptic city, where diversity and popular culture need more support.
As yesterday’s odd events in Congress show us, the ongoing shifts in national values and power — political, social, economic– present themselves as chaos, are painful to experience and may shock both locals and foreigners. Yet it’s wise to recall, amid the turmoil, that this is a country built not on democratic ideals, but slavery and all its ramifications. Rio is one metropolis where people are working hard to change this.
Bem lembrado, Ms. Michaels!!!
Reblogged this on msamba.
Darcy Ribeiro did not “create” the CIEP’s in the 1980’s. He simply copied a well-known traditional form of public education-children should go to school all day, not just half days, and they should have a true education, not just “readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmetic, but also music and arts and sports and all the other things kids need to learn to live in society.
Those of us brought up in the USA and the UK and most of northern Europe know what CIEP’s are–we attended them, and we were educated.
Darcy Ribeiro’s problem was Leonel Brizola, who decided to transform the CIEPs into votes for his government. CIEPs went to all the favelas which voted at least 90% for Brizola–but went to no favela which had the audacity not to vote for him. The CIEPs and the promise not to send the police up the hills to repress the drug traffic were what brought Brizola into years of power. All of Rio is, still, reaping the bitter harvest of the drug trade running amok in Rio’s favelas, and the government standing idly by, doing nothing.
Darcy Ribeiro was an honorable man, a knowledgeable sociologist and educator. Sadly, he worked for a populist, unscrupulous scumbag, whose only interest while Mayor and Governor of Rio was to be elected President of Brazil, even if it meant leaving the hilltops under the dominion of the militia and the gangbangers. 9 hours a day of true education won’t cure 24 hours a day of corruption.
I have heard this of Brizola. It should be written on Christ the Redeemer, or in the Brazilian Constitution, or somewhere, that every legitimate government is obliged to provide personal security for each citizen. This is one of the fundamental reasons we have governments at all. Each citizen shouldn’t have to furnish his own artillery or hire his own team of bodyguards. People in favelas pay taxes, big time. (And I wish some educated person from a favela would take on a project to study just how much they do pay, in comparison to the rich.) They deserve security.
“9 hours a day of true education won’t cure 24 hours a day of corruption.” I agree, emphatically. But unless young and old come to have a true education, we will have 24 hours of corruption, from here to eternity. Those who benefit from the current system won’t give up their privileged positions unless they have to. Would that that were written on Christ the Redeemer!
The tragic and tragi-comic events of recent months may convince the world that the Brazilian political scene is chaotic. Perhaps it is not. But we are living through a period that could impact, for good or ill, the lives of cariocas for a generation. Bribes are the bedrock on which Brazilian political life now rests. The great question is: will this continue for another generation?
Julia, thank you for making me more aware of the unsung heroes of the favelas. Every concrete deed they perform is one tiny step to a better future. But, as you noted in the article, action and cultural groups have been here for a long time. Conditions are surely better now than they would have been in their absence. But for all the good that such groups surely have done, as of this moment, bribes are still the bedrock of politics.
(In all the following, I speak of Brazilian politics and its politicians, not the Brazilian people. As to why the people have such politicians, I will speculate in a later post.)
Perhaps the situation can only be changed by groups working within disadvantaged communities to ignite the spark of activism and increase awareness. And maybe that is going to take 10, 20, or 40 years. But things are happening right now on the judicial scene that have NEVER happened in the 500-year history of Brazil. For the first time a sitting senator, Delcídio Amaral, was hauled off to jail. (He’s already back in the Senate – just an example of the dangers I am about to describe.) We may not have to wait decades for corruption to be reduced to reasonable levels. On the other end, all this may end with nothing or almost nothing changed. Everything could be decided the next six months or so. It’s an exciting and fateful time.
Already, the investigations of two possibly corrupt politicians may be halted. One is the acting President, Michel Temer. As I noted in your previous blog post of 24 April,
“Rodrigo Janot, the prosecutor general, determined that the accusations against Mr. Temer were not substantial enough at this point to merit an inquiry…”
The second person who may be let off the hook is Senator Aécio Neves, who was Dilma’s opponent in the 2014 presidential election. According to Jornal Nacional of 12 May,
“Minister of the Supreme Court Gilmar Mendes suspended the collection of evidence against Senator Aécio Neves, of the PSDB, and asked the Attorney General of the Republic, Rodrigo Janot, to re-evaluate whether to keep the request for an investigation into the alleged scheme corruption in Furnas.”
These two individuals may eventually be investigated. But I find the above notes worrisome.
The composition of Temer’s cabinet is also worrisome. It’s been observed that it contains no women at all and no men of color. Pertinent to the current discussion is the fact that seven of the nominees are implicated in or under investigation for corruption. According to O Globo of 13 May, they are Romero Jucá, Geddel Vieira Lima, Henrique Eduardo Alves, Ricardo Barros, Gilberto Kassab, Maurício Quintella, and Helder Barbalho.
In his acceptance speech, Temer pledged to support the Lava Jato investigations. Yet he chooses for his cabinet men who are ALREADY under Lava Jato investigation? He pledges to continue to investigate men and then he chooses these very same men for his cabinet.
But then in fact he pledges to investigate himself.
These may not be chaotic times, but they are a trifle insane. The only solution I see that would cause less pain and hatred, and would finally set Brazil on a solid course, would be to appoint a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to lay bare the whole corruption complex. I briefly outlined this in the blog of April 20. As you have stated, Julia, it’s most unlikely. Troubled times lie ahead.
Corruption is merely a system to sustain inequality, Brazil’s central problem– which has been lessening over time. Any government which fails to address this is very likely to fail overall. Education at the preschool and primary levels should be top priority.
Julia, I believe the last part of your comment indicates you believe that the only way to truly end inequality is to bring up the educational level of the disadvantaged. This would have two effects. First, it would enable them to play an important role in the economy. Second, it would make them more aware of their rights and the concomitant responsibilities.
Since you mention preschool and primary, it appears you believe that these years form the basis for higher level studies. If a student does not master these early skills that can’t go on to university studies.
If that’s your intent, I agree in essence. I won’t discuss here the problems I have with contemporary education and with the notion of “being productive”. All of this is rather vague in my mind anyway and I can’t give alternatives at this time.
But to address:
“Corruption is merely a system to sustain inequality”
I can’t avoid giving a thumbnail sketch of the politics of our own genus, Homo.
What brought me to consider Homo? I observed that beginning with ancient Sumer, Egypt, Babylonia, Assyria, Persia, Greece, Rome, on to medieval Europe – all these “great civilizations” have been ruled by aristocracies. The same is true of the “great civilizations” in the New World, the Mayan, Incan, and Aztec; and the “great civilizations” of China and India.
One might jump to the conclusion that inequality is the norm; that perhaps inequality is “in our DNA”.
But the opposite is true. Going back 2,800,000 years we are certain that Homo habilis had no Vanderbilts. Much later, when Homo Sapiens came along, he was always egalitarian so long as he was a hunter-gatherer.
But it is a capital error to believe early man lived without differences is status. Dominance hierarchies exist in all social mammals. Even chickens have a peck order.
I believe when you wrote of inequality, Julia, you meant the difference between the Vanderbilts (or the Collors) and the favelados (favela dwellers). There is a radical difference between this kind of inequality and the inequality of the chicken yard.
Scientists should really come up with two different terms to denote the two types of inequality. Perhaps they have and I just have not encountered them. Terminology is vital to clear thinking.
I will try my hand at terminology. I will call the inequality we find among social mammals (including between humans of course) NATURAL inequality. It is vastly different from the gulf between emperor and slave in ancient Rome; this I call CULTURAL inequality.
Natural inequality exists in a band of 40 hunter-gatherers. Among the male hunters, one individual will be trusted and deferred to more than others. But the leader will also put in his sweat into the hunt: he too is a “worker”. He confers with the rest of the band; his authority depends on the will of his people. It is vastly different from the authority of an emperor, a pharaoh, or a slave owner.
These distinctions might not seem important, but please don’t laugh. Marxism foundered on the attempt to erase natural inequality and bring about a “classless society”. You might as well try to erase anger, frowns, and tears from the human repertoire.
But Marxism was right in its assertion that emperors and slaves are not inevitable. In fact, emperors and slaves are NOT NATURAL. Our DNA was set in the 2,800,000 we were hunter-gathers. By nature, we are still hunter-gathers; our DNA is almost the same. The differences in status we see in extended families are natural to us. The difference between masters and slaves is not.
“Corruption is merely a system to sustain [cultural] inequality”
I will argue that this is true IN CONTEMPORARY BRAZIL. By what I have maintained above, it could hardly be true in all human societies. That would imply that the Old Kingdom in Egypt and the Inca Empire were corrupt, since cultural inequality was practiced there. We have not closely defined what we mean by “corruption” by I hold that, as that term is generally understood, corruption was minimal in these two societies. I can’t take time to discuss this, though I would be happy to do so in a later post.
My task is to explain why cultural inequality implies corruption in today’s Brazil.
Brazil is by law a democracy. In a democracy, the people rule. We must remember that democracy, as we know it today, has been practiced by complex societies for only about the last 250 years. Of course, there were small, partial democracies of limited franchise in the ancient world, notably that of Athens. They all failed when the size of the political entity became great.
Yet I would argue that democracy is in our DNA, for the same reason that natural inequality is in our DNA but cultural inequality is not: we practiced it for 2,800,000 years. Hunter-gatherer bands are governed by consensus.
Why do we not see democracy and we do see social inequality in almost all complex societies? I hold it is the very size and complexity of societies that don’t allow face to face, human to human interactions, between all members of the society. In a hunter-gatherer band, every individual knows the name of every other individual. Every individual has personal ties with every other individual. The band must cooperate to survive. You can hardly have one person with more than enough to eat living right beside another person who is starving to death. Jealousy and hatred can exist, but a band is more likely to survive if love and cooperation are the general rule.
Now consider a moderately complex society where moderate cultural inequality exists. I hold that cultural inequality deepens over time.
To take a specific example, let us suppose there is only inequality of wealth in Brazil. Inequality of wealth leads to many other forms of inequality.
One of them is inequality of influence. The wealthy know one another, they speak like one another, and have common beliefs. They intermarry and might even share genuine emotional bonds. Thus, they will usually unite against the poor. And they will usually be successful, for reasons we will see below.
The wealthy also have a disproportionate share of knowledge and skills. Of course they benefit from a superior formal education and private instruction. But they are also constantly exposed to the flow of information and activity in which the powerful are immersed. Lawsuits, stock market movements, business failures and successes, machinations of press and politics – privileged individuals live and breathe these things.
The rich should be healthier and more vigorous. They have superior health care. They don’t have to drink contaminated water. They can afford healthy food and gym memberships.
I think wealthy people tend to have more confidence and believe that they can actually change things by their own efforts. It gives a person confidence to walk into an upscale establishment and have waiters or salespeople fawn over them. Our whole system of advertising and promotion is designed to make wealthy people feel good about themselves and confident.
So inequality of wealth leads to all these other forms of inequality. The rich would not be human is they did not want to retain what they have. The rich should be able to do exactly that because they can control politics. Besides wealth, they have contacts, information, health, and confidence.
Cultural inequality exists in Brazil. Democracy is supposed to exist. The two are incompatible. There is a constant tension between them. Cultural inequality remains because Brazil’s democracy is a sham. That implies corruption.
“Corruption is merely a system to sustain [cultural] inequality”
Anyone who has followed all this has donated quite a lot of their time, which I greatly appreciate. I don’t want to burden anyone with more. I regret not carefully working out and making clear all my arguments. I wanted to send this, Julia, before you present another entry because back entries are less frequently read.
I wish we could bring more Brazilians into the forum. I could give a rough translation of my posts if this would help.
Brazil is going through a nightmare. Perhaps seeing it in a large perspective can help to wake us from the nightmare. The hatreds of the moment might dissolve if they are seen as partly shaped by historical and biological forces that are omnipresent as gravity and death. Thank you, Julia, for letting me register my thoughts.
The greatest fear I had was that the impeachment of Dilma would lead to the smothering of the Lava Jato investigation.
I suppose everyone knows about the dramatic events of the last few days. If not, you can read a condensed report about them here:
Thanks to the events above, my fears were unfounded. The public, thank God, is up in arms. Lava Jato will not be stopped. I pray that once the crooks have been brought to trial – years from now – the public will not allow the elite to let their colleagues off the hook.
One thing troubles me about the recent events. They were made possible by leaks. The prosecutors, Moro (and possibly Janot), surely sanctioned them. Had they not done so it is likely the Lava Jato WOULD have been smothered.
The question is, do the ends justify the means? I don’t know if there is any specific law against leaks. The rules of law must be established in Brazil. It would be ironic if to achieve this end, laws had to be broken.
Julia, you have been emphasizing the power of education in the favela to bring about justice and a better life for all. By the time a student is in his ninth year of study, she should be ready to study the events of the past week. He should be able to pose the question to himself:
“What IF the people in the favela had no idea of what was going on in the assemblies in Brasilia and behind the scenes in Brasilia? Can we expect elected representatives to give a damn about us and our interests? Are we going to just sit here and allow them to drain away from us the fruits of all our sweat and pain?”
I think you’d be surprised at how many favela residents do know what is going on and are also working to change things! In ways both small and large. The internet has a huge role in this. Thanks for your thoughts and comments!
That’s great news. But I wonder if you or anyone can tell me one thing: why is Lei Ficha Limpa (Clean File Law) necessary? The law states, I believe, that if a politician has been convicted of a serious crime, even if he hasn’t exhausted all his appeals, he can’t run again. (Appeals can take up to 20 years) It’s a wonderful law and I bow before the individuals who pushed it through. (I believe they were ordinary citizens.) But why was it necessary?
In other words, why in hell did voters keep re-electing politicians who had been convicted of crimes? I wish you would ask some of the activists you know and ask them to ask the favelados. Obviously, a democracy can’t work if citizens won’t fire crooked politicians. In the past, they have not, or there would be no need for the law.
Thanks Julia, you are there where you can see what’s going on.
It’s a long process of becoming aware of the reality and, most important, of seeing that it is finally possible to get these people out of the system, to change it. Until about 15 years ago, clientelism worked well enough. But as more people were included in the formal economy and in society, the greater good starts to become more important than ties among different groups. The traditional exchange of favors becomes less reliable. The internet reveals more information and allows people to group together in new ways. This is how democracy develops.