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On the Eve of the Mayoral Election, Favela Residents Speak about Their Public Policy Needs

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With municipal elections fast approaching, Rio voters need to choose from the 11 candidates running for mayor. Despite very different proposals, the challenges facing the post-Olympics city management are the same for everyone, and include a city with compromised financial health, an Olympic legacy of exclusion, and old, broken promises.

The impact of these challenges is greatest in favelas, where 23% of the city’s population and an expressive percentage of the constituency is concentrated. Still, they attract less attention from the candidates than other areas of the capital, both with respect to specific policy proposals and as targets for their political agendas.

Claudia, a 42-year-old resident of the favela Guararapes in the South Zone of the city, expressed this feeling of abandonment: “They don’t know that I exist. If I die, it won’t make a difference. They neither know that I lived nor that I died. They are really worried about themselves. About the poor, I doubt it. For it to be so quiet here, I think sometimes that we are forgotten.”

Notable exceptions were the meetings held on September 15 in Complexo do Maré and on September 18 in Mangueira. But while the latter brought the six candidates present together with favela residents and their demands, the former was only attended by three candidates.

Elis, a 46-year-old resident of Vidigal, says that she is not following the debates: “It’s a lack of time and also lack of interest. They always promise the same things and do none of it. They even campaign here, but only to deceive the people.” Andricéia, 35 years old and also from Vidigal, says she wants to learn about the candidates before the elections. For her, it is important they have a clean record. “In addition, we have to analyze the proposals and what background the candidate has to be able to propose something,” she said.

Udson, 33 years old and a resident of Complexo do Alemão in the North Zone, is still undecided. “There is no easy solution. Some candidates I admire a lot as a person, others as politicians, but none of them would be ideal for the city today, and I wouldn’t say ‘this is the guy who will change the history of my city’ about any of them.” For him, the change in campaign finance law to prevent donations from businesses was positive, but didn’t prevent business owners from donating large amounts in their names.

Here favela residents from different regions of Rio talk about their public policy demands and their views on the proposals and decisive issues for the upcoming elections:

HEALTH

Carlos Eduardo, 37 years old and resident of Morro dos Macacos in the North Zone where he is better known as Kitinho, complains about the recent decrease in the number of health workers at clinics. But he welcomes the presence of the community health agent: “Most of them are from the community, they know everyone, and they pass this information onto the doctor. It’s not employment which goes in circles, it’s direct. It is also a way to generate employment within the community.”

Claudia thinks that the quality of health services has improved quite a lot, but they are still lacking certain specialists. “I should not need to go somewhere else for an appointment with an ophthalmologist. We have to have one here at the health center and it shouldn’t take that long.” Udson now complains of the lack of another professional: “Mental health should be the focus of any health policy within the community,” he argues. “A child hears any kind of a bang and drops to the floor. ‘Is it shooting, is it shooting?’” He says not only violence, but also daily traffic affects children and adults, and that this type of care cannot be found in either Family Clinics or at emergency health centers (UPAs).

Moreover, he does not agree with the proposal of candidate Flávio Bolsonaro to contract beds in the private system with city money to unburden the public system. He believes this to be another opportunity for fraudulent bidding to benefit government allies. The money should be used to improve the infrastructure that already exists. “City workers should only be able to use city hospitals. So we would have about 30 hospitals served with better quality because they would know that one of their family at some point could need it.”

For Robson, 33 years old and a resident of Vila Autódromo in the West Zone, the solution is to strengthen a preventative health system, going beyond the recovery of hospital infrastructure. “The stronger the preventative system, the less cases they are going to have to treat.” He views Marcelo Crivella‘s proposal to end the requirement of scheduling appointments through the Appointment Regulation System (SISREG) positively. “I’ve been waiting months for an MRI scan on my knee and I cannot get one simply because there is no vacancy and they are tossing me back and forth. I understand that efficiency is not in the bureaucracy. You wait or you pay a private hospital.”

Kitinho with youth from Morro dos Macacos

EDUCATION

Udson complains that the same candidates that wave the flag for education are those who were at times positioned against the wage increase of teachers. “They are more interested in the poor being dumb,” is his conclusion, “while they put their children in private schools to give them opportunities. Investing in education would make everyone qualified and competing for the same opportunities—and we know that that is not what the elite class wants. No lawyer wants a young person from a favela to take the job vacancy of their son.”

He also says that more important than the proposals of most of the candidates (including Marcelo Freixo, Bolsonaro, Crivella, Índio da Costa and Pedro Paulo) to expand the school day and include subjects on the obligatory curriculum, is to value the already existing subjects and the teachers who teach them. “Motivation is the focus. A motivated teacher will teach with much more ease, more love and more quality.” Bruna, 32 years old and a resident of Vidigal, says that the school where her children study is lacking teachers. “There was a semester where they didn’t have math and Portuguese. Imagine to be without Portuguese and math?” For her, before investing in computer classes it is necessary to resolve this problem.

Kitinho argues yet another point, to him a lot more subjects could be taught in high school, including respect for the environment and driver’s education. “School should be complete in terms of cinema, theater, technology. You have to talk about politics, about reality. Everything in their time and with their limits.” But, as with Udson and Bruna, he made a caveat: “Many people put technology in their hands and forget about books.”

ECONOMY, EMPLOYMENT AND INCOME

Recognizing the difficulty for a young resident of a favela to enter the job market, Udson complains of the lack of an education that truly prepares them for the market, as candidates like Crivella, Índio, and Carlos Osório propose. “Vocational high school training does not exist. In technical schools there are too few vacancies for the high demand,” he says. In the communities, he says that the figures of moto-taxi or van drivers are important and should be professionalized, guaranteeing more security in their work and benefitting all residents.

With the proposals from Bolsonaro and Índio to reduce bureaucracy in the city by terminating a number of public positions, Udson is suspicious as to whether this would translate into savings or a better use of public money. “Cutting red tape is to win votes. There’s no point closing down five departments if they are going to put these people, who often collect votes for them, in other departments,” he says.

Bruna talks about the business she runs with her friend Elis: “The City took our cart while it was in storage. But at the time that we start work they aren’t bothered because they are no longer working.” As a resident of Vidigal, she also points out that the only bad thing in the community are the high prices due to the strong presence of tourists. “The worst part is the market. A good, cheap market is difficult here. Tourists only want to buy the basics. But for us everything is more expensive.”

HOUSING AND SANITATION

Andricéia also comments on the impact of the high prices in Vidigal on housing: “Those who work and earn R$1,000 or R$1,500 a month and pay a rent of R$900 will eat what? And if they have children? We had people who left, who could not afford to pay rent.” There were also those who owned houses who sold them at prices that were “surreal, like you would pay in the South Zone,” as she put it. Elis recounts knowing people who sold and went to live in Rio das Pedras and in Muzema. Given the distance of these communities and the difficulty of displacement, she considers that those people “didn’t know how to think” and sees Freixo’s proposal to control land values positively.

The issue of trash is also delicate in communities. “Garbage collection here is pretty hard. The streets are narrow, and they come at a bad time. At 8am the truck is going up and people are going down to go to work. Everything stops and if you don’t go down before, you know that everything will be stopped and that you will be late,” says Andricéia.

Udson raised the need to educate the population about waste. “People perceive basic sanitation only as city sewers. It’s not just that, it involves the treatment of this sewage and public awareness of how to deal with their garbage,” he said. Claudia agrees: “You have to have someone explaining that you cannot throw garbage into the barriers, that you cannot throw it anywhere.”

Andricéia also says she witnesses the city’s role in the removal of waste in the community, “but we do not see anything more. The City doesn’t take a position. On the issue of recycling, I think that we should have someone to collect oil, because to throw it in the sewer you are wasting and polluting. And at times we suffer problems with our water pumps, and then there is part of the hill without water.”

Claudia from Guararapes

PUBLIC SECURITY

Claudia says that the Pacifying Police Unit (UPP) has brought benefits to the community as a whole, but that it does not make her feel safer. “If I scream, the people on the hill come to help me. The UPP is here, I’d have to run from my home there to here? When I arrived here I’d already be dead, they’d have already killed me.” Kitinho considers the security cameras that Osório, Bolsonaro, and Crivella propose to install in the city would help: “But do you feel safe with the camera or with the guard? I feel safer with the guard. “

Udson says that the first need that exists in the favela is the absence of war. “We need peace to be able to come and go. Education, for example. When young people are going to school at 6am and a police operation begins, they miss class. Then when they can go and are returning, there is another operation. It creates a certain stress that stops young people from giving their best to their studies.” He remembers that in 2015 the residents had to fight to remove the UPP base from inside the grounds of a school in Nova Brasília. “The façade of the school is riddled with bullets. The youth did not know if they were more scared of the drug traffickers or the police, because the police were entering and slapping students on the face. We had youth who left their studies and became traffickers because they couldn’t stand the police slapping them in the face anymore.”

As for the proposals of Bolsonaro, Índio, Osório and Pedro Paulo to arm the Municipal Guard, they all declared themselves against it. Kitinho highlights the lack of preparedness and the need to rethink the work of the Municipal Guard, as Crivella and Freixo propose, and therefore that they should not have lethal weapons. Bruna fears that these changes could mean more trouble for her. “I don’t have authorization to work here. And they don’t come talking directly, saying that you cannot stay there. They come in ignorance. This is already their way without weapons. Imagine with weapons.”

For Udson, the commanders of the Municipal Guard act like colonels. “And we know how colonels have acted since the time of slavery. If there were jobs for everyone, there wouldn’t be a reason for a guy to become a street vendor; if he is a street vendor, it is because he needs to bring milk back home.”

He also advocates the reclassification of the guard’s work: “The Municipal Guard should be a force to help the population, with information, next to schools to avoid fights between students. The guard does not need to be armed to have authority, he just needs to be in communication with the police. If the guard is armed, there will be more people armed and you cannot have peace with guns.”

Udson is against Crivella’s proposal to reward officers for achieved goals, based on citizen assessment of their sense of safety and the quality of police performance. “There is no way that the police give me a sense of security if they themselves don’t feel safe.” Further, he believes that even if it were anonymous, a poor evaluation would cause the police to turn against residents because they see them as criminal accomplices.

“The UPP has not brought peace to the community. Before, if there was a police operation, people stayed outside the community, letting what happened inside happen and entering when it was calm. Today, police and criminals are in the same space. It is not a fight of the state against criminality, but a fight of factions: of the state against the drug traffickers. Police enter with vests, guns, ammunition, and uniforms. But our shacks are just of brick. When we turn against the police presence, they think that we are in favor of the gangsters. No, we are in favor of our life,” says Udson.

TRANSPORT

On Crivella’s proposal to continue the public transport projects that he says are well evaluated, like the Bus Rapid Transit line (BRT) and the light rail line (VLT), Udson says: “No one is doing any favors for the population. Public money is being used. Travel takes more time because the city has turned into a construction site, principally in Centro, which impacts the rest of the city a lot. It could be that it improves for those who use this type of transport.”

“So far, none of these things have been beneficial. The benefits will come now, but it depends on where you live. For me, I don’t think there’ll be any benefits. I think Vidigal has been left to one side in this sense,” says Andricéia.

For Robson, there was an improvement in traffic flow, but not in the quality of service. “There is the issue of overcrowding. Sometimes transportation is so crowded that I need to wait to get another bus.” In Vidigal, only two vans operate on the City’s Bilhete Único (Single Ticket) system and they are always full. “You are on time but end up being late because you depend on the good will of the driver to fill a van to bring you down,” says Andricéia. Those who wait along the way cannot catch transportation. This includes mothers with small children, the elderly, and disabled who are not able or do not want to go down by moto-taxi.

Udson agrees with the lack of quality and complains of the price: “If the shortened routes decrease fuel use, costs decrease for the bus company, but the cost doesn’t decrease at all for the worker. There is no comfort at all on the bus. We should already have air conditioning in all buses. There is also the issue of potholes and of longer routes set up to capture more passengers.”

Robson says he feels a lack of integration between bus, metro, and ferry and of alternative means of transport: “I see a prison of road logic. I feel a lack of cycle paths throughout the city of Rio. I feel a lack of policies that support urban mobility throughout the city of Rio as a whole, to the point that if we wanted to go running or by bike to work, we would have the conditions for this. A place to change clothes, to take a shower. The fare is very expensive for a very limited service. I feel the lack of true urban mobility.”

Udson says there’s a lack of information about the bus lines, especially after recent changes in the routes and streamlining of lines: “In the South Zone there are signs every 10 or 15 meters. In the North Zone and West Zone it is save yourself if you can.”

But the greatest difficulty after these changes is traveling at night. Claudia says that before they had vans and buses that serviced Guararapes. “Now at night, there is only one bus and this only runs until 3am. It takes a long time, in terrible conditions. It’s unsafe to wait for the bus here and down there. I have to stay there in the Central Station alone? They allege that there aren’t the passengers. Lies. Before, they ran vans and buses and had passengers. How is it that with only buses they have none?” But Claudia lives in the South Zone. “To get from here to the North Zone is like winning the lottery,” says Udson on the likelihood of getting a bus at night to Alemão. For them, the proposals of Jandira Feghali and Freixo to implement a network of night transport is essential.

“Sometimes I go out at midnight and I have to die in money on a taxi. Then you ask for the love of God, wait more than an hour, and none comes up,” says Claudia, revealing another problem that residents face when taking taxis in addition to high costs: drivers who refuse to take passengers to favelas.

Kitinho is clear about who he believes has benefited from the recent changes: “The mayor ended a few lines and put in the VLT. These changes have benefitted the South Zone. We need viaducts, transportation along Avenida Brasil. And why not put an express metro from the Novo Rio Central bus station to Santa Cruz? But that would reduce the bus fleet and benefit Metro Rio, which (the mayor) doesn’t want.” This difference between the treatment given to different parts of the city is also highlighted by Udson: “the cable car in Alemão has been suspended and is only expected to return next year. Would they do the same if it were outside the favela?”

Kitinho concludes prophetically: “It seems that they will build a wall like the Berlin Wall, separating the rich from the poor. That is the only thing missing. It already exists, it’s just invisible.”