Friday, February 27, 2009

favelas benefitting from microcredit

The Financial Times profiles an Internet Cafe and Video Store in Heliópolis, the largest favela in São Paulo. The business started with a $100 loan from Banco Real, and has expanded through a succession of new loans totaling $12,000.

It's a huge success, but the FT argues that most banks in Brazil have not known how to enter the favelas and give loans to informal businesses, which often would rather pay high interest rates with low monthly payments than the standard products offered by the banks.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

the police and Paraisópolis -- a follow-up

An excellent blog post by a researcher/organizer who recently returned from São Paulo yields a much more subtle understanding of the situation in Paraisópolis, where state police took over the favela after a police shooting last month. Details at democracia urbana.

Essentially, the massive police occupation is the latest of at least a dozen such actions against squatter communities in São Paulo since 2005, and the second against Paraisópolis. The paramilitary shows of force -- officially known as Operação Saturação (Operation Saturation) -- have ranged from 1 month to 3 months. Sometimes they are combined with social programs.

Democracia Urbana details the 'he said/she said' descriptions of the original violence in the favela (the police claim they were restrained and that the community riot after the shooting was planned by the local drug gang) and concludes, with great good sense, that "regardless of whether the rioting was ordered by the imprisoned drug lord or was simply a spontaneous response to police brutality, it is hard to argue that a full-scale occupation of the community for an 'unforeseeable amount of time' is justifiable or humane."

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

new criminals fight crime in Rio

Newsweek reports on a new phenomenon in Rio de Janeiro: the explosion of private security forces that are hired as an antidote to the power of the police and the drug gangs.

These private armies are 'shoot first' operations. In Gardênia Azul, on Rio's western edge, one 16-year-old kid was shot dead by the local guards because he was smoking pot. They dumped his body in the neighborhood square. The militia, the article says, "runs the favela with an iron heel and a hand in everyone's pocket, taking a cut of all local business and services." The reporter comments: "To millions of people trying to get by in some of the meanest streets in the hemisphere, life involves hedging your bets by grabbing at whatever safety net you can."

In Rio, he reports, "many militias are composed of off duty cops, cashiered prison guards, firefighters, and even condemned criminals who take orders from senior police and elected officials. A recent probe by Rio lawmakers named eight elected officials and 67 police as ringleaders in 171 favelas."

And "analysts estimate that policing is a $100 billion to $200 billion global business and a growth industry in the developing world."

While it's sad but true that private security is a big industry, and it may be that private security forces are on the rise in Rio, the article is a bit contradictory: Are the militias independent from the police, or are they taking orders from the police? Are they against the politicos or for them? Are they really taking on the drug gangs, or simply one more cog in a corrupt machine? After all, the drug gangs also have their hooks in to the cops. So is there anything really new here?

Friday, February 06, 2009

Lula in Sta. Marta

The BBC offers an assessment of the Brazilian effort to bring peace to the favelas. What the story doesn't sufficiently stress is that the Brazilian President can make all the public statements he wants, but the police are controlled by the state government, and most people inside and outside the favelas think they are more violent and less honorable than the drug traffickers they supposedly seek to fight.

Prince Charles salutes squatters

I don't agree with most of Prince Charles's pronouncements about architecture, but he's spot on when it comes to squatter communities. The Guardian has details of a speech the Prince gave at a conference at St James's Palace organized by his Foundation for the Built Environment.

Charles said squatter neighborhoods have "an underlying intuitive grammar of design that is totally absent from the faceless slab blocks that are still being built around the world to 'warehouse' the poor," adding, that shantytowns offer "more durable gains than those delivered through the present brutal and insensitive process of globalisation that is shaping so many aspects of how we live".

Also featured on the stage with Prince Charles was Jockin Arputham, the founder of India's inspirational National Federation of Slum Dwellers, who has been fighting the luxury plan for rebuilding Dharavi, Mumbai's largest squatter area.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

police in paraisopolis

Police in Sao Paulo have occupied the Paraisopolis favela, the second largest squatter community in the city, the BBC reports. In typical fashion, what gains the headlines is the riot. The cause is in the 3rd paragraph: police shot and killed a local man they were trying to arrest. Sounds like there was no riot in the community until the police instigated one.

At the same time as the violence in Sao Paulo, Brazilian President Luis Ignacio Lula da Silva was in a favela in Rio, announcing a plan to stimulate the economy by building 500,000 apartments for poor people. The International Herald Tribune offers extremely bare bones details.