While many will remember 2014 as the year of the World Cup, some Rio de Janeiro activists will recall it as the year of resistance, according to the latest report by the Rio State Legislative Assembly’s Human Rights Commission. The commission presented their annual report on the night of Monday December 8, which was coincidentally the National Day of Justice, to an overcrowded room of more than 100 people at the Legislative Assembly in the city center. The report analyzes the current “bad state of democracy” in Brazil and highlights three issues that illustrate it: the socio-political effects of the 1960s military coup, the battle for people’s right to the city and the militarization of daily life. Three guests, João Dornelles, professor at the Pontifical Catholic University (PUC), Guilherme Boulos, columnist for the Folha de São Paulo newspaper, and Mônica Francisco, human rights activist, presented an analysis on each topic respectively.
50 Years Since the 1964 Military Coup
“It has been 514 years of the same violence and violations of human rights that established a society [that] is hugely successful in forgetting. [There is a] ‘forgetting policy,’ a policy of ‘let’s turn the page,’ of ‘the end.'” – João Dornelles (2014)
To understand how Brazil’s military dictatorship shapes the country today, Dornelles said, one must understand how the dictatorship is a continuation of the 514-year-long establishment of the country and society. Throughout history, the same population, which is Brazil’s majority, has had restricted access to—and for a long time lacked any—citizenship rights.
Additionally, Dornelles said, the country has always had an elitist society that reproduces itself through political deals and oligarchical partnerships. The military coup of 1964 didn’t create these issues, it only reinforced them. “Here lies the base of the massive, systematic, permanent, continuous violence and violations of human rights in our history,” he said. “During that 21-year process [of militarization], that historic past not only deepened, but society also enhanced and improved on new techniques, practices and strategies to control power.”
The “new practices” manifest in the militarization of daily life. Dornelles gave the example of the Fire Department; there are no democratic countries where this department falls under the military umbrella. It is a civilian department, except in Brazil. The militarization of civilian agencies represents a political, ideological and cultural control of society, he said. “We have more people who have disappeared or been killed during this democratic regime than during the military dictatorship,” he said, adding that civilian militarization contributes to that. He concluded by affirming the importance of memory. Only by remembering and understanding the past, he said, can we change our present.
Right to the City
“What we have faced—which has hit daily life most harshly—is a systematic denial of the ‘right to the city’ to millions of people in our country.” – Guilherme Boulos (2014)
This has been a decade of profit in Brazilian real estate, especially Rio de Janeiro, Boulos said. This has been the decade, he explained, of those who do not consider a place in the city as a citizenship right, but as a place of business used to profit on producing and reproducing urban misery.
In recent years, Brazil’s construction sector has been one of the most profitable and consequently one of the largest employment producers in the country, Boulos said. Yet, the result of this is an unprecedented increase in land value in the last five years: 215% in São Paulo and 261% in Rio de Janeiro, which is the largest increase in the country, he said. “But that doesn’t come with any regulatory policy that places limits on the profit of that sector or that guarantees giving some rights to the affected poor,” Boulos said.
When land values increase, rents increase, which leads to expulsion and segregation. For a family whose rent had an absurd readjustment, but whose salary remained static, he said, the only answer is moving farther away. That is a denial of their right to the city. “It’s an expulsion, it’s building a wall around the city,” Boulos said. “Today the poorest are thrown farther away, and farther away means less available public services, less infrastructure, and more time commuting to and from work.”
The segregation of society through real estate comes with a strong process of criminalization, extermination and repressive violence, he asserted. The role of police in rich neighborhoods is to protect the minority, the elite of our cities, Boulos said. But in the periphery, its role is to exterminate. “That is the perverse reality of real estate speculation: expulsion, racism, violence, extermination,” he said. “That is probably our cities’ biggest characteristic, and it has deepened in the last few years.”
Militarization of the Favela
“It’s distressing to have to speak. It’s distressing to have to be here discussing the militarization of our daily life, discussing the militarization of culture, discussing the militarization of private life.” – Mônica Francisco (2014)
In an emotional speech, human rights activist and Borel resident, Mônica Francisco, touched on the struggles favela residents face due to militarization. People’s privacy and individuality is violated every day, she said, and their culture is repressed. What is most shocking is the data, showing an overwhelming number of deaths, especially for the black population.
“It is painful when people face the data,” Francisco said. “If it’s painful for white men and women, it is much more painful for us, who not only have to face the cold, harsh numbers, but face that reality. Live it.”
In relation to the country’s history, democracy is a fairly new endeavor for Brazil, she explains, but for the black population, it is almost untouched territory. “For us blacks, we’ve never gotten to live that democracy in full,” she said. “We are literally being exterminated. We are in a process of extermination.”
Francisco recalled the massive protests of June 2013, and noted how these demonstrations brought a level of police violence to the Brazilian middle class that gave a taste of the violence faced by favela residents. “Imagine people actually enjoying watching sons and daughter of the middle class suffer that violence because at least now they’ll believe, they’ll hear, they’ll understand that in the favela the bullet is not made of rubber, it’s real.”
With Francisco’s speech, the discussion on the report concluded. The event relocated to outside the building. As part of the program, several community leaders and organizations were honored for their relentless fight for human rights. Theater and musical performances on the steps of the Legislative Assembly’s main entrance followed the award presentation. Included in the organizations recognized were: the National Articulation of Popular Committees for the World Cup (ANCOP); the Commission for the Mobilization of the Trash Collectors, following their historic protests during Carnival this year; and favela media and human rights group Coletivo Papo Reto.
An online version of the Human Rights Comission 2014 Report can be seen here.