Modern Enclosures

Recently Rodrigo Mezzomo, in an article for Instituto “Liberal,” argued for the removal of the favelas as an urban necessity in Rio de Janeiro. According to the author, favelas symbolize “disorder and illegality,” and result from “invasions and disordered occupations.” Moreover, favela dwellers are “superior citizens, not subjected to the constitutional order of the country, because they aren’t bound by the same duties that the Brazilians who live on the asphalt” — the “asphalt” being the area outside the hills where favelas in Rio are located. According to him, that’s why “removing is necessary.”

It’s a shame that Mezzomo isn’t willing to call what he defends by what it is: The violent expropriation of the favelas’ inhabitants of their legitimate property. Favelas are “irregular” only by a judicial formality. Outside a few efforts of urban regularization, favelados are still considered invaders and criminals almost by definition, although they homesteaded previously unowned and unused land.

That should explain why Mezzomo isn’t so anxious to leave his own house and go live in a favela, even though their dwellers are “superior citizens”: The truth is that there’s no privilege for those who live in the favelas. They are considered second class citizens, unworthy of basic guarantees, excluded from property rights and deprived of individual liberties.

Favela dwellers live with daily oppression by the police, with constant danger brought by drug dealers, with the threat of eviction (be it for “safety” reasons, against floods, for instance, or for urbanity reasons), with unhealthful environments (from trash and sewage), and with overall poor services. Living in favelas is clearly not the dream described by Mezzomo. Favelas don’t pay land tax, but I’m willing to bet few favelados consider the benefit worth the cost.

It’s symptomatic that Mezzomo mentioned the Tijuca neighborhood as an example of “devaluing” after the growth of favelas. Tijuca had been an upscale area, that decayed with the arrival of the favelas and, presumably, of the unwanted. The problem is that favelas, as irregular developments, are not a result of urban freedom, but rather the cruel consequence of years and years of violent intervention, urban zoning and the ban on the occupation of perfectly viable land.

The attempt to expropriate the poor who live in the favelas adds insult to injury, and is especially criminal because it removes citizens from the urban centers, where there are economic opportunities, and dislocates them to the periphery, far from the eyes and sensibilities of the rich.

For Mezzomo, “removals” are a taboo subject in Rio’s and Brazil’s politics. Complete lie. Removals are sanctioned and practiced as a consistent state policy, supported by the middle class. Evictions from the favelas are the modern enclosures.

In Rio, over 20,000 families have been evicted since 2009. It’s estimated that 250,000 people will be removed in preparations for the World Cup, though there are no precise data.

Minha Casa, Minha Vida program (“My House, My Life”), by the federal government, works diligently to enrich real estate developers and send the poor off to the urban outskirts.

I know I won’t convince the middle class or the rich with the above arguments, so I came up with a proposal that should make everyone happy: Let’s remove the rich and the middle class from the noble neighborhoods, put them on the periphery and give the poor their old houses and apartments in Leblon, Ipanema, and Copacabana. How about that?

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