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The Solution for the Crisis is in the Favelas and Peripheries [INTERVIEW]

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For the original article in Portuguese by Luís Brasilino published by Le Monde Diplomatique Brasil click here

Who are the new collectives tackling the collision of crises that has affected Brazil these last few years? And how do they act, organizing the population of the peripheries and questioning the habits of the Left’s traditional structures? Check out the following interview with Raull Santiago from Coletivo Papo Reto (Straight Talk Collective), a group made up of young residents of the Alemão and Penha favela complexes in Rio de Janeiro’s North Zone.

“The solution for the crisis is in the favelas and peripheries. Just see what we’re doing by ourselves, just listen to us, just stop watching us through the crosshairs of a police officer’s rifle.” This is the assertion of Raull Santiago from the Rio-based Coletivo Papo Reto, made up of residents from the Alemão and Penha complexes where the collective works. Founded in 2014, Papo Reto’s goal is, on the one hand, to report on events, protests, and demands for audiences within the favelas, and on the other, to show “the favela’s reality” to audiences beyond the communities, countering the stigmas reproduced by the mainstream media.

In the movement’s words: “A lot of what happens in the territory passes through the lenses of the collective, which tries to produce coverage that is different from that of the corporate media. That is, our coverage is ‘from the favela resident to the favela itself,’ or in short: Us for Us… The Us for Us [movement] is a simple and strong security system for activists and residents in times of war based on dialogue and an exchange of information. These days the collective maintains a network of residents from all over Complexo do Alemão who are in touch with each other 24/7. This is the idea behind the independent communication vehicle, Papo Reto, which puts the concept of ‘Us for Us!’ into practice.” Over 40,000 people follow Coletivo Papo Reto’s profile on Facebook. Check out the following interview with Raull Santiago.

Le Monde Diplomatique Brasil: What is your collective built around? What are the agendas and achievements for collectivity that have resulted from its actions?

Raull Santiago: Coletivo Papo Reto acts, in short, on two fronts: 1) Resistance Communication—we use audiovisual content and social networks as independent communication tools to give visibility to or to stimulate actions that seek to bring about an end to police violence, to guarantee various rights, including the right to life. With these tools we can dispute narratives about our reality, showing that there are, indeed, problems in the favela, but that most of them result from the government going about investments the wrong way here, many times only reaching us through the Department of Security and the crosshairs of a policeman’s rifle. We also use this side of Coletivo Papo Reto to advocate for other issues, but they all revolve around guaranteeing access to various things considered basic rights, in addition to respect and life. 2) Affirmative Publicity—on this front, we use audiovisual content and social networks to show that, despite local conflicts, there are still a lot of amazing things going on—ideas, people, projects that positively transform Complexo do Alemão, for the most part independently. This happens through interview programs, discussions online, varied artistic and cultural interventions that we mobilize through the network, among other means. Our type of communication has strength in both directions, both to mobilize people for something that’s still going to happen, and to share something that is happening or that has already happened.

LMDB: How is the current crisis affecting the day-to-day life of the collective and its activism?

Santiago: Independent of government, favelas are always in crisis because the main investments in public policies for favelas always come from the Security Secretariat and from a logic of war. This creates extremely serious problems that, in the context of a “crisis,” become much worse, because local violations—which include countless extortions, aggressions, forged situations, or even executions—are seen as being of second-tier importance or barely get any attention, now that the said governmental crisis saps up all visibility when viewed as more urgent.

The crisis in the favela is daily, it has always been there. It only increases in scale when the crisis reaches other classes. Meanwhile, we keep increasing the sad and serious number that makes us the country that kills the most, while we’re third in the world in terms of the size of our poor, black imprisoned population. That’s so serious! Our rates of death or imprisonment are the main crisis.

LMDB: What are the main problems? The lack of material resources? The precariousness of public services? State and non-state violence?

Santiago: All the above situations are problems. In Complexo do Alemão, for example, public policy takes the form of police. The cable car that became world famous is now closed and falling down—it has been like that for over a year. Major basic services working precariously and with zero investment in art, culture, or improving access to education. We can’t accept the army invading the favela as a public policy. This doesn’t build anything positive. On the contrary.

LMDB: Does the current political and economic crisis offer opportunities for the collective or affect it negatively? Why?

Santiago: We were born from the crisis, the crisis of survival, to live among conflicts, to try to show that the favela is amazing in the midst of a society that holds huge prejudice against our place. The crisis increases the problems, makes things more expensive, steals visibility away from our urgent demands. I think that’s the issue.

LMDB: What challenges and perspectives do you foresee in the future of the collective’s work?

Santiago: The challenge is to share, to mobilize more people to see themselves as multimedia and to take part actively, in the context of great violence, mainly on the part of the State. And, in the context of the said crisis and on the verge of election, it’s to try to stimulate critical consciousness, so that the favela takes a stand and advocates for a change of situation. The solution for the crisis is in the favelas and peripheries. Just see what we’re doing by ourselves, just listen to us, just stop watching us through the crosshairs of a police officer’s rifle.

LMDB: Based on your specific agenda, what is the most urgent issue for today’s Brazil?

Santiago: Brazil needs to stop killing its black and poor youth. The racial issue, which executes 60,000 people per year, which incarcerates en masse, making us the third biggest incarcerated population in the world, is something extremely serious. We need to talk about racism, we need to talk about new drug policies and an end to the war on drugs, we need to guarantee life in the peripheries. Life is urgent!

Luís Brasilino is the Editor of Le Monde Diplomatique Brasil.