Speculation in Brazil's Favelas

Article excerpt

Across much of the developed world, real estate advertisements appear regularly, whether in the morning newspaper or on the borders of heavily trafficked web pages. Brazil in this case is no different. However, readers of Brazilian real estate classifieds have recently been barraged with a kind of novelty: ads pushing property sales in the once dangerous favelas of the fabled city Rio de Janeiro.

Brazil is well known everywhere for its favelas, or shantytowns. While the favelas have become somewhat of a symbol of this continent-sized country, it should be noted that a great majority of Brazilians live outside of these run-down neighborhoods. Still, as nearly six percent of the population is official favela dwellers (one million people in Rio de Janeiro alone), it would be a rare Brazilian that could tell you that he or she has never come in contact with these great expanses of simple shelters stacked one on top of the other. The great concentration of these primitive homes, named after an African flower said to grow in the worst of conditions and on any surface, appears to be on the outskirts of Brazil's most important cities.

The Favela

In the beginning of the 20th century, Rio de Janeiro's mayor, inspired by the great reformer of Paris, Georges Haussman, decided to raze Rio's cluster of cortiços, large houses divided by several rooms where many families lived together. Home to cariocas (a label used for all residents of Rio de Janeiro), the cortiços were marked by poverty and poor hygiene. When their homes were destroyed, Rio's poor were forced to construct new dwellings in the hills of the city. This new construction marked the beginning of Brazil's infamous favelas.

Many times throughout the 20th century, the Brazilian authorities made feeble attempts to provide decent housing for its poor citizens who lived in places similar to the Rocinha, Brazil's largest favela. Despite these efforts, the population of the country's favelas continued to grow. Surprisingly, the defining decade for the slums was the 1970s, the decade also stamped by Brazil's economic miracle. Despite the economic prosperity witnessed in the country, the great majority of wealth creation was centered in the South. This skewed distribution of growth pushed many Brazilians who lived in the country's north to migrate to the south in search of work. Upon arriving in cities such as Säo Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, the migrant workers had no choice but to build cheap homes in the surrounding areas of the city.

In 1960, there was a total of 335,000 people living in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro; by 2000, that number had reached one million. Aside from providing marginalized Brazilians a place to live, the conglomerate of favelas surrounding Rio de Janeiro have turned in to an impenetrable shelter for the city's criminals, from petty thieves to the country's king pin drug dealers.

PAC and the UPPs

As expected, upon arriving to the presidency in 2003 as a populist president elected by Brazil's poor masses, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva immediately looked to carry out a handful of social programs aimed at helping the country's poor. Among these programs was the famous Bolsa Familia that involved cash transfers to poor mothers who kept their children in school instead of turning them into young wage earners. Another of the famous Lula programs was the Program to Accelerate Growth (PAC by its Portuguese acronym). Launched in 2007, PAC, a general infrastructure program not directly targeting the country's shantytowns, has been credited with bringing basic sanitation, along with walkways, and new public transportation options to the favelas.

Despite the sort of renewal that Lula' s housing project brought to the country's poorest neighborhoods, there remained a type of "wild west" atmosphere due to the high levels of criminality of these areas. In 2008, the city of Rio de Janeiro decided to act, and began to implement a pacification campaign targeted at returning the state to the favelas. …