As beautiful as the country is, Brazil has suffered for decades from the creation and development of shantytowns, known to locals as favelas, where poverty, violence and anarchy frequently dictate a ruthless way of life. The absence of state presence in the communities has made of favelas perfect centers for drug trafficking and violence. Major cities throughout the country, especially in the state of Rio de Janeiro, have fallen victims of this troubling situation.
In a desperate attempt to establish some form of security, a couple of years ago, Rio de Janeiro’s authorities created the state’s Pacifying Police Units (UPP), which have been welcome by the local and neighboring communities. UPPs have been established in 13 slums, and have been coupled with other efforts intended to bring basic services to the local communities. The objective is to provide favelas with safety and basic services, in order to reduce local violence and relentless drug-trafficking crimes. As a result, it appears that after decades of negligence and chaos, favelas may soon join the country’s socioeconomic progress, but not without a fight.
Favela Lords are showcasing their tactics, designed to remind everyone of their power and ability to be violent. It has become evident that they will not be displaced without bloodshed. In the last few weeks, Favela Lords have created havoc in their own towns. Indeed, in a huge sign of defiance, on Nov. 21, 2010 they began a series of attacks against the local inhabitants and police. Up until last week, well over 100 vehicles had been burned and dozens of people had been hurt and attacked.Their objective is to instill fear in the community in order to retain control of the favelas.
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A Group 78 resident holds up a drawing showing the size of the land to which she has strong claims. © CLEC
How many times, in how many countries, in how many cities, have we heard this story? Governments try to force poor people off land they’ve lived on for years, sometimes decades, so that it can be developed and put to “better use”. Who cares if they’re shoving people into slums with no running water or sewage system? Who cares if moving them will not only adversely affect their health but also their livelihood? After all, it’s the government’s responsibility to “clean up the trash” to make way for progress, right?
Tell that to the nearly 150 families in Phnom Penh, Cambodia who city authorities have threatened with forced eviction from land known as Group 78 since June 2006. Most are poor street vendors; some are teachers or low-level civil servants. The area they would be moved to has no water supply or sewage systems, and the cost of transportation from there to city far exceeds the expected daily earnings of most street vendors and junior civil servants.
The families have applied for formal title to their land several times. They have official documentation proving that they have lived on the site for long enough to claim title, but the authorities have rejected all their applications. The community has even engaged architecture students to produce plans to develop the site while they are still resident in order to show that eviction is not essential for development.
Cambodia is certainly not the only country with housing rights issues, and the more you read, the more overwhelmed you can feel. How can we ever put a stop to it all? Well, you have to start somewhere, so I plan to write a letter for the residents of Group 78 in this year’s Write-a-thon.