Rio communities come together in protest

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Rio communities come together in protest

by Kate Steiker-Ginzberg

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Mariam Alves from Rocinha marched for peace, better health services, and education. (Melaina Spitzer/CatComm under a Creative Commons Licence)

On the evening of Tuesday 25 June, at the same time as many demonstrations in many parts of Rio de Janeiro, many people from the elite South Zone starting saying that the Rocinha slum was going to come to the South. There were reports of some aggression from police and some vandalism at the other demonstrations.

There were many police in front of the Sheraton Hotel and Governor Sérgio Cabral’s apartment in Leblon before the demonstration. The people of the Rocinha and Vidigal slums organised it. But the protest – about 2,000 people - was peaceful and festive. There was no vandalism or police control. Leandro Lima, who started the blog FavelaDaRocinha.com. said: ‘There has been no demonstration as calm as this one… it started well and ended even better!’

The demonstrators started in Rocinha, and they demanded basic sanitation, health and education. They walked through São Conrado, and then along Avenida Niemeyer. Here the protest joined people from another slum, Vidigal. This was a symbolic moment of unity between these two “favelas” (slums). Leandro Lima said this was an ‘emotional moment', when the two communities joined together into one protest, ‘This hasn’t happened in my lifetime, or in my parents’ lifetime.’

He explained that these two communities, very near each other, have had many problems. Sometimes money was taken from one to invest in the other one. Sometimes there was tragic violence in a drug war. The demonstration joined these two communities together. Leandro says: ‘Rocinha and Vidigal, together so that everyone benefits. They want improvements in both communities and they are using this protest to demand this.’

The protest - many young and old people - walked along Avenida Niemeyer to Governor Cabral’s apartment building in Leblon. They were holding signs to protest against the many militarized police in the communities (‘Peace without voice is fear’) and against World Cup investments when public education is so bad (‘How many schools are worth one Maracanã?’ (the stadium). Antonio Golgenstein, from Vidigal and one of the organizers of FavelArt&Foto, explained, ‘Today we have hungry people in our communities and so many billions are spent on the World Cup [...] where are the hospitals? There isn’t even gas in the hospitals!’

Leandro Lima explained that the demonstration was important ‘to show that we have the same power to change the politics here’ in the favelas as the large student protests in the city centre. He says, ‘It’s important to show that the people of Rocinha and Vidigal have the same importance and power as a person from the city.’

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Vanessa Suares from Vidigal marched for the residents of Maré. Nine people were killed there when police entered a favela during a protest. (Melaina Spitzer/Cat Comm, under a CC License)

Anderson Castro, from Vidigal, with his six-year-old son, Arthur, on his shoulders, explained that favela residents are now protesting, after years of fear. He said: ‘Some residents still don’t go to protests (because) they are afraid of the police.’ In this unity between favelas and empowerment through protest, there was one loud, clear demand: ‘Basic sanitation, YES! Cable car, NO!’ A few weeks ago, President Dilma Rousseff announced the plan for a cable car in Rocinha at the end of this year, as part of the federal Growth Acceleration Project (PAC). As Flávio Carvalho explained, ‘We are here fighting for basic sanitation.’ Residents say that the cable car project shows that tourists are more important than their basic needs. For Diogo Barbosa, the cable car will just make Rocinha an 'exotic place' for tourists to have a beautiful view of the community.

Residents also said they are worried. They have experience with PAC investments in Rocinha. PAC invested in the big, showy Sports Complex, the Niemeyer footbridge and painted walls at the entrance of the community, but not the essential public services (sewerage system and garbage collection). Some projects from the first phase of the PAC that people really wanted, eg. a new daycare centre and popular market, were never unfinished and there is no sign that work will continue.

Protesters said that the money for the very expensive cable car could be better spent on other priorities. The six-station cable car project will cost around R$600-700 million. This is almost half of the R$1.6 billion invested in Rocinha in the second part of the PAC in the next three years. And the PAC is proud to say it will build 500 new housing units in Rocinha. But they do not say that this building work means that 2,000 families will have to move away.

There is already a cable car in the Complexo do Alemão community. And this shows the problems: they built the cable car here, but the community still has an open sewerage system. Also, many people who live there prefer to pay for other transport - bus, van or mototaxi – instead of using the free cable car, because of the difficult climb up many steps to reach the cable car stations. Since 2011, when it was opened, 11,000 people per day (including tourists) have used the cable car in Alemão. But it could take 30,000 people per day.

It is not good that there are strong links between municipal, state, and federal government politicians. And the residents have no power to say anything because of the controlling PAC. ‘No-one talks to Rocinha about what is being done or what the community needs,’ explains one resident who did not give their name. ‘It is very likely that [Governor] Sérgio Cabral will not listen to what the people want.’

The day after the protest, Felipe Paiva, photographer and activist, who lives in Vidigal, wrote: ‘The favelas came down to the city. They made noise and left their message in a peaceful and orderly way. People say that the favela people are a mess - they have no idea of the beauty of yesterday. My congratulations to the people of Vidigal and Rocinha.’

(This was originally published on RioOnWatch. Crossposted with permission.)

As this article has been simplified, the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed. For the original, please see: http://newint.org/blog/2013/07/03/brazil-protest-world-cup/