Surveillance cameras in the favelas (4): more from the other side

The mainstream Bazilian media outlet, O Globo, is reporting that Fabiano Atanázio da Silva (AKA ‘FB’ or ‘Urubu’), allegedly a leader of the Amigos dos Amigos (‘Friends of Friends’) on Morro de Macaros, who recently tried  to take control of the neighbouring favela, Morro São João, resulting in many deaths and even bringing down a police helicopter, had also installed a video surveillance system in his favela, which monitored the entrances of the favela and watched the movements of police and residents. So, it seems that it is clearly the traficante gangs who were first to install CCTV in the favelas of Rio for the purposes of helping to maintain a violent authority over the local area. The form of surveillance is what Bruno Latour perceptively called ‘oligoptic’ – a spatially limited vision but one which is very powerful within its limits. And of course, given the massive extent of private security and both legal and illegal surveillance equipment available in Brazil, it’s hardly surprising that gangs with disposable cash would invest in security like this. However, what is particularly interesting is that by doing the same thing and installing a video surveillance system in Santa Marta against the wishes of the local community, the military police are seen as effectively operating like a gang. This isn’t such a startling statement and was one which was quite frequently put to us by community representatives who we interviewed in the favelas of Rio earlier this year.

(thanks, again, to the invaluable Paola Barreto Leblanc for the information).

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…

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…).

The last progressive government of Rio?

Leonel Brizola, 1922-2004
Leonel Brizola, 1922-2004

One question that has been preoccupying my thoughts recently has been the question of why the simple things are not being done in Rio to address the problems of the favelas: sanitation, education, healthcare etc… many of the people we have talked to look back to the regime of Leonel Brizola, the Governor of the State of Rio de Janeiro from 1983 to 1987 and then again from 1991 to 1994. Brizola was a left-progressive populist, a social democrat and a former opponent of the dictatorship who had had to live in exile for much of the 1970s. Sadly he died in 2004, but we had the opportunity this week to talk to his former Secretary of State for Public Security, and also briefly Governor himself from 1994-5, Nilo Batista.

We met Professor Batista in the Instituto Carioca de Crimonologia (ICC), an independent research organisation, which he runs (and funds from his legal work), along with his wife, sociologist, Vera Malaguti Batista. The Institute is housed in a sleek modern building up in the hills of Santa Teresa, from whose picture windows the city below is all but invisible and the bay appears almost as it was when Europeans first arrived. However, the concerns of the Institute are very much with the reality of the city today.

We had a long and wide-ranging conversation, which would be impossible to recount in detail here, but the basis of it was an understanding of Brazilian society, and in particular that of Rio, based on the ongoing legacies of the past, in particular slavery and authoritarianism. Vera Malaguti’s book, O Medo na Cidade do Rio de Janeiro: dois tempos de uma historia (Fear in the City of Rio de Janeiro: one story in two periods) examines previous periods of revolt by Africans in Brazil and argues that the often unspoken elite fear of the africanisation of Brazil. They argue that repressive public security strategies today are founded in this same fundamental fear, driven by the media that serves the powerful middle classes who aspire to elite values and lifestyles.

In opposition they place Brizola and that brief (and they argue, unrepeated) period at the end of the dictatorship when social justice and in particular, education, were priorities and favelas were provided with services in the same way as any other neighborhood. The security strategy of Brizola and Batista was effectively one of anti-stigmatisation. They argue that since then, media-driven fear and repression has been far more the norm and this had undermined the progress made under Brizola.The current public security-based strategy of the Governor Cabral and the ‘choque de ordem’ of Giuliani-wannabe Mayor Eduardo Paes, is one example. By concentrating on ‘pacifying’ one or two places as examples (Santa Marta and Cidade de Deus at present) without being able to afford the same strategy elsewhere, it constitutes simply a public relations exercise, and elsewhere repression without development continues as normal.

The Batistas are passionate and well-motivated, but there are many who argue that this picture of a progressive Brizola regime subsequently undermined by repressive policies is at the very least, a limited view. It was, after all, under Brizola that the traffickers grew in power and acquired weapons; the mid-eighties was the key period here as the cocaine trade grew from almost nothing to being the driving force of gang activity in Rio. This isn’t just a view held by political opponents: whilst he certainly does not (and could not with any justification) claim that the rise of the cocaine trade was anything to do with Brizola, Enrique Desmond Arias in Drugs and Democracy in Rio de Janeiro, argues that the personalist populism of Brizola undermined the leadership of the Community Associations in the favelas and left them open to co-option by drug gangs. When we visited the office of the current Secretary of State for Security, Jose Mariano Beltrami, and talked with his representative, it was quite strongly argued that Brizola neglected the issue of the growing arming and violence of drug traffickers, and also did nothing to solve the massive problem of police corruption (on which I will write more later). The current longer-term strategy is now to recruit a lot more Military Police, in the hope that numbers will do what force has not, and enable the gangs to be beaten.

We also visited the office of a leading critic of human rights abuses, Alessandro Mollon, a Deputy in the State parliament. He said that Beltrami is actually shifting, without ever having admitted to it, from a very macho and repressive approach when he first arrived from the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, to a more considered (but hardly progressive) strategy now, of which the emphasis on police officers on the streets, rather than invasions, is one aspect.

Former Mayor of Rio, Cesar Maia
Former Mayor of Rio, Cesar Maia

The claim that Brizola was the last real progressive figure to lead Rio also neglects some others, particularly those who have held the office of the Mayor. Under Cesar Maia (1993-7; 2001-2008), the ‘Favela Bairro’ program had much in common with what Brizola did in social terms. Indeed when we asked the leader of the Morro dos Prazeres Community Association what would be the one thing she wanted above all else, it was ‘more Favela Bairro’. In Dona Marta they also had some time for the former governor, Anthony Garotinho (1999-2002) a frankly quite foolish evangelical populist, currently under investigation for corruption, as is his wife, Rosinha, who was Governor from 2003-7. However, we heard from others that the things that they attribute to Garotinho were actually planned or initiated under previous administrations and just did not see the light until his.

What is certainly the case is that Brizola had a better attitude to the favelados as people, than other administrations, regardless of his mistakes. The current regime certainly seems to be more driven far more by middle-class fears than by social progress, but it is also the constant undermining of the progress of previous administrations like Brizola’s and then later Maia’s terms as Mayor by new waves of media-courting repression that is so depressing in Rio. It happens in every democratic country, but here in Brazil there is the most blatant inequality of any wealthy country still crying out to be addressed. If it was, then most of the issues of ‘crime’ and ‘insecurity’ would start to disappear. It would, as Deputado Mollon also pointed out, be a lot cheaper than the massive amounts of money now going into the hands or private security companies – who, as Professor Batista noted are often run by the families of senior police officers, who therefore have no actual interest in reducing crime and every reason to want to see fear continue to grow.

(With thanks to Nilo Batista, Vera Malaguti Batista, Alessandro Mollon and the staff of the office of Jose Mariano Beltrami for their time and patience. In particular, I hope to return to the Instituto Carioca de Criminologia sometime in the future to talk about the findings of this project, and to submit something to their excellent journal, Discursos Sediciosos: crime, direito e sociedade)