Rio de Janeiro to continue in hardline direction

The Brazilian presidential elections may be only at the half-way stage – with Lula’s hand-picked successor, Dilma Rousseff, not quite securing the 50% she needed to avoid a run-off, largely due to a late surge by the radical Green Party candidate, Maria Silva – but the results of the elections for Rio de Janeiro’s Governor were much clearer. The incumbent, Sergio Cabral, was easily re-elected with just over 66% of the vote. Second was, once again, a Green Party candidate, Fernando Gabeira, with almost 21%, followed by a slew of minor candidates.

Cabral was expected to win as he is supported by the growing middle classes who have done well due to the economic bouyancy of Rio in the last few years. However, it is by no means clear that this result will do much good for the poorest in society. Cabral, along with the Mayor Eduardo Paes, favours a hardline approach to the favelas and their inhabitants, favouring a law-enforcement and crime-control approach to a social one – what Paes calls the choque de ordem. In this sense he is out of step with the national government, however for the middle class of Rio reading their copies of O Globo behind the doors of their secured apartments, the favelas represent not an unfair city which is still unable to close the massive gap between the rich, growing ever richer, and the poor, but a spectre of criminal disorder and a source of fear

The upcoming mega-events, particularly the FIFA World Cup, 2014, and the Olympics in 2016, have only strengthened the feeling amongst the privileged that Rio must simply crack down on violence rather than dealing with the underlying problems (poverty and the international drugs and small arms trades) that fuel the violence. What this means in practice is ‘out of sight, out of mind’: walling off favelas, installing surveillance cameras, stopping the illegal street vending that gives many in the favelas some small hope of a livelihood, and demolishing high-profile new construction.

*For more on my work in Brazil and in Rio de Janeiro, see the entries from January to April last year…

Morro dos Prazares to be demolished?

Eduardo Paes, the hardline Mayor of Rio de Janeiro, has indicated that he may try to demolish the favelas that were affected by recent flooding and landslides, including Morro dos Prazeres, where 25 died, and where I visited last year. Paes is no friend of the poor and his concern for their welfare appears feigned. It is more likely that he will use any excuse, including the recent tragedy, to erase the political and security problem that these informal settlements that cover Rio’s hillsides represent. This will of course accelerate as we approach the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympics… and as to what will happen to the people who live in Morro dos Prazeres, nothing so far.

Meet Rio’s new security advisor…

if this appointment is any sign of what is to come… this is going to be war on the favelas.

So, with Rio de Janeiro now hosting the FIFA World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016, and a huge set of social problems providing big obstacles to a PR success and the place climbing the world rankings of ‘global cities’, who have the right-wing administration of Governor Sergio Cabral and Mayor Eduardo Paes appointed to advise them on security?

Rudy Giuliani

Well, it’s none other than Mr Zero Tolerance himself, the ex-Mayor of New York and failed presidential candidate, Rudy Giuliani.

As I’ve argued before, Giuliani’s macho urban politics have inspired the new tough choque de ordem (shock of order) approach that has flourished under Paes undermining the previous progressive social measures of former Mayor Cesar Maia, in particular the Favela Bairro program that attempted to make the illegal settlements in which the excluded minority of Rio’s population live, into normal functioning neighbourhoods. Cabral and Paes have turned this back into an ongoing confrontation, which is costing lives and livelihoods, and if this appointment is any sign of what is to come, the World Cup and the Olympics are going to mean more than just the usual high security and surveillance exhibition that these mega-events have become – this is going to be war on the favelas and war on the poor.

(As ever, thanks to my eyes in Rio, Paola Baretto Leblanc, for the link).

Rio gets the Olympics – and now the poor will suffer

Most people will probably have heard the announcement that Rio de Janeiro has been awarded the 2016 Olympic Games. While I am pleased that Brazil has beaten the USA in particular in this race in the sense that it shows a slight shift in global power balances towards the global south, I am very concerned as to how the current right-wing administration of both the city and region of Rio will deal with the ‘security’ issues around this mega-event. The Pan-American Games, which Rio hosted in 2007 led to the violent occupation by military police of several particularly troubled favelas (informal settlements), and the new administration has already shown its authoritarian tendencies with the Giuliani- wannabe ‘choque de ordem’ (shock of order) policies that involve building demolition, crackdowns on illegal street vendors (i.e. the poor) and more recently, the building of walls around certain favelas, and most recently the unwelcome  imposition of CCTV cameras on favelas that were just starting to enjoy improvements in trust between police and community. The favelas that line the main highways into the city from the international airport were already slated for such ghettoization, and the Olympics will only make this more likely to happen and more quickly – just as has happened in South Africa, similarly afflicted by race and class-based social conflict, during the various international meetings and summits there in recent years. Foreign delegates and tourists don’t like to see all that nasty poverty, do they?

I will write more on this later (I am on the road right now…).

At the Instituto de Segurança Pública

Paola and I had a very productive interview with Colonel Mario Sergio de Brito Duarte, the Director President of the Institute for Public Security (ISP) in Rio de Janeiro. The ISP is a state-level organisation with multiple functions including research on public security and the compilation of crime statistics; professional development for the police services (and also more broadly to encourage greater cooperation and coordination between military and civil police); and community involvement and participation in the development of security policy. The Colonel gave us an hour and a half of his time to explain his view on a wide range of issues around crime, security, the problems of the favelas, and the potential for surveillance, social interventions and policing in solving these problems.

As with many senior police (and military) officers with whom I have talked over the years, the Colonel is an educated, thoughtful man who has strong views based in his experiences as a front-line officer with the Policia Militar in Rio (including some years in BOPE, the special operations section) – as detailed in his book, Incursionanda no Inferno (Incursions into the Inferno). Despite how the title may sound, he was far from being gung-ho or authoritarian in his views, emphasising throughout, as with almost everyone I have talked to, that socio-economic solutions will be the only long-term guarantee of public security in Rio. And he certainly had no sympathy for the illegal actions of militias, despite understanding why they emerged and continued to be supported by some sections of the community.

However, it was also clear to him that current policies like Mayor Eduardo Paes’ ‘choque de ordem’ strategy which involves demolitions of illegally-built houses in the favelas, was absolutely necessary as well. He spent some time outlining his view of the history of how drug gangs infiltrated and gained control of many favelas, an in particular the importance of their obtaining high quality small arms – though he was vague on exactly where these arms came from – I have, of course, heard allegations from other interviewees that corrupt soldiers and policemen were one common source of such weapons.

From the point of view of surveillance studies, it was notable how profoundly indifferent the Colonel appeared to be towards he growth of surveillance, and in particular CCTV cameras. He argued that they might be a useful supplement to real policing, but he certainly did not appear to favour a UK-style ‘surveillance society’ – of which, at least in Rio, there seems little sign as yet. He was similarly indifferent towards other central state social interventions like the Programa Bolsa Familia (PBF), and initiatives like ID cards – of course they might help in some way, but he certainly made no attempt to ague, as the UK government has done, that such technology will make a big difference to fighting crime and terrorism (indeed it was interesting that ‘terrorism’ was not mentioned at all – I guess that, when you have to deal with the constant reality of poverty, drugs and fighting between police and gangs, there is no need to conjure phantasms of terror). Even so, the Colonel recognised that the media in Rio did create fantasies of fear to shock the middle classes, and that this sensationalism did harm real efforts to create safer communities.

There was a lot more… but that will have to wait until I have had the whole interview transcribed and translated. In the meantime, my thanks to Colonel Mario Sergio Duarte and to the very nice and helpful ISP researcher Vanessa Campagnac, one of the authors of the analysis of the Rio de Janeiro Victimisation Survey, who talked to us about more technical issues around crime statistics.