Favela Santa Marta

By Emily Siegel, Carissa Lim, and Monique Sager

In the context of national image, the Santa Marta favela brings up a lot of interesting discussions regarding the true intentions of pacification and how Brazil is starting to embrace the favela as a national icon. In the realm of pacification, efforts have been made by the government to eradicate drugs, gangs, and violence from the favelas. Furthermore, governments have intervened to implement new infrastructure such as plumbing, sewage systems, and even a cable car (See Fig. 1). Outside resources such as the Dutch artistic duo Haas & Hahn has brought projects such as the Favela Painting Project in an attempt to foster community pride within the favelas (See Fig. 2). It begs the question of whether or not these intentions are purely those of helping and improving the lives of the favela dwellers or if these intentions are tied to motivations surrounding the recent and growing spotlight on Rio de Janeiro.

The government has devoted resources to the efforts of pacification, but it has not necessarily been successful at improving the situation. Because of the pacification of Santa Marta, crime levels have decreased, and the standard of living has increased. However, the divide between social classes seems to remain significant. A wealthy Carioca can still look over the fence of his or her nicely groomed yard to see a mountain of poverty, and a favela resident can still look over that fence and see a swimming pool. Because of this divide, it is surely difficult for a favela resident to gain enough social standing to leave the favela. Furthermore, the government considers many of the ramshackle homes unsafe, and has built apartment buildings that select residents will be displaced from their homes and forced to move into. Many favelados do not wish to leave their homes, and many of which have been passed down through multiple generations. Although the changes that have been made to improve the favelas have been great ones, it seems as though the effort to decrease marginalization is still lacking.

As the world takes a closer look at Rio de Janeiro because of its recent mega-events, it is hard not to wonder if the pacification efforts were actually meant to beautify the image of Brazil’s “exotic” favelas and not to help the citizens of Brazil. The timing of the Brazilian government’s efforts to pacify and beautify are alarmingly suspicious and begs the question of what the true intentions of pacification are. Brazil, and Rio de Janeiro in particular, have started to embrace the image of the favela, selling tours and souvenirs with images of favelas. When in the past, they have made many efforts to marginalize the favelas and keep them out of society. Regarding tourism, having drug wars and crime in the favelas may make Brazil seem unsafe to travelers. The efforts of pacification have been done in the name of safety for favela residents, but in reality for the image of Brazil. As a result, the pacified favela tours are an integral part of Rio’s tourism, bringing money and attention to the poorest parts of the city. So whether or not the intentions of the government is clear, it can be interesting to think about whether these efforts have allowed the favelas to be part of the image of Rio that Rio would like to portray to the rest of the world. The once marginalized favelas have now found its way into becoming a national icon of Brazil.

Walking through the Santa Marta favela gave us a whole new insight on what life in the favela truly looks like. The articles that we read previous to our trip lent various perspectives on favela life and favela tours. For example, Kennedy Odede, author of 
“Slumdog Tourism”, states that “slum tourism turns poverty into entertainment, something that can be momentarily experienced and then escaped from.” Before our journey to Brazil, many of us were warned to stay away from the favelas. Yet, we were unprepared for how tame and calm Santa Marta was. While certainly, there were times where we felt uncomfortable and like we was intruding someone else’s space, there was also a sense of safety and community within the neighborhood. Street lamps, community barbershops, and playing children portrayed an image of a tight-knit community that embraced life in the favela. While the idea of touring poverty is a strange concept, we are not sure if it is entirely a bad thing. Furthermore, the favela tour guides want us to see the favelas, the tourist shops want us to buy their things (See Fig. 3), and so forth. If we are giving back a piece of our wealth to them, there could be a justification for these kinds of actions.

Image Appendix

Figure 1:

Photo by Carissa Lim

Figure 2:

Photo by Carissa Lim

Figure 3:

Photo by Monique Sager

Works Cited:

Freeman, James. “Neoliberal accumulation strategies and the visible hand of police pacification in Rio de Janeiro.” Revista de Estudos Universitários 38, no. 1 (2012): 95-126, 6.

Odede, Kennedy. “Slumdog Tourism.” New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/10/opinion/10odede.html?_r=0.

Phillips, Dom. “Favela Tourism in Rio de Janeiro.” The Guardian. http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2013/nov/04/rio-de-janeiro-brazil-favela-tourism.


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