Note from BW of Brazil: Months ago, some time before the 2018 Presidential Election in Brazil, I pondered the question of why there were so many black and brown Brazilians who openly proclaimed that they would be casting their vote for extreme-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro, who would eventually go on win the November election. Why would people who are the main victims of violent and fatal police operations in the country’s poor neighborhoods vote for a man who declared he would give Military Police a blank check to kill even more people in the favela slums? A man who said that the mistake of Brazil’s brutal 21-year Military Dictatorship was that it didn’t kill enough people. In investigating this apparent contradictory reaction, a report by The Intercept website attempted to uncover some answers to these questions.
In the October report, The Intercept article came to some interesting conclusions based on discussions with people living in favelas. Some of the reasons that black and brown favela residents may have voted for Bolsonaro include:
- Having seen executions of everyday people committed by drug dealers in the slums
- A desire to see stronger laws that deal with criminals
- Everyday violence that goes unpunished often undermines the little success they have attained
- Humiliation at the hands of favela criminal elements
- Seeing prisoners living better lives than theirs in which they work long hours and see very little return
- A denial off statistics documenting police brutality and mass incarceration of the black/brown population
- Bolsonaro’s promise to loosen gun laws, which would give everyday people access to weapons that they believe will allow them to protect themselves from favela gangsters and criminals
With Bolsonaro approaching nearly one month in office, many other favela residents are beginning to question what his term will mean for them. Increased military and police presence in Rio’s slums are seen by many as an occupation. Although the goal of this increased military presence was to root out drug lords, this presence has only increased the violence.
So, in an environment in which hundreds die from stray police bullets being fired in these neighborhoods, what can we expect from a president who has promised to help “good citizens” get their hands on weapons and is committed to giving police free reign to kill even more? The article below discusses a few of these questions.
Bolsonaro policies divide Afro-Brazilians in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro
Courtesy of DW
There are many Afro-Brazilians living in poor neighborhoods in Brazil, where they face racism and violence every day. Some support the new President Jair Bolsonaro, who promised to bring “order”, others are against him.
“Please, no photos,” whispers Diego Francisco. The environment is tense. “Let’s keep walking!”
We would like to have photographed the two heavily armed police who have followed us since we entered the favela of Morro do Borel. Diego, a journalist, guides us through a sea of houses and shacks where he grew up. Borel is in the Tijuca neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro, traditionally a white middle class residential area, which, however, he stopped liking to live here since violence in the surrounding favelas has increased exponentially.
On January 1, Jair Messias Bolsonaro took office as the new President of Brazil. Bolsonaro, a far-right politician, announced that he would bring order and progress to the country, assuring a firm hand against crime. He promised, for example, to strengthen the police fight against drug trafficking in the favelas. And even in these places, the new President is popular.
We passed by an improvised house, made of bricks, and a small stream, with brown water, with a bad smell. Here, there is no sewage network.
Let’s go to the Pentecostal Church Assembleia de Deus (Assembly of God). In early December, police stormed the building during an evangelical mass, looking for a drug dealer. Next, members of the gang, in surrounding hills, shoot at the police. The church walls are studded with bullet holes.
If they ask their neighbors what they think of Bolsonaro, they will say that they agree with the new President. Finally someone with a mão de ferro (iron hand) appears to bring order. “Even if it means more police operations?” Yeah, even so.
On a pillar, we see a torn poster with the face of Marielle Franco. The black female councilwoman was murdered on the night of March 14, 2018 with three bullets in her head; another bullet hit her neck. Murders of police officers and black traffickers are frequent in Rio de Janeiro. Allegedly, the councilwoman, who helped black women in the favelas, was killed by paramilitary militias, according to Brazilian authorities – in the middle of the street in the city’s downtown.
Diego’s mother, Mônica Francisco, doesn’t like being called “Marielle’s successor.” She is an evangelical pastor, a human rights activist and, as of this month, a member of the Legislative Assembly of Rio de Janeiro. She is one of four women black activists who, surprisingly, were granted a term in the October elections by the left-wing Socialismo e Liberdade (Socialism and Freedom) Party (PSOL), which Marielle was also part of.
Figures of hope, to the left
The elections were a disaster for the Brazilian left, which dominated the country’s politics between 2003 and 2016. But many citizens now accuse it of having generated chaos in Brazil.
Even so, Mônica Francisco got a seat in the Legislative Assembly, as did Renata Souza, Marielle’s former chief of staff, and Dani Monteiro, Marielle’s former assistant. The fourth activist, Talíria Petrone, even managed to get a seat in the Câmara dos Deputados (Chamber of Deputies) in Brasília.
Marielle was a “companion” in the fight, says Monica Francisco. “Marielle and I had already denounced in 2010 the daily violations of the rights of the favela residents to the Human Rights Commission.” At that time, police occupied Morro do Borel to expel the drug traffickers. Instead of promoting social programs for youth, as promised, the state offered only one thing: pure violence. Police behaved like an occupying force, says Mônica Francisco.
A graphite on one of the walls resembles the day police officers killed a teenager by mistaking the sack of popcorn he was carrying with drugs. Police have also imposed compulsory curfew for Borel residents. But those who live in Rio know that this doesn’t happen in areas where the middle-class lives.
Order and authority
Before the October elections, Monica Francisco protested against Bolsonaro’s candidacy. Instead of solving problems with social programs, Bolsonaro thinks he can dispel them with prayers, brutal “Oeste Selvagem” (Wild West) methods and homophobic statements, she says.
But the majority of the population liked the ideas of Bolsonaro, including in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. Rio is a particularly chaotic city. The last two governors have been arrested for corruption, state funds are almost non-existent. “There is a sense of general disorder, and someone with a strong wrist, with a strong hand, could somehow organize life. People expect this from public agents,” says Mônica Francisco.
Her son, Diego, takes us to the school where he studied. We see black students lined up, on their way to lunch with their hands behind their backs. “Not a peep,” warns the teacher. Diego says nothing has changed, racism continues. “Middle and upper-class children would never have to do that.”
Drones against traffickers
Starting in January, the new governor of Rio de Janeiro, a defender of the same hard line as President Jair Bolsonaro, intends to send unmanned drones to the favelas to fight drug traffickers. Between January and November last year, 1,444 people were killed by police in Rio de Janeiro, a sad record. The perspectives are not good: “Day-to-day life in the favela is being militarized,” says Monica Francisco. “A state of emergency reigns.”
The deputada (congresswoman), on the other hand, promises to fight in the Legislative Assembly of Rio de Janeiro for the construction of a maternity hospital for the women of the region. She says it will serve as a symbol against violence and death, as a symbol of hope for a better life.