»Our war« in Rio de Janeiro

There is a war on in Brazil and its centre is Rio de Janeiro. There are 34.ooo war victims a year in Rio alone – police stations are being blown up – Favelas are being attacked by the police – civilians are being killed, many children among them. Brazilians call it ‘our war’. What kind of war is it? It’s a war for drugs, people and weapons. In Rio, approx. 6,2 million people live in favelas – almost half the total population of the city. Favelas are illegal and primitive settlements, built by incomers from the surrounding countryside who are looking for work in Rio. The hut generally consists of one room for sleeping and living – around 4 x 4 m and maybe a small eating/cooking area – no more. Life is lived on the street. Even today, more favelas are being built, although illegal incomers are not supposed to be allowed in Rio anymore. Each of these primitive huts houses between 2 and 4 families. The new favelas meet the demand of the existing population only! Favelas are being built on ground which has seen no movement or investment in 15 years. IBISS is the biggest non-profit- making aid organization in Rio. It has a staff of 500 and is actively engaged in aid work in 84 of the approx. 500 favelas. So-called ‘scouts’, employed by IBISS now look for likely housing areas, prepare the sites for a legal takevoer and arrange for housing infrastructure, i.e. water, electricity, sewage. The new favelas are divided into lots with basic connectio9ns and media in place. These are then allotted to the people who have previously applied for such a serviced plot and who are entitled to one. They then receive a certain number of stones and other building materials from the City and the Regional Government. With these, they erect their own hut within a few months. All the settlements sponsored by IBISS feature a football ground in the center. Renaldo and many other Brazilian footballers developed their game on similar grounds. The settlements also feature public institutions such as preschools, schools and health centers. IBISS has been developing and building such projects now for 15 years. There are still favelas, however, which have developed in a chaotic and primitive manner. Here, there is no electricity, no running water or sewerage. Consequently, the unhygienic and inhuman conditions are the reason why outbreaks of tuberculosis and lepra are still on the cards in Brazil. Ingloriously, it is the no. 2 in the world for lepar and among the first 10 for tuberculosis. The huts are fabricated with pieces of old wood and cardboard straight
onto the earthen floor – totally lacking in facilities. Some sort of
human dignity is achieved, however slowly: at first, the obligatory football grounds are designated, then schooling for the children, followed by some kind of medical care center for everyone are established. After that, the huts are rebuilt in stone, roofed over property and supplied with running water and electricity. IBISS acts as the one and only customer of the electricity company – the hut owners pay a monthly flat rate to a representative at the ‘town hall ‘ – elected by themselves.

Before, the favela inhabitants used to supply themselves with electricity from the distribution box. The biggest step towards a civilized life, however, is the building of sewage canals. At first, raw sewage was simply diverted onto unpaved roads or straight into ‘nature’. Then, proper underground sewage canals were built and the road system was cleaned and paved over. This finally made for a civilized, hygienic and healthy way of life. In the past, whole families were simply evicted, when a new family was selected to share the hut. Only when all the inhabitants of a favela are registered as such, can one claim the funds from the government and the City, necessary to sponsor public schooling and medical assistance. Until such funding is in place, IBISS totally depends on international financial help. It is only when a system is already in place and – for all to see – needs financial help in order to continue, that the powers to be will take on their responsibility.

If the regional coffers are empty – as they are at present – it is entierely possible that the aid staff is not being paid their wages. All public and social centers – including orphanages and schools – are then closed. The children are left to their own devices – on the streets! OURCHILD was founded in Thuringia, Germnany, in the 90’s, when the existence and conditions of the Rio child soldiers became known around the world. Its most important partner in Rio is IBISS. The children had been abandoned by their parents and therefore tried to make some kind of living by grouping together into gangs. To give these children a perspectives, a future with adequate living conditions and schooling, was the reason for starting the project. The Rio City government’s only preventative action was to call a curfew for the children in the city center after 8 pm. should a homeless child be spotted after that time, armed official gangs could simply shoot
(at) them. The inner city was thus cleared to the problem – the favelas had the problem back in their streets. These sort of ‘culture experiences’ acted as fertile ground for the recruitment of the soldados. A lot has changed fore the better in the meantime. Brazil was ruled until the 1950’s by big landowners, then for 30 years by a military dictatorship and only in the last 25 years has a democratically elected regime tried to improve the situation in the country. The public offices and the police are still marked by the old system – corruption and nepotism are still apparent everywhere. The present (leftist) government has not been able to put a stop to it as yet.

Back to ‘Our War’. At the beginning of 2006, a story concerning the killing of many policemen in attacks led on Rio police stations by the drug barons horrified the world press. The similarity with the news coming out of Baghdad in Iraq was immediately apparent. Why did the drug barons chose to attack at this precise moment? In Rio, the three most important drug rings were: The ‘Reds’, ‘The Third’ and ‘ADA’ (Amigos do Amigos). A fourth group had formed, consisting of former policemen who had been suspended from duty. To be suspended, policemen had to be proven to earn considerably more than their salary – in Rio this was generally 10 times the annual salary amount! The group of corrupt policemen wanted to secure a large slice of the drug monies. With the help of their colleagues they raided the haunts of the drug barons and through the sale of drugs were able to establish themselves as the rulers in some of the favelas.

The drug cartels reacted badly to this new development. The status quo had been breached – the catels got together and decided to act. Theyt would not fight each other but – instead – together bombard one police station in Rio every week. In 2006, 38.000 killings were registered in Rio – approx. 100 every day. For the whole country, tgghe total figure is around 100.000 dead – approx. the same number of dead as in Iraq. In Iraq, these are meant to be vic times off the fight for democracy. In Afghanistan, the poppy fields and the drug tyrade are boomingg – supported by Germany and America. Drugs are the currency used globally to pay for weaponry. If we are fighting for democracy in Afghanistan, we should also do so in Rio de Janeiro. In the past, military dictatorships were supported by the West in Latin America – they are partly responsible for the present drug problems. So what can be done? To develop the favelas into proper city districts with all the necessary utilities in place has the effect of making them part of the city and thus not attractive to drug bosses and dealers. They generally leave the area, as they cannot any longer defend their business practices as they wish. The inhabitants are no longer ‘frin ge people’ who can be used and dictated to but are proper citizens with all the rights and duties of a legal society. They can thus have the power returned to rule their own lives and to
become proper members of society, Today, the schooling and medical systems are 100% in place and working. People are helped with finding employment and so become independent. The work done by IBISS and Ourchild in Rio to integrate these sections into society can be seen as exemplary in solving the problems of any – including our – society.