On a hopeful note

As my internship comes to an end I will try to evaluate how in these past three months our work has made a difference in the way in which public policies are being implemented in the community of Vidigal. The process has been and is still a very slow one, because a community is made up of individuals who must be approached on a personal basis. Reaching, not only the organizations and institutions, but also the people in the community has been a great challenge. Based on the idea of “democratization” and equality, this process must happen through personal relationships between state agents and individuals, where everyone is given the same right to participate in the same way. Thus, providing equal information to facilitate an equal engagement of every person has been also a very big challenge, given the time, space and knowledge constraints that we were facing. We often had to rely on the use of “multipliers” such as groups of young people, religious organizations, sport teams or educational institutions. This usually delivered great results, helping to spread information through significant parts of the community and make them participant of the several events organized or the changes that were happening. However, great care had to be taken not to create an idea of hierarchy or levels of power or influence within the community. It is a fact that different people have different competences in terms of what they can do or how much they can cooperate with certain initiatives, but it has been a priority to keep the spaces, meetings and events open to everyone on an equal basis. We tended to first approach institutions, NGOs or public spaces to look for participation because it is an easier way to reach a greater number of people. However, it is a common mistake to rely on these organizations to be able to reach every home, so on many occasions we spread the events, organized forums, news and upcoming changes from house to house knocking on people’s doors to hand them a flyer and tell them about what was happening and how they could be part of it. The idea was not to create a hierarchy but a network through which people can make their demands reach the government institutions, and then government institutions reach the people with responses or solutions.

I found that a dynamic in which everyone holds equal citizen rights, despite living in a democratic country, is new to most of these people who had been silenced under fear of violence for many years. Living under the strict rule imposed by the traffickers, the locals were excluded from the rest of society in terms of resources, services and legal participation. It is not, for instance, that they lacked electricity or water because they obtained those services through illegal means helped by the gangs. Many times also, the government provided those resources but everything was made either through corrupt agreements with the “parallel power” or in a very aseptic manner in which the government and the people will never communicate in any way. Thus the main problem tat the community faced was that they were denied the right to demand or express their needs. However benevolent these criminals could be in terms of providing for ‘their’ communities, and even if many locals claim to have had a certain freedom, mobility and a ‘sense of security’ always present in their community, their rights as citizens were never taken in account by a state too busy engaging in a made up war to really focus on the people of these areas. The main burden of these localities was not the drug traffic –and there is still drug traffic happening today even in the ‘pacified’ communities – but the violence emerging from it, and even more the oblivion justified by it.

Now, under this new paradigm of pacification public policies are entering a community where the only thing that was preventing them from being implemented previously was... violence? And given that most violence was provoked by the confrontations between police and the traffickers, partly because there was not a consolidated police program in these areas, one can think that the state was not entering excused by a violence that they themselves were causing. That is some food for thought. Also the fact that there are now some development programs entering communities that are not “pacified” but instead classified as heavily violent –such as Manguinhos or Mangueira- leads me to think that maybe these public policies did not enter favelas before just because politicians had no incentive or will to do so. It is, in my opinion, a great example of the power of international pressure –of course together with other factors such as national political leaders that favoured social integration programs. Moreover, many believe these changes are just the result of the international attention that is being directed to Rio de Janeiro because of the upcoming word sport events. Therefore they wonder how sustainable are these changes meant to be.

It is the fear of many locals that after, or even before the end of the upcoming World Cup and Olympics events the state will withdraw from the communities, the traffickers will return and that all will go back to how it was before. However, I personally found that the work that is being done is not so easily reversible. The journey of personal growth and learning, which some have accompanied from the start while others are progressively joining, cannot disappear as easily as removing a police station. The sustainability relies on the confidence and on the amount knowledge about their rights that the locals can achieve. Through immersing them in conferences, “open” forums that used to be only frequented by residents from the richest areas, conversations with civil police and spaces where they can confront the government and demand their democratic rights they become part of a society of which they should have been always part. Lets hope that everything keeps moving on this direction.