Welcome to Brazil, home of enticing Samba music, spectacular football culture, tropical beaches, the wondrous great Amazon and possibly the biggest inequality gap I have ever witnessed…
Brazil is racing towards its pursuit of first world development at break-neck speed; paved roads and strip malls take the place of tropical rainforests seemingly overnight. And if you should so much as blink when taking in the view of the sea from Ipanema, your serene horizon-gaze could be replaced by an extensive network of robot-like oil rigs; slurping at the latest discovery of Brazil’s black gold.
This development Brazil is currently witnessing is a result of discussions that take place in big corporate offices and board rooms. It is where money has the power to sway the decision of a politician and where previous election promises fly out the window.
The knock-on effects can be catastrophic for part of Brazil’s population. In Sao Paulo for example, the city recently posted eviction notices on a portion of a Favela community in the north east zone, where they now plan to build a motorway. The communities were given a month to leave and a payment of 3,000 Reais ( around 1,000 pounds) per household. A month later the bulldozers moved in. Three days later that Favela community is now below three meters of rubble. Development here is quick and cruel.
The people of the Favela communities are not part of Brazil’s development conversation, yet they are often the ones that suffer most.
Favelas are very simple housing, stacked up on top of each other- I often describe it as looking like a very intense game of Jenga, however Ediane was always quick to dismiss my moment of imagination, with a, “No. It’s just a Favela.” They are similar to the shanty towns of India or Townships of South Africa. These communities sometimes go without basic sewage systems and often experience electricity black outs. They are often the areas of Brazil’s organised crime, where gang culture grows from and where the local economy sits on the shoulders of drug lords.
This is not the Brazil you see on your postcards, but this is where Brazil’s soul inhabits, where it’s heart beats loud and strong. Where neighbours join in solidarity when others are in need, where day to day living exists in good food, good music and contagious smiles and where a true sense of community is alive and kicking.
There is of course another Brazil, where high-rise apartments with individual swimming pools on each balcony (pictured) look down on such Favelas. Where electric fencing encloses beautiful mansions of marble tiled floors and where garages full of Lamborghinis wait for the next self-made millionaire to come take a test drive just for “the hell of it”.
A friend once asked if the inhabitants of the favelas ever enter such privileged communities. For sure they do- most days in fact. They visit on the backs of dustbin trucks, they visit in the mornings dressed in their road sweeping gear, but then they leave and if they wish to hang out past their protocol? No worries, the cops are on every other home phones speed dial…
Seldom do the families of such upper class areas of Brazil take a trip into the favela communities, but it happens when a youth gets desperate for his quick hit of cocaine- but he’ll be sure to take his personal body guard.
I have gone to extremes with this post, but only to prove a point. Right now our newspapers are being jam-packed with fear mongering headlines about the next financial collapse- but the current divide that exists here in Brazil is a perfect example and product of why the current economic model is unjust, unfair and unsustainable. The unlimited growth that the stock brokers are looking to create and feed off each and every day they enter their offices on Wall Street, is exactly what is contributing to the poverty gap existent all over the world.
Unlimited growth increases the divide. I refuse to believe life is about clinging to the ledge of the more privileged side. There is a gap between these two worlds that needs safe passage. The answers are out there, the course is not easy and we may not get there quickly, but just because we don’t wish to think about this divide, does not mean it doesn’t exist. Let us begin building these bridges.
A dear friend and now voice for the Amazon once defined Brazil as being a country “delicious for the heart but severely dangerous for the mind” and today I could not agree more.