By Philip Sever, Contributing Reporter

Dona Marta Favela, photo by Philip Sever.
Dona Marta Favela, photo by Philip Sever.

RIO DE JANEIRO – Government officials announced on Tuesday that construction of a wall has already begun around the favela of Dona Marta (also known as Santa Marta) in Botafogo. This is the first of many walls planned for Rio’s favelas, with seven miles of wall to be built around at least 11 of Rio’s favelas this year alone. Icaro Moreno, president of the state’s public works department, explained that this was to stop deforestation of the Atlantic rain forest which surrounds Rio.

Construction of the wall began a few weeks ago and so far 100 meters of wall has been constructed. “Each year that passes we’re losing more of the Atlantic rain forest,” Moreno said, “now, we’re setting limits on where these communities can expand.” Brazil’s national institute of space research states that deforestation of Rios Atlantic rain forest has doubled over the last three years. This has occurred as Rio’s favelas have continued to grow.

Up to 600 homes will be destroyed during the walls construction. Moreno stated that new government housing within the favela will be provided for those left homeless during the wall constructions across Rio.

Human rights groups claim that the walls have been built to keep residents of the favela segregated from the rest of Rio society. Drawing comparisons with the Israeli West bank barrier separating Palestine from Israel. Moreno rejected such criticism claiming that the aim of wall construction was to reduce deforestation not to segregate favela residents. However Moreno also claimed that by the end of next year, 40 favelas will have walls.

Urbanization of Santa Marta, Photo by Philip Sever.
Urbanization of Santa Marta, photo by Philip Sever.

Dona Marta has become an example of how a favela can become safe. Dona Marta is the first favela to have (legal) electricity, water on tap, internet and most notably the first drug free favela in Rio. Less than 10 years ago Dona Marta was considered to be one of the most dangerous favelas in Rio equal to Rocinha and Vidigal. However things have changed to such an extent that Dona Marta is now considered an example of a safe favela.

In 2008 a new nursery was built for the children of Dona Marta, reform of the existing nursery was completed. A new football pitch with astro turf was built. New sewer, water and drainage systems were implemented and 146 homes had refurbishments completed. It is planned by the end of this year another 191 new homes will be built and 517 homes will have improvements made upon them.


  1. “Human rights groups claim that the walls have been built to keep residents of the favela segregated from the rest of Rio society.” Oh let’s not be naive and buy into any other word in this piece except for this one paragraph, people. Mata altantica, my rear end. It’s all about money, tourism, making Rio look good – rich get richer, push the poor aside. I am happy they are doing good social work like with Dona Marta but BUILDING WALLS AROUND FAVELAS? That’s like imprisonment, people – I mean, okay, some people may be reading this from their walled-in luxury condos with seguranças in porteiros but I see a tad bit of disparity there – do you?

  2. people just dont get it..if they pay people decent wage favelas would not exist..

    as long as the middle classes and rich pay “their” help poor wages, favelas will always exist.

    walls another way to socialy exclude the poor..


  3. I don’t agree that walls should be built around these places… I think favelas should be removed… Completely removed! And the forest should be replanted. All the people (unemployed ppl) from all the other brazilian regions should be sent back to their original homes, because they are unemployed living in such places.

    There are lots of places in Rio where houses, decent ones, could be build… So all these ppl should be transferred to any other place, with everything that’s necessary to live as a real human being: schools, water, eletricity, health care system as nursery stations and emergency hospitals, means of transportation, squares, and places to practice sports. There are lots of places, spaces where these condos could be built , like in Barra da Tijuca, for example, or Recreio… But we know it’s impossible… They can’t transfer all these ppl, and its too expensive to develop a community where people will have everything that is necessary to live happy and healthy… So… let’s build some walls, why not??? it’s cheaper!

  4. I see two points being addressed here, The wall is a feeble solution for a much bigger problem, and there are several points that must be considered.

    Firstly, I have been out of Rio for a very long while and my existence at the moment is far from one of a closed doors condo, but honestly that is irrelevant because I am a citizen in this beautiful city.

    I can notice that most of the forest IS being destroyed by the favelas and this must be contained somehow. If it is not contained by the conscience and notions of citizenship from these same favela inhabitants, wich insist in cutting down the forest, dropping their litter everywhere and making noise till late, someone has got to do it. I know sometimes they do not have better choices, but I also know that if wanted they could be much better citizens.

    Yes, a wall does not seem that good, but honestly loads of people in Rio have been living behind walls and somehow afraid of walking around for a while due to the violence generated by the uncontrolled growth of this city and the idea that things should be acquired by any means possible. Again if they are rich, good for them, and that is irrelevant here they are also citizens.

    Secondly, It does annoy me a lot that these favela citizens are not in proper housing. As Loyana has sugested and so clearly pointed out, that is how it should be, proper popular housing with schools and all. And I do not think it is such an impossible task, the problem is nobody has though about it that much it seems. I really would like to see a Rio without favelas, a Rio where favelas do not need to exist.

    We should also stop and think, all of us have rights and also duties, some of the intelectual cast in Rio, think favelas are cool because they represent a kind of popular resitance, the poor people, poor them! They it say while looking towards the favela from their privileged windows, with the speech from privileged classes, hence perpetuating a cycle somehow, with the idea that becasue they are poor they can not help themselves, that they need only charity, and that they also do not have ANY responsability for their lives, neither their enviromment .
    Have they ever lived in one? Have they ever, had a glimpse of what is not knowing if they are going to eat or not? I do not think so. And in other hand, have some pepople in the favelas realized that the battle of classes leads nowhere? And also that two wrongs do not make one right? That there are lessons to be learned from the rich too?

    What I am suggesting here is that a bridge in communications has to be built and crossed for any real solution for the favelas to be found.

    Also in other to minimize the whole problem, people should be encouraged to stay in their communities in the NE of this country, the cheap labour hired from these regions, for the big companies fof the civil construction industry should be discouraged and maybe punished. They hire them for after, to live these once workers in Rio to fend for themselves. The federal government do nothing, No one does anything. Meanwhile the social segregation which comes from BOTH parts, (the people from the favelas and the rest) should be stopped. This segregation is economical but mostly cultural and it seems to me it is has been growing in these years I have been out of town.

    Finally, you wuold not clean this mess calling some people rich and others favelados, or community members as they are called nowadays. Everyone has the right of a place in the sun, abd the duty to keep this place, wherever they come from, they are just people, and we are ALL citizens!

  5. No one seems to be addressing the fact that Favela dwellers who destroy the Mata Atlantica to build dwellings, are taking land that does not belong to them! If land ownership rights were enforced in Brazil, it could solve the problem of the ever expanding Favelas, If squatters cannot be stopped by legal means, then walling off Favelas seems like the best solution. I’m suprised at the liberal reaction of some readers to the walling off of the Favelas, But I suppose liberals, who claim to be environmentally conscious, will forget those ideals when it comes to advancing their socialist agenda.

  6. YES! I love this idea. I own a home in Rio and I am sick and tired of the favela invading my property. I pay property taxes. Not only are the residents of the favela invading national forests, they are dumping their garbage and sewage onto the public and private land. I would love to see the favelas torn down and the residents relocated to properties that are abandoned in downtown area. Let’s see a program that provides property rights and property taxes for existing decaying urban neighborhoods.
    I am sickened by the bleeding hearts that are saying that the poor are being victimized. I AM BEING VICTIMIZED BY THEM! WHAT ABOUT MY RIGHTS?

  7. To several of you who have posted, I have three points to make:

    1) about the favelas encroaching on atlantic forest: may I remind you that your enormous, concrete middle-class building was also built on virgin atlantic rainforest.

    2) To those who say that the favelados pour out sewage and garbage: you would too if you didn’t have proper sanitation, whether you liked it or not.

    3) To those who say the favelados can help themselves, they cannot. without being given the same opportunities (sanitation, education, healthcare, a right to a place to live) as their richer counterparts.

    I don’t think the walls will solve anything, except increase resentment and a feeling of injustice. I agree with the idea of transforming the favelas, as well as offering those who live there the same opportunities as anyone else – though this might be too idealistic. Most importantly, I feel that the population should be treated as a wonderful resource, not rubbish – there are thousands of children whose dream is to become someone – a doctor, an architect, a dancer…. We have no idea how it must feel, from an early age, to know for certain that our dreams will never come true.

  8. I think a good resolution of the favela problem would be to scrap the existing structures off the land to eliminate certain favelas entirely…and then sell the land for various type of housing to the highest developers/bidders at a public auction. The new construction could consist of various levels of development including ritzy condos as well as some middle class units – all privately financed.
    At the same time the city or state should sell bonds to raise additional cash for the construction of decent public housing in the suburbs. Care should be taken to avoid the new suburban housing from deteriorating into favela-like communities. Municipal utility services should be partially underwritten by the local govt and reasonable living standards enforced for those occupants receiving discounted utility services and assisted housing as a condition of continued occupancy.

    The bond debt can be serviced with the proceeds of the favela land sales and the increased property taxes that the new housing will generate as well as the revenue from the new suburban developments ( rents or sales proceeds).
    Provide good public transportation so those who live in the burbs can get to work reasonably easily and cheaply ( w/o cars).

  9. As Rio has seen this past 2 days, favelas are not a good idea, they’ve never been really.

    People have to be properly housed in proper housing estates as they are in other parts of the world.

    We need forests back on our hills and we need people to stop throwing rubbish everywhere and blame the government afterwards.

    Rio has been hit by strong rains since ever but now the consequences seem to be getting bigger and harder.

    Otherwise everywhere and everyone in this town will be affected by indiscriminate deforestation and littering.

    Of course the rain is not anyone’s fault but the consequences of it are everyone’s responsibility, not only the governments or God. Brazilians tend to blame loads of things on God and take very little responsibility themselves.

    And I can say that because I’m Brazilian.

    My heart now goes to all the victims of the Morro do Borel, Mangueira and all others, and their families.

  10. Everyody who has written on here is from a privaliged background as your knowledge of English displays, and (excluding Zezinho and Cassandra) I am APPALLED by your responses. I am English but chose to live in Vidigal here in Rio, and whilst Im well aware of the problems faced by the inhabitants I think it is a beautiful place to live with a strong sense of pride in the community. WHAT DO YOU MEAN ´tear the favelas down´??!! Its not animals that live here!!!! These are not just poor houses, they are peoples HOMES that represent everything these people have earnt and saved for in life, and communities where peoples families have lived for generations. If any of you had ever entered a communidade (as they are now called), you would see its a microcosm in itself with dentists, health posts, restaurants, shops and everything. What is needed is for the government to improve the facilities, infrastructure and sanitation.

    Also favelas are not the only problematic areas in Rio my boyfriend is from a part of Mieia which is essentially a ghetto and the people there have the same lack of opportunities and its even more dangerous than favelas.

    The rainforests are not destroyed by communidades – this is a ridiculous argument!!!! Do some research into the percentage of forest cut down for favela housing – its the demand for exported products to rich countries.

  11. I find it quite interesting, that on the one hand, the government appears to be so concerned about the environment that it puts up walls to prevent the comunidades from growing into the forest, but that on the other hand, there is apparently no problem at all with destroying 500.000 square kilometres of rain forest for building the Belo Monte Dam…

  12. Rio de Janeiro Mayor Mr Cesar Maia and Housing Secretary Ms Solange Amaral told the seminar participants that they expected Favela-Bairro to go into a third phase. The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has supported the first two phases of this programme designed to integrate poor neighbourhoods with the rest of the city.

    “Favela-Bairro is without any doubt the most important project for Rio. It’s a programme that ‘cariocas’ (people born in Rio de Janeiro) recognise as their own. And I’m not the one who says so. It’s the city itself,” Cesar Maia said. The project’s name symbolises the idea of turning slums into formal neighbourhoods by providing them with basic infrastructure and public and social services.

    The programme had a total budget of US$600 million for its first two phases, to which the IDB has contributed $360 million in loans. According to Ms Amaral, the municipal government expects to invest $400 million more in Favela-Bairro to cover more than 330 neighbourhoods.

  13. Have any of you ever lived in Rio? I grew up there. The root of this problem stems from a lack of education and indifference which spirals into a host of other ailments that brazilian society faces, illetarcy, corruption, discrimination and so on..theres no quick fix.

  14. Hello all. I am from Berkeley, lived in Brooklyn for ten years, and spent 10 weeks living at the start of Rua Saint Roman on the border between Arpoador and Pavao/Pavaozinho, where I witnessed the many workers walking to work in Rio proper early every morning, along with an 100 person, 2 helicopter invasion of the hill, friendly caring residents, malandros, traficantes, loud music, festivity, happiness, culture etc…, Forgive me if you deem me unqualified to speak on the matter, but this is my opinion based on this limited experience, along with a long career in sustainable construction and development.

    I have read through this entire thread and I see a distinct polarization of viewpoints, although Jonathan moderates this somewhat, that both seem to neglect that there is a definite economic relationship, which is of course completely hegemonic. While Vania claims “This segregation is economical but mostly cultural”, I would say something different, that the culture is the uniting factor and this should be emphasized. On the economic side, the cheap labor comes out of the hills and the drug money goes in, to put it crudely. I completely agree that the claim of deforestation as a reason is nonsense, as that area is miniscule compared to others, although its not clear to me if they are just being built at the uphill borders of the settlements.

    And relocation is simply an absurd proposal, and re: ‘aging hippie’s proposal- profits from sales are one time revenues, so they couldn’t “service” debt over time. These human beings aren’t going anywhere and there is no rich without poor.

    I am not justifying violence or excusing laziness, and these both come from both sides, with the underpaid police representing the rich while taking profit from drug and military grade weapons trafficking into the favelas, the gangs ruling by intimidation of hyper-violence forcing complicity in residents, the middle class and rich relying for their lifestyle on cheap domestic and service labor, not to mention coca and maconha, and let’s not get into the influence of jogo de bicho.

    Anyway, the point is this- the only viable direction is a balancing and calming of the integration which by nature already exists between these ‘two’ communities, however that can happen. The UPP does not seem to be working in this regard, given the events of the last week. Despite its presumable missteps, failures, and continued challenges, the effort to integrate Dona Marta suggests some hope.



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