Rio de Janeiro has started “legalizing” favela residents

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The government of Rio de Janeiro recently reported that is in the process of providing land titles to 23% of its favela residents, people who have been living in city’s urban ghettos often for generations without any legal right to their homes. 

As it is, most favela residents are among Brazil’s most marginalized and mistreated populations. They tend to be low-income people of color living in communities dominated by drug-related violence and police corruption, with little access to even the most basic of services–such as running water or electricity. Since 2008, Rio’s government has begun to prepare for the World Cup with Police Pacification Units (UPP), armed police forces who invade communities to scare away drug lords, maintain the peace, and begin implementing services. Though residents have certainly seen the immediate benefits of this process, many argue that their communities are even more militarized than before pacification.

However, it seems that the city government is serious about its goal of integrating favela residents into the larger society. In Brazil, owning the land you live on is no joke: land equals power and security. The history of land ownership has obvious roots in slavery, when the wealthy owned the land that the poor worked. Today, it is all too common for families to have no legal proof that they own their home. In fact, the majority of the country’s most dire political movements revolve around land ownership, whether it be the Landless Movement or Brazil’s indigenous movement.

So what does a land title mean for a resident of Rio’s favelas? It means owning a piece of an increasingly gentrified and globalized city, and having a piece of paper to prove it. Rio de Janeiro’s preparation for the World Cup and the Olympics is like adding steroids to the city’s already infamous problems with inequity. The poorest members of Rio society are being displaced from their homes to make room for stadiums, hotels and tourism.

And of course, women are among those most affected by these processes. Rio’s favelas are full of single mothers working hard within the informal labor market to support their families. Studies have proven that militarization disproportionately affects women. In a society where politics are dominated by men, women living in favelas must struggle that much harder to have their voices heard.

But fear not, no one is going down without a fight. Indigenous activists have been struggling for years to prevent the Amerindian Museum from being demolished and this year Brazilians took to the streets like they haven’t since the dictatorship to protest inequality and rearrange government priorities.

For once, it seems like the government might be listening.

Let it be said however, that this is a very small step. After submitting all the required documents, residents must then wait five years before obtaining a land title. And in a bureaucratic society like Brazil, getting all those documents together without wealthy and educated connections is difficult to say the least.

But it’s a step, and I’m taking this moment to celebrate it. Then, back to work.

Image credit

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Juliana needs to move back to Rio ASAP.

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