Afternoon Inquisition

AI: Hello Walls

Cement-block walls are being built around the shantytowns of Rio de Janeiro. Authorities say it’s to save rainforests. The city’s poorest residents say it’s an attempt to shut them out. Both sides of the debate seem to have good arguments.

The shantytowns (of which there are approximately 1000 in Rio) do indeed cut into hillside rainforest. I’ve been there, and have seen them myself. 

And since October, the Brazillian government has begun to adopt beautification programs to be implemented ahead of the 2016 Olympic Games.

But what do you think? 

Are the slums being swept under the rug, so to speak? Is there a legitimate concern for the natural resources of the rainforest? How would you deal with the slums and shantytowns? Any opinions on areas of your hometown that fall below the poverty line?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear daily at 3pm ET.

Sam Ogden

Sam Ogden is a writer, beach bum, and songwriter living in Houston, Texas, but he may be found scratching himself at many points across the globe. Follow him on Twitter @SamOgden

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16 Comments

  1. If we see an accompanying increase in funding to Brazilian environmental services alongside attempts to clean up corruption within those services then it may be an actual attempt by the government to save the forests. However, there are so many things besides the slums that are destroying the forests. Cattle ranchers and large scale farmers are stripping the forests for grazing land. Poachers are clearing areas looking for specific tropical trees to harvest.

    Currently none of these other issues are being addresses. Much like we saw China sweeping their human rights issues under rug I would guess this is a deliberate hiding of the social and economic issues by the government.

  2. Yeah I think it depends on what they do next. I thought one man’s opinion was interesting- ” He says an increased police presence and investments in projects like the wall and a funicular (cable car on rails) linking the steep slum to the rest of the city shows that officials are trying to improve their standard of living.”
    I will say the cable car does look like an excellent way to serve the people of the favelas, which can be dangerous to climb to. But the walls? That makes less sense to me. And they don’t seem to solve the problem. These people are not trapped within the walls. What’s to stop them from going around the back and building where the government won’t be able to see them?

    The senator who was interviewed gave the best “diagnosis”, in my opinion – he says he supported a satellite tracking system to avoid the expansion of the favelas. This plan seems to make waaay more sense and it’s the fact that they went with the wall instead that makes me a little suspicious.

  3. Have they already tried the “here is a line, please don’t build any more shanties past this line” approach rather than barricades? Or do they just want to get them out of sight?

    It’s easier to punish the poor, they don’t want to upset the rich rainforest destroyers.

    And where are they going to put these walls; on newly bulldozed forest? Or are they going to dislodge the occupants at the edges and build it over their shanties?

    And regardless, will this even work? What better way to build a shanty than when one wall is already constructed for you…

  4. @Glow-Orb: Depending on which favela we’re talking about, the housing may be far superior to public housing, and the residents more motivated to take care of and upgrade the houses.

    In truth, this is a problem that Brazil cannot solve alone. The only way that the crime problem in South America is going to get better is if the United States and other large markets legalize cocaine and other drugs for recreational use. As long as we continue to fund the drug gangs with prohibition, they will continue to bribe the police and take over neighborhoods, whether public housing or otherwise.

    It’s most likely that Brazil is trying to do what Atlanta did in 1996: try to make the city more visually appealing by relocating the disenfrachised.

  5. @sethmanapio: Good point. Of course, here in Atlanta, public housing was also leveled to construct the Olympic village. This was part of a campaign to level all public housing in Atlanta. The residents were given vouchers to help them find other housing, but we don’t know exactly what happened since we don’t keep records (“All of these people are doing fine, see, we have no files of problems, they must be fine.”), just like the Clinton welfare “reform.”

    If drugs were legalized, how would US police departments justify their budgets and paramilitary units?

  6. Given what else the authorities is doing to protect the rainforests (which is just slightly more than sweet fuck-all), I think it’s likely a way of trying to conceal the slums with a flimsy rationalization that sounds more benevolent.

    I strongly doubt that the shanty-towns are among the most significant causes of deforestation.

  7. I don’t know man. It is a difficult question, and shanty towns is something that is all too common in South America. I have lived in Venezuela, and man, in Caracas, which is pretty much a hole on a mountain range, it is sorrounded by slums on the mountainside. They look so unstable it is a miracle that there is no avalanche of houses. Although I remember during the flood in early 2000s that a lot of people did die due to landslides.

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