Thursday, October 21, 2010

More Prejudice and Misinformation about Favelas

My good friend Jim Shattuck writes a blog about his life in Brazil and one person wrote below their opinions about a post Jim wrote about favela tours. I respect the idea that there are those who do not like favela tours. That is not the problem here.

I think it is important that readers know what is going on about favelas. I decided to respond to what this guy wrote. As a favela resident I am tired of being socially excluded, stigmatized and marginalized by people who do not know me or about the place I live. I am speaking up for all the people of the favelas as their voice need to be heard.

Ray’s post is in italics and mine is in bold font.

Jim’s website is below:

Ray Adkins writes:
 I totally respect your opinion and I admire your initiative, you will be doing more for Brazil in the short time you are there than most do their entire lives.

You make it sound like we in favelas have no hope. How wrong you are. Things are improving for favela residents.
It maybe slow in coming but we see it here in Rocinha with the PAC Project.

My personal opinion about favelas is that I am against the tours and I am also against ignoring them as if they didn't existed.

What he continues to write below has nothing to do about favela tours or the project we are trying to make here for the community. So you are also “against ignoring them as if they didn’t exist”. So how does a person learn or understand about favelas if they come to brazil and do not have access? What do you propose for favelas not to be ignored? Many people contrary to what people think, come on tours to understand the favelas and then return to volunteer or implement a project.

Ray, why is it that all you write is all negative things? Are you just trying to discourage people from helping? Whats your point? So, Ray do you have a solution? You can say tear all the favelas down but that is approximately 35% percent of Rio’s population. Or about 2.5 million people. Ray do you really think that the Brazilian government, as corrupt as it is has a true interest to help ALL the poor people in Rio? Especially by building housing for us people, I think not! (I am talking about Rio because I live here, Sao Paulo is another thing).

I find it interesting how people have opinions but based on what information? Where does the information come from media? people? Personal experience? It is difficult for me to read what this guy has written below because although there are some truths to what he says, there is also a lot of exagerrations or outright lies? Where do people get this stuff?

I would much rather hear somebodys opinion about something that is based on their personal experience rather than what they read or hear. By what this guy writes its obviously not from personal experience.

I think favelas are the most humiliating form of living besides being a homeless person, favelas are dangerous places because they are mostly built on the sides of mountains without any proper infra-structure and when there is a strong rain storm people living in favelas are under risk of being buried alive along with their children or they are built on the banks of polluted rivers and are subject to constant flooding.

Ok so YOU think they are humiliating forms of living. As somebody who lives in a favela, I actually like living here and do not feel humiliated by living here. That is something within YOU to say this. I am very proud to live here in Rocinha. We who live in favelas only want equal opportunity for jobs and to be treated with respect, nothing more. There are definitely challenges and problems but I find there is more a community spirit and people here actually CARE about each other compared to other places I lived in the world. I will never say favelas are paradise or perfect but then again paradise and perfection do not exist. But this is my life and I am happy in my current situation. I live in a house with four walls, a roof, electricity, water, a toilet that operates, and it is confortable.

So if I all in a sudden became rich and was to move out of the favela. What would I have? More stuff? A nicer place? Maybe…but would I be as happy as I am now? Probly not, becase I was not raised with upper class people. I have nothing in common with them. I have no interest in designer clothes, shoes, fancy cars..I am more interested in being part of a community that cares about me where I feel I have a valued place. Favela or not Rocinha is my home. I will not abandon her for money.
Being homeless is just that. Living on the streets is just that. Favelas are nothing like that. Favelas are tight knit communities where people work together and support each other.

It is true that in Rio most of the favelas are built on hillsides but not all are dangerous nor do we lack infrastructure. We have our own. The only thing that separates us from the formal city is money. We have had to create our own infrastructure where the government fail to help.

The reason favelas exist is becase of the lack of housing for the poor working class. Unlike other places we do not have the WELFARE system, the DOLE, food stamps, section 8 or whatever… that people can use, abuse and be lazy. People in favelas live there becase there is no other option.


Favelas far away in the north or west zones have more problems and challenges compared to where I live.
In Rocinha 95% of the homes are made of brick and cement and are built solidly into the earth. We have two areas Macega and Roupa Suja high up the hill with about 40 shacks that are in the process of going to be removed.

Last April about 200 people died from the heavy rains and most were in two favelas, Morro dos Prazers in Santa Teresa and Morro do Bumba in Niteroi. Prazers hill has always had problems with mudslides unfortunately and Bumba was the favela that was built on top of a garbage dump. With these two areas I agree with what the writer says. I do not know much about Sao Paulo favelas as I do not live there and feel it incorrect to write about something that I haven’t experienced personally.

I think favelas are dangerous because people living in them make illegal electrical connections to steal electricity and live under constant risk of electric shocks and devastating fires, which have happened lately in Sao Paulo favelas and have been widely reported on the media.

In some favelas this is true but in Rocinha where I live we have a company called LIGHT that is a joint venture of Brazilian and Canadian. We have a power grid at the bottom of the hill and most people DO PAY for their electricity. There will always be those who cheat whether it be steal electricity, cable or internet. When I lived in the USA I knew many people cheating the system. Its is not right, but people do it. All I can tell you is that I DO PAY a monthly electric bill. As for fires we have are usually due to stupid people burning garbage. Again I can not speak about Sao Paulo.

I think favelas are dangerous because they live off the grid,on stolen and invaded property, pay no taxes, have little or no social services such as Fire Departments, Police and Ambulance services due to difficult access due to it's lack of planning for streets or any access what so ever.

In Rocinha we have our own firemen (Rambo da Rocinha being one) and since the building of the new hospital UPA, we do now have ambulances that go through our community. We have one main street and three smaller streets at the bottom of the favela. But Ray is correct that many favelas have dirst roads and not paved streets.

You need to understand the history of how favelas came to be and the laws about open not private land. Its obvious Ray that you are not from Brazil. Laws are different in other countries, you know? Some favelas do live off the grid and the land at the turn of the century was given to the people as the government did not follow through on their promise. The promise was that for those soldiers who fought in the Canudos War (1893-1897) on the side of the government, in the northeast of Brazil. The soldiers would receive in exchange jobs and housing. The soldiers were able to find jobs, but the government lied to the people and did not provide or help them with housing. Instead the government told the ex-soldiers that they could build their houses on the hills. The first official favela was Morro da Providencia (1898) which still exists today. So, this was how the favelas began being named after the thorny plant that grew on the hillsides.

There is also a law pertaining to open non private land that if a person can put up a house overnight and it is considered stable, they cannot be removed. This is foreign to people in other countries because of boundaries and laws, but this is how it works here. This is one reason the favelas grew. Lack of affordable housing for poor working class. If they want favelas to go away, the city needs to have a higher minimum wage, people have to pay their help more, so the poor have options other than favelas. But, please who are we kidding, favelados serve a purpose for low paid labor and the upper classes certainly do not want to pay us more..

I would love to see Rio run one week without “favelados” (favela residents like ME)..the city would shut down and collapse. Without us the city could not operate. Who would clean the streets, clean and services hotels and restarantes? Who would drive the buses the metro or taxis?

As for taxes again you do not know Brazilian law. If you earn under 1200 reais a month, you do not need pay taxes. In Rocinha the average salary is from 600-900 reais a month. Something many do not consider is that when we buy things, there is a fixed tax built into the price so we do pay taxes in that respect. But we receive nothing in return.

They living off the grid of society and the lack of easy access also allows drug traffic and other criminal organizations to hide and thrive inside favelas and with the complete lack of social order and little reach from organized society, favela residents have no choice but to fear and protect criminals under the so called "Lei do Silencio" "Silence Law", in other words, you should not be a "rat" like the mafia would say it, you should never be a witness to any crime, you should always be quiet.

Yes, we do have the drug dealers but they do not mess with “trabalhadores” or workers. They do not control my life or anyone elses. And I certainly do not live in fear of them. They do their thing and I do mine.

The reason I do not snitch is becase I never have liked or trusted the police. Nobody in Rio likes the police or trusts them. They are undertrained, trigger happy corrupt ASSHOLES. Even the rich do not like them becase they always try to extort bribes. Maybe is Sao Paulo it is diferent but this is the way it is in Rio. When I leave the favela the police abuse me, put me on the wall search me and treat me like a dog. I am a honest hardworking person just trying to live a peaceful life. We who have lived in Rio and understood the military dictatorship still have trust issues with the system. It is very corrupt here. Lula has helped the poor more than most presidents but the corruption is still engrained especially in the police forces. So, who do you chose? The traffickers who leave me alone, who live in the community and do contribute to things here or do I trust the police, who don’t live here and abuse me everytime I step outside the favela?

Its very complicated. The drug lords work in conjunction with the government and police. The traffickers of course are NOT angels and do horrible things but the police do worse. We all know the traffickers evil side but with the police they are supposed to be the good guy, but they are not!!! When I lived in the USA I would not hesitate to ask a policeman for directions or talk to them but here, why? So they can harass me or try to get money from me?

Contrary to what you think Ray, there is actually more social order here. People do not steal, rob, rape, kill, molest kids…we do not have these problems. Our kids can run freely in our streets without a problem (unless of course the police come in). The traffickers act like police within the community and punish those who break these rules. Becase I am honest, I have no problems with the rules. And certainly do NOT live in fear!!! I feel free here as I can walk the streets at any hour and not be hassled by anyone. I would NEVER walk in Copacabana late at night. Funny to think that the places you think of being most dangerous can be safer than the formal city. The ONLY time the favela is dangerous is when the police try to enter. Do you know the traffickers PAY THE POLICE to stay out of the favela? That is how deep the corruption goes.

Favelas in Rio have fake streets and fake store fronts and home fronts to deceive and sometimes even trap police and unwanted intruders, many residents know about it but are not allowed to talk under fear.

In Rocinha and Vidigal two favelas that I have lived this is not true! Please Ray tell me, where does this place exist?

Society should put their efforts in getting rid of all favelas, destroying all the dangerous homes hanging from a cliff and build decent apartment communities for these people in safe areas where they will have access to legal and safe electrical service, where they will live on a street with regular police presence and Fire and Ambulance service available to them as well as other community services available to the rest of Rio, who pays taxes and enjoy them, where they won't be under constant risk of being buried alive by a mountain side or a raging river.

Good luck, getting rid of all favelas, nice idea? Do you really think the government wants to do this? Boy, would it be great if everybody could be equal and live happily ever after..sorry but you are living in dreamland!! Mother nature is cruel no matter where you live..some favelas yes have problems as you have mentioned but living in the flatlands people have problems too.

So they want to live in the center of it all, even by risking their lives and there is plenty of people who think favelas are a romantic part of the scene and there is nothing wrong with living that way.

Romantic..please can you explain to me how a favela is romantic? Who thinks like this..favelas are just places where people live..what do you mean "Living that way?" I live like you, only I may not have many material think I live in a bad way? You need to come here and see for yourself..

..that along with the complacency of many and the ones who just ignore it...nothing or little will ever happen to improve the poor living situation of this humiliated part of society in Rio.

So, Ray, what is your plan? You talk a lot with your “opinions” but what is your plan of action? You are the one that says "Humiliated", but I am no shamed to live in a favela..

Not to mention that many "middle and upper class" cariocas need the favelas to buy their daily drug of choice near their it sounds like nothing will ever be done to change that if you wait on the Cariocas who benefit from the presence of the favelas.

Drugs are a WORLD problem, not just a problem in the favelas. Those upper class not only buy their drugs but also get the use of cheap labor from the favelas. Why would they want to lose this? I do not like drugs but all I can do is be a good representative of my community and help show the kids that there are other options than entering the drug trade.

Maybe they should just paint all the favela houses in white, it would look just like those coastal Greek towns on the side of mountains.
I know this is not a popular opinion but I thought there should be nothing wrong if it is expressed with respect and honesty.

Paint on the houses would be nice, I agree!!! Respect would be if you could actually speak from experience rather than media or hearing stuff from people (and are those people from favelas or just neighbors?). If you actually lived in a favela, you would have been more specific or mentioned names of places. Remember real people live in favelas and the last time I asked about 85% in Rocinha are happy, like me and do not want to move. Services are nice but what really brings me happiness is a community where I am loved, cared for, needed and wanted, not the invisible world of some penthouse apartment in Leblon. My spirit would die if I had to live there. Everybody values different things and at age 48 I am happy right where I am. I love Rocinha and Rocinha loves me too!!!