favela_na_copa_poucas_palavras

A major concern for the Brazilian government as the World Cup and the Olympics approach are the slums. Almost all major Brazilian cities have their favelas, to use the Portuguese word and an estimated 12 million people live in them, or 6% of the population. These poor districts are nothing more than clusters of huts, built with the leftovers of general construction, usually in areas difficult to access, such as hilltops.

Rio de Janeiro, which will host seven World Cup matches including the final, has slums that are home to about 1.7 million people. They are set very close to the waterfront and some have been there for decades. Many slum dwellers use the same beaches as the much wealthier residents of the beachfront apartments. This is one of the city’s eternal contrasts.

However, large networks of drug traffickers operate in the favelas, threatening the safety of the great number of tourists who visit Rio de Janeiro. With the imminent approach of World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, a large increase in tourism is expected and the Brazilian government and the State of Rio de Janeiro are taking steps to reduce the conflict. But so far the results have been disastrous.

One policy is removing slums and transferring residents to areas way outside the city centre. This was common practice during the military dictatorship of the 1960s and ’70s, when the population couldn’t protest or resist. Today, however, the residents of favelas are organised enough even to challenge the procedure in court. An example is the community of Vila Autodromo, situated in western Rio de Janeiro, occupying the area where the Olympic Park will be built in Rio: residents challenged the removal in court and the works are suspended at the moment. The residents don’t accept the value of the pledged claims and complain that they will be transferred to very remote areas without water supply and electricity.

The other policy is ‘appeasement’ of Rio’s favelas. This involves placing more than 9,000 police officers in 36 critical areas, in order to expel the drug dealers and give assurance of safety to residents. This happened in the communities of Pavão-Pavãozinho and Cantagalo, where more than 10,000 people live and which are known as strongholds for drug gangs in Rio de Janeiro. The operation was successful in the early months, but now there are already signs that traffickers are returning, causing some intense clashes with the police. There is a fear that the situation will become more critical and solutions using force are not suitable.

‘Criminals believe that now is the time to strike back,’ says Alba Zaluar, an anthropologist at the State University of Rio de Janeiro. ‘With the tension and anger present in these communities, it’s easier for the gangs to come back and impose themselves through an already tested and proven culture of violence.’ The World Cup has been a good opportunity to reflect on important social solutions for Brazil. But what has already been proved is that the old solutions from older times are no longer suitable.