Look into a Brazilian Jail

Check out this blog post from Jay Bauman

Rio de paz
“Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” – Hebrews 13:3

Last weekend I had the unique opportunity to again go inside a Brazilian jail. Words can not express the experience, but i will try.

Rio de Paz, our sister organization here in Rio de Janeiro, has been working in this jail for a couple of months. But this particular weekend only myself and a handful of people were there, and what happened was shocking. The heat was unbearable in the jail. It was a very hot day in Rio, and inside the prison it was at least 90 degrees farenheit. In these jail cells are 60 men, in cells designed for 14 men. Most of the guys were sweating like crazy and some were fainting. We saw one men urinating on himself because of the intense heat. The men who fainted, if they were lucky, were taken into a “care” area which was basically a room with a concrete floor.

At the same time, the concept of rehabilitation appears to be entirely foreign to the Brazilian system. Nothing I saw would ever cause a man in this jail to change his ways, apart from an exceptional encounter with the living God. To be sure, some of these men are very, very dangerous (a couple probably even serial killers), but others were simply arrested for carrying a few marijuana seeds. Some in the jail were even framed because of the power of the rival drug gangs in Rio. It’s hard to describe how the system works but basically, the gangs oftentimes have more power than the police, and even the justice system.

You will see in the “rehabilitation” segment of the video, that they had a funk music band come in and play, I guess to help alleviate the guys stress. At one point one of the prisoners did not like that I was taping and so he abruptly tried to put an end to that.

What’s strange is that in this jail, the prisoners run key aspects of it. Several of them (certainly a minority) who are friends with police have the capacity to walk around freely in unsecured areas, while the majority of the prisoners are locked up like animals in these cells. Basically if you have money, or white enough skin (generally speaking) or are involved in white-collar crime, there is a totally different area for you, if you have to go to jail at all. It may be simplistic to say, but this type of jail does nothing except dehumanize someone and probably make them a total terror to society once they get out.

While any of us who have personally experienced the crimes that some of these men committed could possibly justifiably say – “They deserve this, and more” – the problem is not so much a lack of justice, as it is a lack of a solution. When human rights are violated to the extreme degree, the conscience of a society, and a culture, is completely corrupted. When men are treated as animals, they will leave the system in the same way they have been treated. And we see this on the city streets of Rio de Janeiro.

In this case Brazil, whom wants to move from a third-world to a first-world country, has much work to do. President Lula, at times appearing bordering on arrogant, may need a reality check. With the recent win of the Olympics and an economy largely propped up by foreign investment (whom he takes credit for getting the country “out of the recession”), he has some serious work to do in confronting issues of human rights.

I love Brazil about as much as any American. But I can not do anything except to expose the truth, so that the international community sees injustice and responds.


December 5, 2009 at 1:47 am Leave a comment

Favela walls?

Walls are going up around the hillside slums of Rio de Janeiro, further dividing a city already separated between rich and poor.

Beneath the gaze of the statue of Christ the Redeemer, work is nearing completion on one of 19 walls to be built around the city’s sprawling favelas — the informal and often crime-ridden shantytowns that are home to more than a million people.

Critics say that the concrete barriers, up to 3m high, will seal the favelas as ghettos, segregating the inhabitants by sealing them off from the richer areas.

“We had the Berlin Wall, we have the walls of Palestine, now the walls of Rio,” José Saramago, the author and Nobel laureate, said.

Sérgio Cabral, the Governor of Rio, has plans to surround 13 favelas in the south almost completely in a project that he says is designed to stop their sprawl destroying the last of the city’s forested peaks. In a city riven by violence, mistrust and social inequality, few believe him.

“The Government does not have access to the favelas, so they are going to encircle them,” says Rossino de Castro Diniz, the president of the Association of Rio Favelas.

About a fifth of Rio’s six million inhabitants live in its 946 favelas, which have grown rapidly in the past decade. Many are controlled by drug traffickers, armed police can enter only in force and every week people die in pitched gun battles.

In the Rocinha favela, home to an estimated 160,000 residents and the largest slum in South America, rubbish is piled up, sewers overflow and there is a huge rat infestation.

“I am totally against the wall,” says Antonio Ferreira de Mello, known locally as Shaolin, who is the president of the residents’ association. “It’s an offence to human dignity.”

He says that the association, despite struggling to cope with the rapid expansion of the favela, has banned further building on new land so the Government’s ecological argument is redundant. Instead, expansion in Rocinha is vertical — one storey on top of another.

At the highest reaches of Rocinha, among the trees on a vertiginous slope, a wall is also under way. Far below is the city and above there is nothing but trees. It is a wild place.

“There are a lot of animals here,” says Waldir Domingo da Silva, who lives in one of the wooden shacks in one of the highest reaches. “Snakes. Scorpions. It’s a forest.”

The authorities say that the walls are designed to keep it that way. Icaro Moreno Junior, the president of Emop, the Rio state public works department, says that if nothing is done the green space will be gone in ten years. “We are protecting the forest,” he says. “We’re not dividing people . . . It’s crazy to compare it to the wall of Berlin or the wall of the Gaza Strip.”

In Dona Marta, on the slopes of Corcovado below the statue of Christ and once one of Rio’s most dangerous favelas, a new wall is almost finished. Its building has been carefully co-ordinated with other public works and the project has more widespread support.

Joel Miguel Rondon, 52, is one of the many residents working on it. “It’s a good idea,” he says. “Protect the environment.”

Since the police took control of Dona Marta in November and installed a base there, it has also become more secure and state money has been spent on a crèche, new housing and a network of secure concrete walkways instead of the usual treacherous paths. A free tram that opened in May last year climbs the favela’s steep gradient, lifting passengers to its dizzy heights.

“It got better with the wall,” says José Raimundo Brito do Santa, 26. He says that his sister’s house has increased in value from £2,500 to £4,600 since the tram arrived in May 2008.

Joseli Sebastião, 51, is hanging out washing. She welcomes the changes in the favela that have accompanied the wall. “I want peace,” she says. “I want to live.”

Even tourists are seen in Dona Marta, says Marlene dos Santos, 56, smiling as she sells cold drinks from her tiny house. “Everything that’s coming here really helps.”

For Rubem César Fernandes, the director of Viva Rio, an NGO that works to reduce violence in the favelas, the walls are an aggressive symbol of deeper divisions within the city.

“A wall satisfies public opinion,” he says. “Symbolically it is control. It is a bad solution to a real problem.”

December 4, 2009 at 9:46 pm Leave a comment

Drug traffickers set bus on fire in Rio

Three suspected drug traffickers were arrested in Rio de Janeiro on charges that they burned a bus in the tourist district of Copacabana, apparently in reprisal for the police occupation of the “favela,” or shantytown, in which they live, Brazilian police said.
Officers arrested three men Tuesday who were carrying fuel and two grenades on suspicion of having set the bus ablaze, police Col. Marcus Jardim said.

The vehicle was parked and did not have any passengers on board, and the driver was relaxing in a nearby bar, and consequently nobody was injured, or worse, in the attack.
Witnesses said they saw that the man who actually set the blaze suffered burns on one foot, other police spokesmen told the G1 online news Web site.

The suspects burned the bus in apparent reprisal for the police occupation this week of Pavao-Pavaozinho, a slum in Copacabana, a move authorities made within the framework of the “pacification” policy being undertaken in marginal neighborhoods dominated by drug trafficking bands, police said.

The policy of sending the police permanently into Rio’s favelas has allowed the authorities to impose order in five of the city’s neighborhoods that were being dominated by drug traffickers.
A wave of drug-related violence left at least 40 people dead in Rio in October.

Rio de Janeiro is plagued by constant clashes involving organized crime groups, the security forces and paramilitaries over control of the city’s favelas.

In late 2006, drug gangs in Rio launched coordinated pre-dawn attacks on buses and police stations they said were in retaliation for death squad operations in scores of slums.

Leaflets strewn at the scenes of the attacks, which left more than a score dead, accused former Rio Gov. Rosinha Garotinho of fostering the formation of the death squads.

In one of most heinous incidents, six people were burned to death when gunmen boarded a bus, robbed the passengers and then set fire to the vehicle.

December 4, 2009 at 9:17 pm Leave a comment

Police occupy favela Pavaozinho/Cantagalo

With the occupation initiated this Monday, November 30, of the Pavão-Pavãozinho and Cantagalo favelas (slums), in Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro, which are controlled by drugs traffickers, the Rio Military police is starting an operation that by the end of 2010 should be offering what they call “community security” to 30% of those who live in favelas in the city. This will mean that about 300 thousand people will be living in areas protected by the UPPs (Peacemaking Police Units).

These numbers were calculated by José Mariano Beltrame, Rio de Janeiro state’s secretary of Public Security. He also said that another two communities will get Police Peacemaking units before the end of the year.

“This proposal is not going to stop. It is a concrete gesture that we are prepared to do us and will continue to do it. And we will have a great number of helped people up to the end of the next year. We intend to reach 30% of the communities, which endure today the territory logic imposed by the assault rifle, free from this weapon, free from the control of these crooks,” said Beltrame.

For the UPPs alone will be assigned 3,300 military policemen. They will be chosen, preferentially, among young recruits and they will get a salary bonus of, at least, 500 reais (US$ 285), paid for by Rio’s city hall by means of an agreement. In the Pavão-Pavãozinho and Cantagalo’s UPP will be detailed 250 military men.

The strategy of permanently occupying the communities controlled by the organized crime, instead of only holding individual operations, is part an integration policy in the favelas where about a million people live, through projects of Growth Acceleration Program (PAC) together with programs of basic sanitation infrastructure, lighting services, opening of streets and house building.

Five communities already have their UPPs: Batan and Cidade de Deus, in the west side, and Santa Marta, Babilônia and Chapéu Mangueira hills, in the south side.

The operation in the Pavão-Pavãozinho and Cantagalo favelas started Monday morning. About 300 military policemen, most of them form the elite force Bope (Special Operation Battalion) took over the community. During the action, the policemen gave battle to drug traffickers. A man died and another was arrested. According to the police, both were linked to drug trafficking.

December 4, 2009 at 9:03 pm Leave a comment

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani visits a favela

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani says Rio de Janeiro can become a safe city before it hosts the 2016 Olympics. And his consulting firm will be paid to offer advice on how to make that happen.

Giuliani visited a slum in Rio on Thursday and praised Rio’s efforts to pacify the violence-plagued areas where drug traffickers hold sway.

Rio Governor Sergio Cabral sys that Giuliani’s consulting firm will be contracted to give security advice, though details of the deal were not disclosed.

As mayor from 1994 to 2002, Giuliani oversaw a drastic drop in crime in New York, which backers attribute to his tough, zero-tolerance stance.

December 4, 2009 at 8:38 pm Leave a comment

Racism in Brazil

This is an article I got from deepbrazil.com. Too many, Brazil seems as if it is free from racism, but that is far from the fact. In Brazil, unlike other countries, different ethnic groups interact a lot – sometimes peacefully, sometimes not. This interaction leads, frequently to mixed marriages, genes and cultural heritage.

This healthy mix gets more evident when geneticists investigate our origins. Neguinho da Beija-Flor, a famous samba composer from Rio, is mostly white, genetically – even if his nickname stresses his very dark complexion. On the other hand, Daine dos Santos – Olympic gymnastic gold medalist recently involved in a doping scandal – represents what could be a “typical” brasileira: 39,7% African, 40,8% European and 19,6% Native Brazilian.

Both celebrities had their genes analyzed in a study promoted two years ago by the British news conglomerate BBC with several prominent Brazilians of different backgrounds.

This mix didn’t, necessarily, produce a racial democracy. In an interview to the BBC on this subject, sociologist Ronaldo Sales, from Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, in the city of Recife, points out that miscegenation doesn’t create a homogeneous mixed race group, but a hierarchy – the whiter you are, the better your chances of social integration.

The underlying racism is particularly evident in bank branches. Most of the banks that operate in large cities instal revolving doors, conceived to block the passage of costumers holding metal objects or bulky volumes. The following video, just released by Circo Voador, a very engaged theatre and cultural movement in Rio, shows how this mechanism is used to avoid the entry of black Brazilians in banks. Two guys try to enter the same bank, dressed similarly, carrying the same bag. One is black, one is white. Guess who entered immediately and who had to remove his tee shirt and drop his belongings before being sent home, without entering the bank?

November 30, 2009 at 10:46 pm 1 comment

Favela cartoon

A cool short animation about 2 orphans in a favela.

November 29, 2009 at 9:59 pm Leave a comment

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