In Brazil, especially in the city of Rio de Janeiro, the wealthy tend to live closest to the sea. Favelas, or shantytowns, are slums in Brazil that are located farther away from the water on hills. They started out as an inexpensive housing option for returning Brazilian soldiers and freed African slaves in the 19th century. In Rio de Janeiro, a city of about six million people, approximately 20 percent live in favelas.
The urban phenomenon of favelas grew during the dictatorship of Gétulio Vargas, who pushed for greater industrialization within Brazil, which brought in more immigrants to Rio de Janeiro and therefore more occupants into the cheaper form of housing.
The 600 favelas in Rio de Janeiro today are mostly known for their high levels of poverty and crime, with numerous drug trafficking groups and street gangs operating within the various favelas that dot the hills of Rio de Janeiro. Favelas are also known for their relative lack of public services and government attention. Brazil is known to be one of the most unequal countries economically, with the top 10 percent of the population earning 50 percent of the national income and 8.5 percent of people living below the poverty line.
The location of favelas makes it difficult for the Brazilian government to provide proper public services, and as such makes it harder for the government to establish a positive presence in the favelas, which only furthers the cycle of violence as gangs are given more or less free reign.
This security issue within the favelas has been addressed by the introduction of a government program in 2008 that aimed to crack down on violence in the slums. Such programs are proving especially important ahead of the upcoming World Cup. The program installs permanent “police pacification units” (PPUs) throughout the favelas to deter crime and rid the favelas of the most serious gangs.
These PPUs are becoming a more widely accepted form of security control on behalf of the government. In Rio de Janeiro alone there are currently around 37 PPUs covering an area of about 1.5 million people, yet these PPUs have been criticized in Brazil for their severe tactics in dealing with local residents. Right now more than 24 policemen are facing charges for allegedly torturing a local resident of a favela.
More positive government policies have been successful in bringing 40 million Brazilians into the middle class over the last decade. Moreover, nationwide statistics indicate that 15.9 percent of Brazilians were impoverished in 2012, down from 18 percent in 2011. But Brazil is a land of contradictions, and despite this impressive decrease in poverty the South American nation remains the 12th most unequal nation in terms of income. Although Brazil should certainly be commended for its substantial decrease in poverty, policies should be implemented to ensure further social inclusion for those living on the margins.
– Jeff Meyer