01 December 2011

The Impact of Pacification

"All change is not growth, as all movement is not forward." - Ellen Glasgow

In preparation for the upcoming World Cup and Olympic events in 2014 and 2016, respectively, the city government of Rio de Janeiro has been working to reclaim many key favelas from the drug lords. Since at least the 1980s the criminal "parallel power" has reigned in these neighborhoods, and rooting them out has become a top priority. The question is what impact these "pacifications" are having and will have long term for the communities involved.

As I mentioned above, it's rather obvious that although criminality in the poor shantytown neighborhoods has made them notorious for decades, it's only with the pressure of impending international events that anything concrete is being done about it by the authorities. This brings into question the long-term commitment the government is willing to make. Will the neighborhoods be effectively handed back to the drug gangs when the last of the events are over?

While the government has been largely absent from the favelas, NGOs have been at work in them for years. That's why it's all the more disheartening that in the process of "reclaiming" the Vidigal neighborhood, city hall has acted to evict and NGO that's been using an abandoned public building. Of course, as it's government property, the authorities are well within their rights, but it seems doubtful that this is the right thing to do. GASCO (Community Social Action Group) has been working to promote social inclusion and principles of citizenship, and the government would do well to partner with this community NGO, rather than kick it out. This type of action does little to win the hearts and minds to the populace.

There is good news in that property legalization is moving forward. While some have inhabited the favelas for years stretching into decades, most were in fact "invaded" and legally belong to government or private parties. Mass eviction has been attempted at various times, but the results have never been particularly satisfactory to anyone. At the same time, legalization and improved security and infrastructure has also driven up property values and seems to be contributing to rapid gentrification. Where will the poor, particularly the renters priced out of the market, go?

The President of Vidigal’s Neighborhood Association shares below, in Portuguese, his skeptisism regarding pacification efforts. Although I hope for the best and realize than change is nearly always painful in some way, I don't blame him for his doubts.

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