Zibechi: Domination and resistance in the favela


By: Raúl Zibechi

Pedestrians are the kings to whom cars must surrender. Perhaps it’s the biggest difference between the favela and the asphalt, something neither the media nor analysts of the system repair. The street is the paradise of the common people, of the little boys that play ball, of the little girls that jump and run, of the women that haul bags of food and the youths that open the way with their motorcycles making pirouettes between the cars and the teenagers, which they don’t seem to impress.

Timbau is one of the 16 favelas (shantytowns) of Maré, an enormous space adjacent to Guanabara Bay with 130,000 inhabitants, which northeastern migrants obtained from the sea meter-by-meter from their precarious stilt houses, which they started to build a century ago. Timbau is one of the few favelas north of the city (Rio de Janeiro) on the buttocks of a hill. It enjoys the privilege of overlooking the Bay and the hills. When the sun beats down it becomes hard to walk uphill and everything moves in slow motion.

If the favela is defined by what it doesn’t have, as the research centers usually do that prioritize “lacks,” one would have to begin by saying that there are no banks or supermarkets, nor those cathedrals of consumption called malls. It seems like a proletarian neighborhood of any industrial center at the beginning of the 20th Century, when “the workers lived differently than the rest, with different vital expectations, and in different places,” as Eric Hobsbawm reminds us (Historia del siglo XX, Crítica, p. 308).

In one of the alleyways, between a warehouse and a barbershop where the teenagers smooth their hair, a small business has a hand-painted sign that says Roça, which in Portuguese is the name for the family agricultural area. A small group of youths sell agro-ecology products and make artisan beer, demonstrating that it’s possible to work collectively and with self-management. It’s a space where groups come together from other favelas that resist the militarization and urban (real estate) speculation.

Maré was occupied militarily until a few months ago and the soldiers will surely return before the 2016 Olympic Games. The Army was there for 15 months, 3,000 soldiers with rifles and war tanks, but the Military Police relieved them at the beginning of July. The Military Police are one of the bodies that the popular sectors hate most, especially the young blacks. They are responsible for thousands of deaths every year.

A group of young men from the Occupy Alemão collective, a nearby favela occupied since 2010 by the military where Pacifying Police Units (UPP) and a cable car network have been installed, assert that: “the greatest contradiction that exists in Brazil is racism.” Occupy Alemão was born to resist police brutality with rock festivals, cine-debates, children’s games, graffiti workshops and an “economic blackness fair,” inspired in the solidarity tradition of the Quilombos (republics of fugitive slaves); they destine 20 percent of the sales to a fund to support the mothers of victims of the State in Río de Janeiro.

Police units in Maré during 2014

Police units in Maré during 2014

The fair is itinerant and proposes: “to defend political autonomy and strengthen the collective economy,” as they emphasize on their Facebook page. We’re dealing with an initiative of movements that are majority black in the areas of health, culture, education, cooking and audiovisual to spread Afro-Brazilian culture and promote self-development as a way of constructing autonomy.

One of the youths says that in the Alemão Complex there are five UPP and that one of them functions in a school, with its façade covered with bullet holes. He talks about the racism as a form of domination: “When they go to the doctor, white women are attended to on an average for 15 minutes, but black women barely three minutes.” Every word sounds like a hammer on stone. “We for Us,” is the slogan of Occupy Alemão, which has won a space among the gang of movements that were born after the Days of June 2013.

For what comes from outside, the details are disconcerting. The “tourism safari” in the favelas causes havoc. Green Jeeps like those that the soldiers use, with blonde tourists camera in hand, violating the daily life of the residents. From the Alemão cable car they can photograph them while they eat, dance or do their more intimate necessities. A panoptic as insulting as the la insensitivity of the market. They (the tourists) buy souvenir T-shirts that say, above the favela’s photo de la favela, “I was here,” although they may have flown ten meters above it. It’s sad to check out how the logic of the tourist and that of the military police is identical, although they use different weapons.

Night in the favela is noisy. The music sounds powerful, but nobody complains. Just as cars cede to pedestrians, the favela understands that silence can’t go against the rhythms. It seems rare and even disturbing to the foreigner that he can’t go to sleep. Nevertheless, it’s the worker logic of all times, according to Hobsbawm, where “life was, in its more pleasant aspects, a collective experience” (idem).

It’s probable that that culture of the collective explains the genocide that the favela residents suffer, in the vast majority black. A culture woven of social relations different than the hegemonic ones, as irreducible as the space where it has taken refuge, represents a latent threat to the dominant classes. In more than a century, no government was able to get along with the favelas that continue growing despite the violence of the State and the traffickers.

There are hundreds of youth collectives that resist: hip-hop collectives, collectives of black culture, against genocide, economic collectives and collectives of mothers of the murdered and disappeared. The impression is that they tend to multiply and it’s more difficult all the time to make them turn back from the bullet. In the next cycle of struggles, the women and youths from the favelas will be present, and the white lefts will have to decide whether to fight and die together with them or continue looking towards above.


Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Re-published with English interpretation by Compamanuel.com




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