Surveillance cameras in the favelas (3): the other side

As my collaborator in Rio de Janeiro, Paola Barreto Leblanc, points out to me, it isn’t just the police (see previous posts here and here) who have been installing surveillance cameras in the favelas. Accoring to UOL, in September 2008, the military police found a whole clandestine CCTV system of 12 cameras, and a control room hidden behind a false wall, in Parada de Lucas, a favela in the Zona Norte of the city. The cameras covered all the entrances to the favela. The system was allegedly operated by a drug-trafficking gang but since the room was, according to the reports, destroyed in the police attack, and no one was captured, it is hard to verify the story… however it is not surprising that a major illegal commercial operation would seek to have early warning of police (and other gang) raids in this way. Indeed, this system may well have been the reason why no traficantes were caught in the raid in question. From the interview we did earlier in the year, it seems clear that the favelas have intense human surveillance systems of mutual observation, whether they are gang-controlled, community-controlled or police-‘pacified’ morros. Very little goes on in the crowded informal settlements that almost everyone will not know about. Of course, the nature of the power-structure within the favela will determine to whose benefit such knowledge works. CCTV in a context like this can be seen as a sign of insecurity and weakness. Perhaps the Parada de Lucas gang felt that they were losing their grip, and the cameras in Santa Marta installed by the military police certainly seem to indicate a lack of trust in the community and the civil pacification measures – investment, infrastructure development, regular meetings and confidence-building – so far undertaken.

Surveillance cameras in the favelas (2)

A couple of weeks ago, I found out that the military police had installed surveillance cameras in the favela of Santa Marta, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which I visited back in April. This is the first time such police cameras have been put into such informal settlements in Rio. My friend and colleague, Paola Barreto Leblanc, sent me this link to these youtube broadcasts from a local favela TV company, in which residents discuss their (largely negative) views of the cameras.

There is also a poster that has been put up around the area produced by the Community Association and other local activist and civil society groups – see here – which reads as follows in English:


At the end of August, the inhabitants of Santa Marta were surprised to learn from newspapers and TV that nine surveillance cameras would be installed in different areas of the favela. A fear of being misinterpreted paralysed the community.

Many of the people of the city, and some in the Moro itself support this initiative.  However, we are a pacified favela, so why do they keep treating us as dangerous?

Walls, three kinds of police, 120 soldiers, cameras – this is no exaggeration.  When will we be treated as ordinary citizens instead of being seen as suspects?

Wall: 2 million Reais, Cameras, half a million Reais. How many houses could this amount of money build? How many repairs to the water and sewage system?

The last apartments built in Santa Marta are 32 square metres. The Popular Movement for Housing [an NGO] says that the minimum size should be 42 square metres. Other initiatives have gone with 37 square metres. So why don’t we stand up and demand this minimum standard? This should be our priority!

When will the voice of the inhabitants of this community be heard?

We need collective discussion and debate.

Fear is paralysing this community and preventing criticism. But the exercise of our rights is the only guarantee of freedom.

“Peace without a voice is fear”

We want to discuss our priorities. We want to know about and be involved in the urban development project in Santa Marta.

We will only be heard and respected if we unite.

Think, talk, reflect, debate, get involved…

Surveillance cameras in the favelas…

Well, my fears have it seems, been vindicated already. Earlier this year, as part of my case-study on surveillance in Brazil, I visited the community of Santa Marta, a favela (informal settlement) in Rio de Janeiro. Santa Marta is interesting because of the amount of investment and effort that has been expended in occupying, pacifying and developing the place, by the new gubernatorial administration of Eduardo Paes, who has simultaneously cancelled Favela Bairro, the widely praised and more extensive favela development programs of his predecessor, Cesar Maia.

Leading the new Community Police efforts in Santa Marta was Capitao Pricilla, an indomitable and well-liked young female officer of the Military Police, one of several rising female officers with a new approach, and we heard from residents how trust was being rebuilt between police and community because of her. At the same time, there were storm clouds on the horizon as the city administration was insistent on cracking down still further with its policies of choque de ordem (the shock of order), which involved harassing illegal street vendors from the favelas, and demolishing illegally-built buildings, and also building walls along the edges of some favelas. The word ‘ghetto’ was mentioned on more than one occasion by our interviewees and in more casual conversations.

Now, just last month, the Military Police have decided to install seven CCTV cameras in Santa Marta, in different areas of the community. This has prompted complaints of invasion of privacy, an there have already, my sources report, been protests about this in he favela, but it seems that this is coming from further up the chain of command than Capitao Pricilla and the community police. She isn’t mentioned at all by the article in O Globo, despite being a bit of a PR star, and instead the justification for the cameras is given by one Coronel José Carvalho, who also stated that there are plans to put cameras into the other two areas currently being targeted for development, the famous Cidade de Deus, and the much less well-known and more distant favela of Batan. This also contradicts what I was being told by the Commnder of the police central CCTV control room we visited, which is quoted as being one of the places where the cameras will be monitored. What is interesting is the cameras seem to be being treated by police almost as a tool of urban warfare: a Major Orderlei Santos talks about their experimental use for determine the deployment of officers in the favela.

Could the old macho, male, approach to policing as a war on the poor be trumping the new trust being developed by community policing? I hope not, but everything points that way.

(thanks once again to Paola and David for keeping me in touch…)

Big Mothers not Big Brother? Women changing Rio

The Guardian today has an interesting report on how women are getting to more senior positions in the police in Rio de Janeiro and changing the way policing is done as a result. I reported on my own observation of this back in April, an whilst there are many bright young female officers who want to do things differently, the top echelons of Brazilian policing are still a long way from being feminized and these young guns may not ever get much higher up to where policy is made. There’s also suspicions that such officers are being used largely for their PR value and to defend the police against being just another macho gang.

Of course, there’s more going on than just in the police. A whole generation of men lost to the drugs war has left women in more influential positions within community organisations in the favelas of Rio – we met several during our research. Considering the lack of effective state surveillance and the relative increase in power and local knowledge of these women both in community associations and the police in Brazil, I jokingly referred to them as ‘not so much Big Brother as Big Mothers’…

SIVAM and Brazilian extremist nationalism

A Brazilian nationalist street stall in Rio
A Brazilian nationalist street stall in Rio

Whilst finishing up my work in Rio de Janeiro yesterday, I came across this interesting bunch of people, mv-brasil, who appear to be a Brazilian nationalist movement, with much in common with organisations like the British National Party or the various right-wing groups in the USA. Their website contains the usual odd mixture of anti-globalisation, evangelical Christian (they campaign against Halloween) and anti-United Nations / New World Order stuff with the added anti-Americanism. There of course is the usual rather uncomfortable fact of the ‘Brazilian Christian’ nationalist being a representative of a colonial power that invaded the country and took it from the indigenous people, but they roll over this one with some nods to Indian rights when it suits their cause, most notably when it comes to the Amazon.

A t-shirt with anti-internationalisation and privatisation of the Amazon slogan
A t-shirt with anti-internationalisation and privatisation of the Amazon slogan

One of the T-shirts for sale makes reference to this, being against ‘internationalisation and privatisation’ of the Amazon by the USA. It is a conspiracy theory I’ve come across before when I was doing some research on the SIVAM program – which provides some actual evidence for contentions that there is a secret American program to control the rainforest. I had someone tell me here in complete good faith that it was a ‘fact’ that several Amazonian tribes already thought that they were part of the USA and flew the US flag! This is combined with the fact the UN and international environmental organisations are very concerned about the destruction of the rainforest and the perceived lack of effort by successive Brazilian administrations to stop it. Put all this together and you have the ingredients for nationalist paranoia.

sivam_logoSo what is SIVAM? And why would I be interested in it anyway? The reason is that SIVAM is a surveillance system. Announced at the Earth Summit in 1992, and finally completed in 2002 and fully operationial from 2004, the Sistema de Vigilância da Amazônia (SIVAM) is a multipurpose, multi-agency network of satellite, aerial and ground surveillance and response that aims to monitor the illegal traffic of drugs and forest animals and plants, control national borders and those of indigenous peoples’ lands, and prevent the further destruction of protected areas of forest. A good technical account in English can be found in Aviation Today from 2002, and there is an interesting article on its construction here.

Donald Rumsefld visits the SIVAM control centre, 23 March 2005 (Wikimeda Commons)
Donald Rumsefld visits the SIVAM control centre, 23 March 2005 (Wikimeda Commons)

The problem is that, although an initiative of various Brazilian government agencies including the environment and Indian affairs ministries, the federal police and the army, SIVAM is supported and funded by the USA – most of the initial $1.39Bn US cost came through a grant from the U.S. Export-Import Bank, and the consortium that supplies the equipment includes giant US military supplier, Raytheon – amongst many others from Brazil to Sweden. The visit of former President George W. Bush’s right-hand man and then Secretary of State for Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, to the SIVAM control centre in 2005, was widely reported in Bazil. It was of course interpreted by many as further evidence of Brazil’s ceding of control of the Amazon to the USA, or even presaging a US invasion of the Amazon, as Senator Norm Coleman discovered on a fact-finding mission later that year.

Latin American countries have every right to be suspicious of US motives: the Monroe Doctrine; George Kennan’s Cold War ‘grand area’ vision; the support for dictators like Augosto Pinochet; the invasions of Panama and Grenada; Plan Columbia and the widespread use of military ‘advisors’… the list goes on. And it is certainly the case that US strategic surveillance plans for ‘Full Spectrum Dominance’ and the like, have have long included ‘leveraging’ any system in which they are involved from the International Space Station to things like SIVAM. So of course they will have a strategic interest, and no doubt SIVAM data will find its way to US military C4ISR centres, but this does not amount to a plan to invade Brazil or take control of the Amazon.