Magazine article New Internationalist

Lock out the Poor

Magazine article New Internationalist

Lock out the Poor

Article excerpt

Human rights groups have condemned a plan by the state government in Rio de Janeiro to build u kilometres of concrete and steel walls around 19 favelas (urban slums), saying the barrier is designed to separate the rich and poor. Construction began in late March and is due to be completed by the end of the year. While officials insist it's an 'eco-barrier' to protect what remains of Brazil's Atlantic rainforest from further encroachment by the surrounding slums, Brazilian human rights group Global Justice says it will create 'social apartheid'.

The head of the state's public works department, Icaro Moreno, rejects the claims of class division: 'People are completely free to come and go as they wish.' Rather, he says, the wall is designed to prevent further deforestation of the already decimated coastline rainforest, which has lost 93 per cent of its forest cover. 'The boundary was invisible, and now it is physical,' he explains. 'What the state is doing is saying, if you go beyond this or break it, you are violating public property.'

But Nandson Ribeiro, a computer technician who lives in Santa Marta, one of the affected favelas, says the wall is like a cage: 'The police keep constant watch over the area.' The wall here is three metres high and separates the forest from the bare brick houses and shacks on stilts that dangerously crowd the hillside.

Overcrowding in the favelas reflects the country's severe housing deficit. Official figures state that there is a shortfall of nearly eight million units across Brazil. A study by the Pereira Passos Institute showed that half of Rio's 750 favelas - home to 1. …

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