By Mary Carroll, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – In the same way that distinction can be drawn between the lower, middle and upper classes of most neighborhoods, the economic differences are becoming more apparent in some of Rio’s favela communities. Following the general dynamics of the city, the favelas of Zona Sul (South Zone) are widely held to be more prosperous than those of their counterparts in Zona Norte (North Zone).
Even so, residents from both areas range from extremely poor to those who are managing to climb up the financial ladder. The government’s Police Pacification Unit (UPP) program has stabilized security in many communities, helping businesses grow.
According to a survey released this month by the institute Popular Data and Central Única das Favelas, thirteen percent of residents from one thousand of the major favelas across Rio were ranked “high-income” residents, a significant contrast with 2001 where they only accounted for one percent.
A lot of high income earners wish to remain in their communities and improve their homes, however, most do not have a choice as they have been priced out of the rest of the Rio property market.
Daniel Clark, an Australian who lives in Cantagalo, explains that “the interior of some of the places look much nicer than a lot of the so-called wealthy apartments. I was shocked when I first saw one because we are fed so many negative images of the ‘misery’ of favela life.”
Clark is quick to add, “But this is still the minority and we should not let this detract from the fact that the majority of the city’s population live in sub-standard and often shocking conditions.”
Economist, Carlos Langoni, director at the Center of World Economics at FGV (Getulio Vargas Foundation) explains that the new Brazilian middle-class earns between R$1,200 to R$4,200 per month. Those who earn more than R$4,300 per month belong to the “A/B class”, and in the favela they are usually small entrepreneurs and young university graduates.
Journalist Gizele de Oliveira Martins, 27, says “research is far from the reality” experienced by residents in her community – Complexo da Maré in Zona Norte – a favela still dominated by drug trafficking.
One of the few residents to have completed higher education, her R$2,500 income puts her in the middle-class category. Yet Martins lives with her grandmother and four cousins in an abandoned building in the favela.
“I have an income exceeding three times the minimum wage, but I have to share it with five other people who live with me. Like most residents, I have no furniture, no electronic devices…”
However, in Zona Sul, grocery store owner in Santa Marta, João da Silva Freitas, 47, earns R$11,000 a month. Freitas told R7 Notícias “I know my income is higher than many people who live in the favela, but I managed it with much struggle.”
José do Carmo dos Santos, 49, became known as ‘Eike of Dona Marta’ when residents compared him to Eike Batista (the richest man in Brazil) after he bought ten properties in the community. Santos earns R$5,000 a month from his barber shop alone. Although he states, “I’m not rich. If I were, I’d be on the beach. I still have plenty to do in life. I need to cut a lot of hair yet.”