Cities, Mega-Events and Accumulation by Dispossession
By: Raúl Zibechi
The large cities of the third world have become spaces so attractive for the accumulation of capital, like the vast rural areas in which monocrops agriculture and open sky mining expand. Mega-events, like the Olympics and the World Cup of Soccer, but also big music concerts, are the best excuse for accelerating accumulation, which goes hand in hand with expelling the poor or their permanent enclosure in controlled spaces.
Brazilian cities, very particularly Río de Janeiro, at this time show the least friendly face of accumulation by dispossession: military intervention in favelas, knocking down houses and expulsion of communities that were settled decades ago in zones now desirable to capital. An event organized this week by the Laboratory for the Study of Social Movements and Territorialities (Lemto) permitted becoming familiar from the inside with the reality of those who are being attacked by the facelift work for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.
“They come and mark the houses they are going to tear down, just like the Nazis did with the houses of the Jews,” she says, with impassible serenity, Inalva Brito, a 66-year old social struggler that is a member of the Vila Autódromo residents association, a barrio of 450 families in south Río, bordering on the future Olympic Village. There are residents there who make up the third generation of those expelled by development, who are moved to places each time farther from the urban center, where there are no services and transportation is very expensive.
Morro da Providencia, the oldest (favela) of the city erected by ex combatants of the War of Canudos at the end of the XIX Century, is a monument to social inequality. Who would be interested in this hill of steep staircases and irregular alleys, constructed with a lot of sweat by the 20 or 30 thousand neighbors that have inhabited it for 100 years? Marcia, veteran social struggler of the favela, leads us through impossible places, showing the houses marked with three fateful letters, SMH, the initials of the municipal housing ministry (initials in Portuguese). Every few steps lots appear covered with debris that denounce the action of the bulldozers. She stops at a place, pointing out that at this site a house was demolished with the family inside. Inequality and state violence; or must one speak of “democratic State terrorism?” What’s most amazing about the Providencia favela is the construction of an enormous cableway that begins at the bus station, makes its only stop in what was the place’s principal plaza (a space for socialization and comunidad fiestas, now destroyed), to end on the other side of the hill, attached to Samba City, where the samba schools construct their two-wheeled carts and design their disguises. The favela, which does not even appear on the tourist maps, will be a photo trophy in tourist backpacks, while its residents will not have access to the cableway.
The population of this favela’s big sin is not drug trafficking, almost non-existent for sure, but rather living together at the port, a zone that now is desired for real estate speculation that wants to remodel an area that is already baptized Puerto Maravilha, in direct relation to Marvelous City (Cidade Maravilhosa). The abandoned shacks will be re-converted into luxury restaurants and stores for tourists; the bridges and extensive viaducts will be demolished to give it a “green” aspect, adapted to the likes of tourists from the north and upper middle class national tourism. Faced with that, as a precondition of accumulation by dispossession, An enormous PPU (Police Peacemaking Unit) was installed in the favela’s low zone, the most accessible for armored cars, the dark caveirãos (in reference to the skull, emblem of the military police). In a sense rigorous sense, the fight against the community is understood through pacification, although to maintain democratic appearances terms like “drug traffic” or “bandits” are used, to criminalize a whole population that always fulfills the same requirements: poor, marginalized, black.
This very week, President Dilma Rousseff announced in Paris the construction of at least 800 regional airports in cities of up to 100, 000 inhabitants. Barely 66 function at this time. All will be linked with nearby cities by highways. She did not give numbers, but it assumes a juicy business for a handful of builders and the ruin of thousands of families that will inevitably be displaced. It is not a coincidence: the builders realize the largest contributions to the parties’ electoral campaigns. In the recent municipal and gubernatorial elections, four large construction companies (Andrade Gutierrez, Queiroz Galvão, OAS and Camargo Corrêa) donated 100 million dollars to the candidates. Andrade Gutierrez alone delivered 38 million dollars. The PT was the most benefitted party: it raised 32 million alone from the five largest donors (Folha de São Paulo, December 9, 2012). Who can compete with similar power? Not residents of the favelas, for sure.
A recent study from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) points out that the country’s five largest cities concentrate 25 percent of the national GDP, and only three –São Paulo, Río de Janeiro and Brasilia– 21 percent (Agencia Brasil, December 12, 2012). In the whole southeast region, Brazil’s richest, one percent of the municipios concentrate half of the income. There, in the mega-cities, a substantial part of the future of humanity is playing out. Global capital concentrates its batteries there, impelling those gigantic acts that render it greater benefits, short and long-term. Those that resist are systematically accused of being criminals.
Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada
English translation: Chiapas Support Committee
Friday, December 14, 2012