The walls that divide Rio de Janeiro

April 11th, 2009

Moves underway to build walls around the slums of Rio de Janeiro has split opinion among citizens and also highlighted some interesting contrasts, according to a recent opinion poll.

The erection of 3-metre high walls at a cost of R$ 40 million ($18 million) has caused controversy, with 47% of people questioned by pollster Datafolha in favour of such moves and 44% against.

Photo: Walker Dawson, flickr

Photo: Walker Dawson, flickr

In a survey with a 4% margin for error, there appears little to choose between those on opposite sides of the debate.

The Rio de Janeiro state government says it has begun the action to protect remaining areas the city’s forest, although two- thirds of those asked believe won’t the objective won’t be achieved.

Rich-man, poor man?

For some it is seen as a cruel and crude sort of apartheid, separating wealthier from poorer areas, though interestingly 60% of those questioned say they don’t believe the walls will divide the haves from the have nots.

Among those whose monthly family income stretches to two minimum salaries R$930 ($415), 51% are in favour and as many as 39% are against the plan.

At the other end of the scale, 50% of those whose households bring in more than 10 minimum salaries of R$4650 ($2,077) disapprove of the walls against 45% who want them to become a permanent fixture.

Concrete barriers will surround 88,000 slum dwellers in 26,000 houses and shacks crammed into 1.7 square kilometres, if figures published at the turn of the Millennium are anything to go by.

Since then, of course things have not stood still.

Rocinha, which in 2000 was said to have 17,000 inhabitants, now reportedly has close to 26,000 people living there – a more than 50% increase.

Photo: dreamindly, flickr

Photo: dreamindly, flickr

From those who abhor the idea, the 14.6 kilometre long walls that will encircle thirteen favelas — twelve of them in the city’s South Zone, the other in the West Zone — have drawn comparisons with the Berlin Wall and the plight of the Palestinian people.

It has been suggested that the walls are being put up to hide the favelas.

The plans have won approval from 57% of people with a basic education, while 53% from a higher educational background are opposed.

It’s not the first time the idea has been put forward.

Though the plans were dropped following strong criticism five years ago, as part of efforts to protect the environment, while preventing drug traffickers and other alleged criminals fleeing from police raids walls it was announced that walls would be erected around four favelas.

Among those surveyed, 45% now think the walls would stop bandits escaping, while 51% believe they would fail to do so.

Negligent past

Until recent decades, favelas with their precarious living conditions, were seen as part of the solution not the problem by some who were happy to see them expand.

To unscrupulous politicians, slums were and still are viewed as somewhere to dump the poor, uneducated classes and as an easy place to pick up votes by promising, but never having to deliver desperately needed healthcare, sanitary and education facilities.

Keeping the slum-dwellers in poverty is also said to have allowed drug traffickers and other assorted criminal types to keep a stranglehold on their communities, as they carry out all manner of illegal activities.

Meantime, current affairs magazine Veja suggested that the time may have come for the city and state governments to now start applying proper building regulations to all of Rio’s thousand favelas, instead of just a comparative handful.

Indeed, the magazine cited state governor Sérgio Cabral as saying: “This is a wall of inclusion.”
Time will tell.

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