The first thoughts that many have when the city of Rio de Janeiro comes up would be Brazil’s hosting of the famous 2014 FIFA World Cup championship or the World Olympics in 2016. Beneath the facade of peace and friendly competition, few would recall the disturbance from the thousands of restless protesters or the resulting rampages of police violence. After the exposure of the infamous favelas through the lenses of the media in 2014, widespread news of government corruption and the outreach of the drug industry, along with high crime and death rates, exploded into the worldwide limelight. Now, the question remains: has much changed for the citizens and government of Brazil after this newfound publicity? Have the nation’s conditions proved to become far more severe or rather positively progressive? These favelas continued to be the opposite of what Rio de Janeiro portrays itself to be as a whole; it is not at all a land of flashy Carnaval dancers, exotic bird species, and beautiful tourist traps. In drastic reality, these communities still flaunted statistics of rising criminal activity and economic recession. The citizens within Brazil’s societal confinements were evidence of a deeply-rooted social divide that was caused by the lack of educational reforms and social welfare that should have been implemented by federal policies. In many more ways than one, Brazil has stooped to the worst shape that it has been in economically and politically since 2013, amidst some effortful victories in the attempts to improve the living conditions of the nation’s citizens.
The most prevailing issue that captured the attention of the global spotlight because of the 2016 Olympics and the 2014 FIFA World Cup was the amount of violence within the favelas of Brazil. The efforts of the government and law enforcement officers to pacify the favelas were short-lived in 2012 and were faced with setbacks. Originally, the plan was for continuous police raids to eliminate drug cartels. After obtaining tangible progress with this task, there was a promise for the next step of better healthcare and education reforms. However, according to the New York Times newspaper’s “In Rio de Janeiro, ‘Complete Vulnerability’ as Violence Surges,” there were 119 police deaths due to the raging shootouts by drugs gangs, causing for these officers to surrender areas back into the hands of the drug lords. These leaders have then restarted drug sales within previously communities that were supposedly “pacified” only a few years back in 2013. After the ending of the Olympics hosted in Rio, there was an increase of 11 percent of deaths as stated in the government of Rio de Janeiro’s statistics. As for Brazil as a whole, there were more than 61,619 deaths that were accounted for, naming 2017 (from January to September) as the “deadliest year on record” (Londoño). Favelas do not have a central or local government system so neighboring local government officials would be wasting their time and money on efforts that were not beneficial to their re-election and the concerns of their constituents. Thus, we can infer that since these police raids were governed over and directed by the closest local government, there was less power and effort towards this cause as the riddance of violence was not the main concern. Additionally, these people who hold high government positions were well known for their corrupt acts to give themselves financial advantages. This was seen in the case in August 2016 when Dilma Roussel, the President of Brazil at the time, was impeached for federal budget violations (Cohen). There was another incident where this stereotype was illustrated when officials and businessmen withdrew hundreds of millions of Brazilian Real (the national currency) from the treasury budget that was intended for the preparation of the 2016 Olympics. Thus, it was not a surprise for citizens of Brazil and residents of favelas have an immense distrust of the government.
However, there was headway made to address these disappointing feelings. In October of this year, the Brazilian Congress passed legislation for the trial of soldiers who were convicted of abuses and crimes against innocent residents (Londoño). Furthermore, the police raids have taken momentum once more with federal involvement by installing more community police units, otherwise known as U.P.P.’s; this is momentous as these types of raids were previously the obligations of the state and local governments. Alongside these advancements, the exposure of fraudulent politicians has been more widespread as former president Dilma Vana Rousseff joined the ranks of impeached and resigned president Fernando Collor de Mello.
Nevertheless, the persistent worries over authority figures’ abuses of power still remained; residents within the favelas have chosen to express these fears by allowing and tolerating oppression in exchange for their own safety. There were some who felt stuck between the two conflicting sides of the drug gangs and the police forces, very much like Rocket in the film City of God when he found himself in the middle of a shoot-off frontline (physically and metaphorically) after chasing a chicken. Likewise, numerous instances of police abusing their power and authority were seen as a social norm. An example of this took place recently in April of 2015 when a young 10-year-old boy who presented no clear danger was brutally shot by a line of law enforcement officers, as described in “Mothers in Rio Slums Lead Fight against Police Impunity for Crimes; Standard Police Assertion Is That the Victim Was a Criminal Who Was Attacking Them and They Shot in Self-Defence.” When his mother, Terezinha de Jesus, reacted in anger by slapping one of the officers, she was met with a threat of “I killed him, and I can kill you just the same way.” The heartless murder case was picked up by prosecutors who yearned for justice to be served to the police officers. Nonetheless, like many other cases made against immoral figures of authority, it came to no avail because of the witnesses’ fear to testify as they could potentially become a target themselves. Unsurprisingly, this resulted in the release and freedom of the convicted officers.
Because of such injustices, the majority of residents in the favelas stated that their basic needs of safety and security were obscured, prompting 72 percent of the 812 residents to voice their want to move into a more protected and safe city (Londoño). In a 2017 Datafolha poll, this desire was amplified due to the shootings of hundreds of innocent people who were supposedly believed to be associated with the drug gang community. Of course, it is human nature to feel unstable if our basic necessities of physiological (such as food, water, and shelter) and safety needs are stripped away due to our uncontrollable living circumstances. The unpredictability of each day’s shootings and raids interfered immensely with other rituals of daily life that those in first-world countries tend to take for granted, like transportation, education, and work.
In 2013, it seemed that the economy was headed toward successful growth as Brazil captured the attention of curious tourists, allowing for the expansion of the tourism industry. As stated in “Brazil Through the Lens of Massimo Vitali,” tourism began to creep into the favelas which were well known before as the centers for drug trafficking and violent shootouts. Especially in the large favela of Rocinha, living situations have appeared to be more stable and desirable as it was located close to the beautiful São Conrado beach that possessed clear waters with incredible surf. In the Lapa district, the Second Annual Funk Parade brought the popular “Favela Funk” to overseas visitors. This was the only the start to a surging rise in popularity of music festivals and the Brazilian music industry, bringing in an influx of tourists and intensifying the effect of an improved economy. Because of this gentrification by foreigners, the creation of jobs lowered unemployment rates. Likewise, the adoption of Pacifying Police Units led to more secure changes that caused housing cost to skyrocket, a clear sign of a better economic state.
As a consequence of these momentary improvements, the favelas’ residing citizens were met with disappointment due to an economic recession; the downturn of events was the result of government corruption running rampant, the territorial loss back to competing drug gangs, and scandals of large businesses. Monica de Bolle, an expert on the Brazilian economy at the Peterson Institute, reasoned that there was an expectation of the government by the citizens to “have a massive investment in social projects in the favelas… but the money ran out completely” (Londoño). One of the causes was the previously mentioned siphoning of millions to officials and businessmen for their own personal gains. This governmental investment was necessary for the ongoing creation employment opportunities that would, in turn, allow for industrialization and advances in a stable economic infrastructure. Another example that led to the downfall of Brazil’s budgetary disaster was the kickback scheme scandal of Petrobras, the nation’s state oil company, in 2014. There were recent investigations to arrest the hundreds of individuals who contributed to the criminal diversion of eight billion dollars in 2016. Petrobras was a major employment patron for the South American country and their scandal produced a loss of jobs for the citizens. According to Statista, there was a fall of over 12,100 jobs from 2014 to 2016. The increasing unemployment rates caused a decline in the economy.
In addition to this, local businesses took a dreadful hit as frontlines around the favelas grew to be increasingly common after conservative congressman Jair Bolsonaro encouraged the police killings of “bandits” from the drug gang community (Leal). Because of the politician’s words, there were frontlines staged around the favelas to ensure the safety of those inhabiting the area. Once again, safety became a major concern. Therefore, after news of two tourists being shot surfaced, losses of revenue affected local businesses and also Brazil as an entire nation with an over $200 million drop in the tourism industry in 2017. This loss during the first through eighth months of the year was induced by heightened amounts of violence. Only those situated in more wealthy areas were left unaffected by these troubling deficits.
As tensions accelerated between drug traffickers and both state and federal governments, the promised education reforms in 2012 were ignored and were nowhere to be seen. The empty promises still lingered in 2016 when principal Andreia Queiroz of C.E. Clóvis Monteiro High School spoke of the daunting tasks that both educators and students had to endure day to day. From his interview in Ernesto Londoño’s article, it was accepted as a normality for Queiroz to cancel class based on the locational ferocity of shootouts nearby from information obtained on WhatsApp. Aside from Queiroz, many other educators and workers in other fields have utilized this particular app or other similar apps to navigate their daily commutes. Conjointly, only 400 students out of the 1,500 enrolled regularly attend class due to the fact that their school has only been open for 11 days that year. Since this happens more often than not, this should not be something that is brushed off. These bouts of bloodshed will affect the future of Brazil since education is essential for individuals to acquire higher chances for offered job opportunities and to obtain the ability make their own unrestricted choices.
On the other hand, the living conditions of the citizens have significantly improved for the better, even though there are exceptions to certain cases pertaining to the civilians’ opinions and agreements. During Brazil’s preparation for the Olympics, there was a promise for a continued elevation of the public transportation system, as described in “Legacy of Rio Olympics So Far Is Series of Unkept Promises.” In the Tri?ngula favela, in particular, rapid bus lines were developed in exchange for the removal of the residents’ main plaza and a number of houses to clear space for the building of Olympic stadiums. There was a guarantee for the rebuilding of the eradicated plaza along with a bus terminal. Yet, after the sporting events were over, none of the citizens were able to utilize or enter the rapid bus lines; the government never reconstructed the building or assembled the bus terminal. Also, during the FIFA World Cup, there were multiple days of protests that stretched across the capitals of seven states to raise awareness for government corruption, fight against unreasonably high costs of living, and promote the need for higher wages as Stephanie Nolen portrayed in “Protests? Strikes? Who Cares! Let the Games– and the Parties– Begin.” To answer their constituents’ needs, law enforcement officers volleyed the million of protesters with pepper spray and rubber bullets. This act obstructed the citizens’ natural right to express their feelings oppression and turmoil. Consequently, their human freedom of speech was violated due to the government’s fear that retaliation would cause a domino effect of riots and violence.
Contrarily, much evidence has been collected to depict the more enhanced lives of Brazil’s inhabitants. Due to the lack of regulation and legislation for public healthcare, it would be anticipated that the aftermath would be the decreased quality of life for the citizens. In spite of this prediction, the mean life expectancy extended from 63.9 years (1986) to 74.4 years (2014) in a matter of under 28 years, according to Roger Cohen’s “Brazil’s Uplifting Olympics” article. Additionally, the social dichotomy between the rich and the poor lessened, with an immense growth in the middle class. The percentages of the wealthy and the underprivileged were approximately the same; those with higher-paying jobs amounted to 25.8 percent of the total population while people who were grouped within the unemployed and minimum-wage earners totaled to 26.6 percent (Nes). The middle class reigned with a total of 47.5 percent. From this information, it can be deduced that the social divide between the highest class and the lowest class remains
to be perpetuated but considerably reduced. It can be assumed that the growth of the middle class allowed for higher wages, improved conditions, and better housing for many. The majority being the middle class was reminiscent of the first-world society of the United States, proving that one of Brazil’s societal issues has improved immensely.
Undoubtedly, the power of governmental actions, or the lack thereof, has greatly impacted the people of Brazil. This was evident in the unending death counts due to the abuse of law enforcement officers and high drug-related crime rates. Rested alongside Brazil’s economic deficits is the dim future of the nation’s young because of the inadequacy of educational reforms. Besides these shortcomings laid the breakthroughs of a decline of social division, the uncovering of corrupt authority figures, and the attempts at beneficial legislation that sought to correct the nation’s wrongdoings. As many can see, there are countless obstacles and empty promises that Brazil still needs to overcome and address in order to evolve into a more progressive and industrialized country. However, Brazil is considered to be one of the more developed and thriving nations globally. There are many more countries that are subject to more atrocious forms of exploitation and injustices. As humans, we must open our eyes to the persisting issues that persist throughout the world, including the inhumane dilemmas in the developing nation of Brazil. This awareness would allow for the righteousness of skepticism for those holding authoritative titles, like government officials, and our own personal rights in the greater scheme of the world. Because of this, we should exercise our right to question those around us to ensure that our society is advocating for the justice for all. We must stand to fight for the freedoms of the oppressed and discriminated and to speak up for the humane rights of others to be addressed. This is a step that we can take every day, big or small, as we can always yield a greater and more virtuous result for tomorrow.