By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Exasperated by the increasing violence in their communities, representatives from 47 favelas around Rio de Janeiro protested for peace on Copacabana Beach on Sunday, July 2nd, despite the cool and rainy weather.
Residents of many of Rio’s favelas, which house more than twenty percent of all of Rio’s population, have seen violent crimes increase by as much as 120 percent in the last five years.
“This act is one of resistance, it is to give voice to the favelas, for the government to hear that we are suffering there. We leave the house, not knowing if we will return. We were in the middle of a war between the police and outlaws,” Gisele Dias, president of the Morro da Providência Residents Association, said during the protest.
According to Dias, children living in the communities where gun battles are frequent stay home weeks at a time unable to go to school and daycare. This disrupts the entire community’s daily routine with parents not having anyone to look after the children while they go to work.
Although the demonstration was scheduled weeks ago, protesters commemorated Marlene Maria da Conceição, 76, and her daughter Ana Cristina Conceição, 42, killed last Friday (June 30th) by a stray bullet in Morro da Mangueira, in the northern part of the city.
“In these two months there have already been several deaths of good people in our communities. The government set up a UPP (Peacemaking Police Unit) to give us security, but what it brought was insecurity,” the president of the Mangueira Residents Association, Washington Fortunato told reporters.
“Most who live in the favelas are living with parallel power. The state government has abandoned us to our own devices, put the UPP there, but where are the social projects that were promised at the beginning of the implementation of the UPPs?” asked Fortunato.
Anne Dorst, a Dutch expatriate living in Rio and director of De Rioranje School, shares her thoughts, “It’s really sad to see that the violence in favela communities have increased so badly. When I moved to Rio in 2007 the situation was similar to how it is now, so they are back to square one it seems, that’s a real shame.”
Adding, “Even in Donna Marta, the first favela in Rio to be pacified, the shootings are back. I feel sorry for the people that live there and just want to live their lives. I guess the UPP’s were just a temporary thing to keep things calm during World Cup and Olympics. If only they had taken this opportunity to come up with some sustainable improvements.”
A Brazilian, Rane Souza, director at RS Language Services, is from Minas Gerais but has lived in Rio for years and says, “Overall, security in Rio has gotten worse […] Therefore the human rights violations against people who live in favelas have also become worse.”
“In Brazil, the war on drugs and police brutality target black youth especially. The number of murders committed by the police have skyrocketed over the last eighteen months.” She adds, “I fully support protesters’ claim against violence and police brutality. I could not march with them yesterday as I was busy with work but I wholeheartedly support their movement.”
Leila Lak, a documentary filmmaker from London living in Rio shares, “Living in front of Pavao/Pavaozinho [favela community] it is apparent that since the end of the Olympics there has been a definite demise of security in the favelas. At least a couple of times a week, we can hear shootouts, and I often worry about the people living up there.”
Adding, “The stories you hear about Maré and Complexo Alemao are just awful and anything that can be done to help stop the violence and the school closures is a good thing. I do think the protest was encouraging but I think more needs to be done to protect those living in communities and especially the children and make sure they have access to schools.”
In a statement, Rio’s Security Department said that the state ‘has as a priority the preservation of life, peaceful coexistence and the reduction of crime rates in the state’ and for that reason has invested since 2007 in pacification in communities.