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Favelas In the News: April 2016 Digest

From the impeachment vote in Brazil’s lower house of Congress to the 100-days-to-go milestone, April was jam-packed with news with significant consequences for Rio’s favelas. To help our readers digest the major news and themes of the past month, we’ve summarized the stories we published here on RioOnWatch along with a few other must-reads in the media on favelas. Access past monthly summaries here and full digests here.

The Brazilian Congress’ theatrical vote to impeach President Dilma Rousseff on April 17 offered eye-opening insight into Brazilian governance. RioOnWatch published a series of five opinion pieces by favela residents in response, touching on threats to democracy, the biases of mass mediabroken promises for investment, the risk of politicizing basic services, and the need to reinvent the political system.

On April 27 we marked 100-days-to-go to the Olympic Games by publishing a critique of the international awards and recognitions the city of Rio has received in recent years. One of those awards was for Morar Carioca favela upgrades, but residents of Pica-Pau wait in precarious conditions for the investments promised through the program years ago. Some Pica-Pau homes are at risk of landslides resulting from heavy rain, which also causes floods across the city due to outdated stormwater systems. In Babilônia, residents of high-risk areas were promised relocation in the community under Morar Carioca years ago, but the City now threatens them with removal to the distant West Zone.

Also facing eviction threats are fishing community Praia do Sossego and Horto, the community at the edge of the Botanical Gardens where residents held a series of protests on Sundays. The Zacarias traditional fishing community, which has resisted eviction threats since the 1940s, is facing land development that threatens to block locals’ access to the ocean coast.

Several community museums around the city are also at risk of removal. These museums document local memory and history, the value of which was highlighted in an excellent article on Providência’s history in The Guardian. An article by MC Calazans argues that funk music itself is a museum, affirming living memory and reclaiming life. The final article in our Language of the Favelaseries looks at funk, along with samba, hip-hip, and literature, as a cultural expression of local issues and knowledge.

Vila Autódromo residents are in the process of developing a museum to document evictions and their memory of the community. They have invited all supporters to join the creative endeavor. This project follows the news that some 20 families have reached an agreement with the City on the plan for community upgrades.

Meanwhile, the ongoing economic crisis has meant severe cuts to State spending in areas like education and security. High school students began occupying schools in March in protest of budget cuts; by April 15 the number of occupied schools had grown to 45. These students are part of a broader youth movement demanding greater attention to the needs of young people, particularly in peripheral areas of the city.

As for security, the State-funded pacification program is in crisis as violence is returning or spiking across favelas with UPPs. Amnesty International has condemned the current surge in killings by police. Recently-launched app Nós Por Nós recorded 40 reported incidents of police violence in its first two weeks, while a Maré resident argued Military Police in that community view residents as “trash.” At the start of April Complexo do Alemão paid tribute to Eduardo de Jesus, a boy who was killed by police at age 10 on April 2, 2015, and the ongoing struggle of his mother Terezinha to fight for justice.

In spite of clear current tensions, we believe blanket bans on visiting favelas, such as the one set by the Australian Olympic Committee for its athletes, fundamentally misrepresent the diversity of Rio’s favelas. Our rare editorial on this topic argues the ban only contributes to further stigmatizing these communities and justifying damaging policies.

Look out for our next summary of articles from April as we enter the final 100 days to go until the Rio 2016 Olympics. For more information and links to favela news from the month, see our full Favela Digest for April 2016 here. You can subscribe to receive the Favela Digest straight to your inbox each month here.