In recent weeks, Rio de Janeiro has offered clear proof that it never abandoned its divided city project. And the news underscores that. A city that removes, divides, and exacerbates the vulnerablity of the most impoverished and black populations—those at the top of the favela hills and in the suburbs cut by the railway line. Recent episodes of armed violence in the communities of Rocinha, which had immense media coverage, combined with the gigantic music event the city hosted, Rock in Rio, amplified the tensions lived on a daily basis by the population. Both were arenas that brought together different experiences of being part of a city like Rio de Janeiro.
There is no need to undertake a thorough search through the record of editorials and news reports to find what is already obvious to those living and working in the city’s favelas and peripheries: in the first half of 2017, in Manguinhos and Jacarezinho, for example, violations of human rights and symbolic armed violence were sustained crucial themes. In a simple analysis of posts on the Fala Manguinhos Facebook page, it’s possible to see that at least one-third of the reports gave accounts of ongoing operations in the communities and nearby areas. Other data were also recorded in the period, such as the number of days students were left without classes. Although quantitative data do not show all facets of impacts on routines, health and sociability in the territories, they are important indicators to think about the diversity of urban experiences in the city.
Some disputes are ongoing in the divided city. Especially with regard to the memory of events in favela territories. When one of the newspapers with largest circulation in Rio de Janeiro creates a War Section to cover issues related to public security in these areas, it’s important for this kind of reflection to be carried out with responsibility, including the perspective and voice of those who live in those places. In the context of war, we know that the [death] statistics increase and the indicators of rights decrease with each recorded armed incursion. The war produces effects beyond the released figures. There is a permanent uptick of registered impacts that characterizes the territories and, of course, people’s lives.
The war felt by the population of Manguinhos and other favelas of Rio de Janeiro is not a recent thing. Nor does it present itself merely as a feeling, a sensation. Closed schools, the inability to move safely through alleys and streets, the number of houses marked by gunfire, and the victims of operations confirm it clearly. In any case, it is not possible to exclude from this discussion the public security policy model that has been implemented in the city and violently carried out in Rio’s favelas.
The recent occupation with tanks and hundreds of soldiers as well as officers of the civil, military and highway police in the communities of Manguinhos and Jacarezinho on August 21, 2017, to seize drugs, weapons and bring order to the territories, materialized what had been established as the city’s official narrative. On that fateful day, the bodies and houses of residents were searched. There are more than a few reports of those who went out to work and were approached unreasonably by soldiers or police, women searched in front of their children. A violent image in itself. The impact is even greater when we consider what happened on the previous day, when residents, workers, and other social actors from Manguinhos and Jacaré mobilized to occupy the Leopoldo Bulhões Street to demand peace with guaranteed rights and the end of all kinds of violations.
On the day the tanks took the main roads in Manguinhos and Jacaré, one case caught our attention, especially because it involved one of the communicators of Fala Manguinhos!. Our journalist was covering the events when he was arrested by officers in an abusive manner, as if he were a suspect in a murder. Fortunately, the presence of lawyer Djefferson Amadeus, one of the few lawyers committed to accompanying and providing legal support to local residents on the spot, was able to resolve the situation.
The lawyer recounted, “Asking about the authorizations to enter the residences, as well as to arrest people who were just doing their journalistic work, I received an answer, from the Army officer himself, that the Constitution was suspended on account of a court order, authorizing the collective warrant for search and seizure. What does it mean to say this? If the law requires search and seizure warrants—that is, the warrants to allow entry into residences—to be specific and determined, the judge allowed the so-called generic warrant, which allows entry into the residence of any person within a given location. Which is totally contrary to the Constitution. Which is why those officers who were there felt authorized to commit the greatest barbarities I have witnessed.”
Although narratives such as this one, in general, do not extrapolate the official records of the military corporation or of legal workers, it is very important that they be communicated to the population. They are part of the dispute over the imaginary of the favela, of those who live and work in these areas, and they are also key to avoiding the normalization of situations like this, which happen every day but cannot be forgotten or minimized. Fala Manguinhos!, as a vehicle for community communication concerned with the demands of the territory, in its daily task of dealing with the information circulating inside and about the communities, could not be silent in the face of such facts. The divided city also determines which memory will be dominant for its population. An outside view, almost always limited, does not account for the variables present in the favelas and peripheries of the city. We need to turn our gaze inwards, towards the people who live, work and build their stories on this side.
This article was written by Brunna Arakaki and produced in partnership between RioOnWatch and Fala Manguinhos! (Speak Up Manguinhos!). Brunna is a journalist and collaborator with Fala Manguinhos!. As a community communication initiative produced by and for Manguinhos, Fala Manguinhos! was set up to defend human and environmental rights, and to promote citizenship and health with the direct participation of residents in the decisions that involve the Community Communication Agency of Manguinhos, from the meetings of the communication group and the Community Council. Follow Fala Manguinhos on Facebook here.