Posts tagged inequality

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“Beltrame, We Don’t Accept Losing Another Generation”

Last Tuesday November 19, an interview with Rio State Security secretary, José Mariano Beltrame, was published in which he claimed that Rio may have to lose a generation before the situation of violence in Rio’s favelas improves, saying “Rio de Janeiro has this history and we’re maybe going to lose a generation to change this picture [of violence] that, unfortunately, the state let get to this point.” The assertion has enraged favela residents and human rights advocates with much comment and discussion on social media. Here we translate a response to Beltrame’s statement by Mônica Francisco, Borel resident and representative of the Borel Institutions Network, published in Jornal do Brasil. For the original in Portuguese click here

I’m very sorry, Beltrame, but to have to lose another generation for the public security model to work out is, at minimum, deplorable, if not abhorrent, from the human point of view. It’s just us that has to lose one generation? The 388 years that we suffered at the hands of your European ancestors is not enough?

The picture is serious. More than four million blacks were brought to Brazil from various African countries (the United States brought fewer than 1 million), and that isn’t counting the ones who died along the way. If we say that a generation lasts some 50 years, then during the regime of slavery alone we lost nearly six generations. Post-slavery, with the inability to access land, school, and, consequently, dignified employment, we lost two more. In other words, it took eight generations to see a slight improvement. Therefore, secretary, we do not accept losing any more.

We are ridiculed every day. Our country is racist, our State kills blacks through society’s silence, and what’s worse, those who are in positions of power reproduce this whole scene, clearly shown by data on the prison population, which demonstrates the rigor of the judicial system in addressing blacks. Genocide in healthcare, bankruptcy in education and public housing. And those who access these services are principally blacks because they comprise the poorest population of this country.

I don’t like the name of the holiday dedicated to the memory of Zumbi dos Palmares very much because I don’t think it does justice to its intention of legitimizing the importance of the population that built this country. It should be called “Awareness of What it Means to Be Black in Brazil Day” (rather than “Black Awareness Day”). It’s a long name, but it is more representative of the need to reaffirm the enormity of the age-old effort to be respected independent of your skin color, although we have made some advances.

The Youth Lives Plan, a federal government initiative that unites government departments, was conceived based on a sad statistic: eight full airplane crashes-worth of deaths happen per month among young black men who live in urban peripheries. We need awareness to stop this tragedy. Silent genocide—or better yet, institutionally silenced genocide with society’s consent—of those who, in fact, make up the majority of this nation. Even though many people identify themselves as pardos (mixed race) or morenos (brown), blacks make up the majority according to the most recent census, conducted in 2010.

Upon hearing sociologist and professor Michel Misse say in his presentation on the irregularity of the official numbers in respect to the violence in Rio de Janeiro state that “the death toll by police action in the State and in Brazil should be as publicized as the rate of inflation,” I signed below and I’m going to repeat what he said—I think it is true. Especially because you cannot ignore the poster used to publicize Misse’s book launch announcing 10,000 deaths in ten years caused by police actions. By the way, the presentation was made at the launch of the book, “When the Police Kill,” resulting from a study by the Citizenship, Conflict, and Urban Violence Nucleus (NECVU) of the Rio de Janeiro Federal University (UFRJ).

Another racial tragedy in Brazil is seen in prisons, which produce an alarming picture: 53% of prisoners in Brazil are black and, according to the United Nations, Brazil has the fourth largest prison population in the world. This is no longer the environment to delay the structural change that Brazil needs. Next year we must show by the strength of the vote, which is still obligatory, our discontent and indignation with the Brazilian State’s failure to act to dignify a portion of the population that composes its majority, a group that is made invisible within its own pain, in its intellectual and cultural capacity. No to the institutionalized genocide of a people by the Brazilian State.

Our fight is for rights. The black person, the impoverished person, the favela resident, or otherwise, deserves respect.

Mônica Francisco is a representative of the Borel Institutions Network, coordinator of the Arteiras Group and studying for a degree in Social Sciences

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North Zone Outrage Over Security Response to Beach Robberies

Many thousands of Rio residents packed the beaches of South Zone last Wednesday November 20, Black Awareness Day and a public holiday in Rio state. However, some sunbathers who squeezed onto the sand to enjoy the scorching temperatures were victims of a series of robberies as opportunistic thieves took advantage of the dense holiday crowds. Municipal guards armed with batons confronted and apprehended several youngsters, and the military police made 12 arrests.

The following day Globo reported the incident with the opening line: “The mass robberies are back on Rio’s beaches.” Though the Military Police denied that what had occurred that day were arrastões, as mass robberies are known in Brazil, the seeming rise in beach robberies in recent weeks–another mass robbery was reported on November 15, also a public holiday–has caused panic over security on the sand.

In response, Rio State Security Secretary José Mariano Beltrame announced on Friday November 22 new measures of “intensive policing” along the South Zone beaches and that buses heading from the city’s North Zone to the beach neighborhoods of Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon will be stopped and searched. Passengers may be asked to show their documents and children under 10 unaccompanied by an adult taken to a shelter.

The announcement has caused widespread outrage on social media, with the Globo report shared extensively on Facebook and tweeted hundreds of times. One of the most common reactions to the news has been disgust and disbelief with many comments simply stating “is this serious?” or “this is unbelievable.”

Sharing on Facebook, community photographer and educator, Léo Lima from Jacarezinho wrote: “It’s impossible to believe this news. This is called racism, for those that thought that was over. This is called the divided city, the elitization of the public space. With no measures to contain mass robberies, the police blame the suburbs.” The implication that those responsible for beach robberies come from the North Zone was highlighted by many, including Revista Absurda which tweeted: “The Rio summer trend this year is ‘There are only criminals in the North Zone.’”

The divisory tactic shocked many commentators, who tweeted the report with the words “Apartheid Carioca.” Others referred to the strategy creating ghettos and cementing existing divisions between the North and South of the city. Raull Santiago, photographer, activist and member of the Occupy Alemão collective, posted the comment: “It’s happened. They’ve marginalized the whole of the North Zone. The previously invisible wall is starting to consolidate!”

Others referred to the wider context of policies and government action limiting civil rights as the city prepares to host the World Cup 2014 and Olympics 2016. Sharing the link, the Vila Cruzeiro Facebook page wrote: “The state of exception: maintaining ‘security’ for the gringos. Residents of the North Zone will suffer yet another attack on their rights.” The Network Against Violence also cited the strategy as part of the state of exception, writing: “There’s nothing left to complete the state of exception in Rio de Janeiro: militias, police incursions, UPPs, compulsory internment, arbitrary removals and now the control over the circulation of the young, black and poor.” The affront to the right of North Zone residents to come and go explicit in the move was reiterated across Facebook and Twitter.

Beach robberies and subsequent measures to stop and search buses coming from the North Zone are not without precedent. As with violent crime in general, mass robberies on the beaches were most intense in Rio during the 1990s, in particular the wave of arrastões which made national and international headlines in 1992. The measure subsequently taken was to control the flow of those coming from the suburbs to the South Zone, stopping and searching buses in Centro and at the embarkment points in the North Zone: “Those without ID, shirt or money for the return journey will not be able to embark on buses from the North Zone and Centro to the South Zone on weekends and sunny public holidays,” reported Globo on October 22, 1992.

Conflating geography and class with criminality is a popular, long-time conception among Rio residents, particularly those living in the wealthy, beachside neighborhoods. In 1984, the first bus line to pass through the Rebouças tunnel linking the North and South of the city caused widespread concern amongst the beachside resident elites who looked with thorough disdain on the neighborhoods’ new frequenters – dubbed farofeiros after the manioc flour accompaniment poorer beachgoers bring with their packed lunches. Residents’ comments at the time published in the Jornal do Brasil column, Caderno B, included: “What ugly people;” “They’re creating a scene of vandalism and terror;” “The beach has changed color;” and “We pay such expensive taxes for them to put this poverty on our doorstep.”

Three decades later, the same attitudes can still be heard amongst South Zone residents in resistance to the new metro stations in Ipanema and Leblon and increased bus lines. One Ipanema resident posted on Facebook last Wednesday: “It’s not possible for residents who pay the most expensive property tax in the country to go out on the streets or the beach in peace. It’s terrifying. No prejudice, but it’s not possible to have a bus every 15 minutes going to Alemão.” It received at least 45 likes and 20 supportive comments including a call for a petition in favor of reducing transport access, but the post was also shared in outrage by residents from Alemão including editor-in-chief of the Voice of the Communities newspaper, Rene Silva, who shared it several times. The author later withdrew the post.

Rio’s beaches are commonly lauded as democratic spaces where the whole, varied spectrum of Rio society mixes and co-exists. However as anthropologist Fernanda Pacheco da Silva argues in her 2011 study ‘The beaches of Ipanema: liminality and proxemics of the seashore,’ there are distinct urban tribes which occupy distinct locations along the South Zone coast. Though interaction may fall far short than the imagined democratic utopia, however, access to the beach is part of the right to the city, particularly given Rio’s beaches’ role as the city’s quintessential public space. Pacheco da Silva cites an interview with Patrícia Farias, author of ‘Getting some color on the beach: race relations and classifications of color in Rio de Janeiro,‘ who says of Rio residents’ habit of going to the beach: “it’s important not just as a sign of status, or being at leisure, but because you want to say something, that you are in the city too.””

That some residents of beachside neighborhoods feel their high tax contributions entitle them to more exclusive access to Rio’s shores and are sanctioned in this view by government strategies which implicate the North Zone as the source of beach insecurity threatens the right to the beach for all. Further still, by distorting the discussion, the city-wide security problem in which street robberies and carjacking have risen goes unaddressed. One blogger on Comunica Tudo writes: “What should have been about public security, education, mobility, leisure and distribution of wealth has been transformed into a neighborhood-focused, segregationist, racist and prejudiced issue.”

The author continues: “There’s a clear difference between buying a house in Leblon and buying a beach in Leblon. This means that by buying a house in Leblon you haven’t bought the whole beach with it. Your house is a private space, but the streets and beach in Leblon are public spaces, destined for public use be it by residents of the South Zone, West Zone or North Zone, or foreigners, tourists and so on.”

Rejecting that the North Zone’s right to the beach be compromised, Occupy Alemão has created a Facebook event “Farofaço – WE are going to invade OUR beach” inviting fellow North Zone residents on a mass day out: “Like the good Cariocas we are, how about we take advantage of the weekend rest to enjoy the beach hey? After all, we work and pay taxes too! And it won’t be the South Zone crew or Beltrame who are going to tell us what our fun should be!” Following a list of classic recommended items to bring – “Don’t forget your phones and cameras! Because we have our technology and we guarantee, we don’t need to steal from anyone!” – the event description ends with an invitation: “Those who live in the South Zone, come too! The beach is everyone’s and we all work on Monday.”


Racism and Health in Brazil

For the original by Thamyra Thamara and Thiago Ansel in Portuguese for Observatório de Favelas click here.

Racial discrimination is a common theme both in TV dramas and news, which portray occasional attacks or conflicts in which prejudice plays a leading role. Fictional TV shows commonly feature white families who turn up their nose when a relative becomes involved with a black person, or show villains spouting a range of insults, some race-based. Racism is a topic on the news when there is a racially motivated crime, or when all other explanations for a crime have been exhausted.

In all these examples, racism is shown as a phenomenon which interrupts and violates the normal flow of daily life. But is racism really an exception? There seems to be a contradiction: the news shows race-based inequality in education, employment, healthcare, legal rights, among others. But rarely does it touch on the connection between problems faced by the black population and racism.

Why are racially-motivated attacks labeled as discrimination while statistical inequality in access to education and healthcare are not? Is racism really “outside the norm?” If we take the case of healthcare provided to black people by the public health system in Brazil it would seem not. Poor quality care is the norm and the statistics prove it. Violence, also the norm, has grave, often invisible and silent consequences.

Thiago Daniel de Almeida, 18, has been bedridden since he was hit by a stray bullet three years ago in Morro do Chapadão, in Costa Barros. His aunt, Tânia Cristina Daniel, who takes care of her nephew in addition to providing for 12 other people on her monthly income of R$1,300, says that Thiago had to wait a day to be seen by doctors simply because they thought he was a criminal. “They were waiting for him to die, thinking he was an outlaw,“ explains Tânia, who notes that her nephew could have been able to walk again since an orthopedist found his leg was still responding to stimulus.

“When I saw what Thiago was going through in the hospital I threw a fit. They killed my daughter and I wasn’t going to let them kill my nephew too,” says Tânia, recalling the sad story of her daughter Alessandra, who died after being incorrectly medicated in Carlos Chagas Hospital. Tânia also tells of how Thiago’s mother died 20 days after he was shot. She couldn’t stand the pain of seeing her son become a paraplegic.

According to the latest Annual Report on Racial Inequality (2009-2010), 67% of the black population in Brazil that had sought healthcare in the preceding two weeks had gone to a SUS public health institution. For hospital in-patient treatment, this rises to 79%. The report states that for every 100 that sought care in the public health system, 29 did not receive medical attention, even though they expressed necessity. Among whites, fewer than half of this number got no attention (14).

Sônia Fleury, of the Getúlio Vargas Foundation (FGV), who oversaw a study on healthcare in the public health system (SUS) notes that sub-standard service is not an accident. “It is generally accepted that there are problems with the system. The poor conditions are used as an excuse for the flaws in the hospitals rather than as evidence of the institutionalized violence against poor and black citizens. We often hear it said that, ‘This is just the way public services are.’ It doesn’t have to be this way. Services should be of high quality. The poor quality is a political choice,” says Fleury.

The study concluded that the power to profile and choose patients renders the interaction more personal than simply demanding one’s right to healthcare. Criteria in determining patient priority tend to be less formal and thus open to discrimination. “All forms of discrimination, including racism, in healthcare cause a second layer of suffering,” concludes Fleury.

The fact that racism in these situations is not verbalized increases the victims’ sense of powerlessness. They feel unable to defend themselves from such nameless discrimination. According to Jurema Werneck, director of Criola, an organization for black women, doctor and member of the Technical Committee on the Healthcare for the Black Population, racism uses silence as a weapon: “Not talking about racism is one of the most efficient ways to promote it because it allows racial inequality to continue in silence and results in inertia. Showing the real significance of this shrouding and the normalization of inequality is an important step in combating discrimination and violence.

Studies of healthcare and other areas have shown that inaction and lack of debate on racism in any given institution have the effect of legitimizing discriminatory practices and promoting so-called institutional racism. This means the institution fails to provide appropriate services because of color, culture or ethnicity.

Jurema Werneck explains that correlating the data on inequality and racism is an important step, but it is not enough. “We must try to show evidence of the imbalance of power caused by racism and the impact of racism on healthcare; evidence of racism in the public healthcare system. We must also come up with a system of management for public institutions that will change the situation.”

Addressing inequality is one of the banners of the public healthcare system, the so-called equity principle of offering high-quality treatment to the most vulnerable sectors of the population. In terms of respect for black citizens, vulnerability has been caused and exacerbated by the reproduction of historic injustices in several areas. They have all essentially been authorized and have become familiar and “normal” because of the silence.


In Brazil, Black Workers Earn 36% Less

For the original article in Portuguese on G1 click here.

A study released November 13 by the Inter-Union Department of Statistics and Socioeconomic Studies (DIESSE) shows that a black worker is paid on average 36.1% less than a non-black worker, regardless of region or educational attainment (in Brazil). According to the study, the difference in salary and employment opportunities is even greater at the management level.

The research study, “Blacks in Metropolitan Job Markets,” was carried out in the metropolitan areas of Belo Horizonte, Brasília, Fortaleza, Porto Alegre, Recife, Salvador, and São Paulo. The study highlights that the disparity between salaries of blacks and non-blacks is only slightly influenced by region, hours worked, or sector of the economy.

Average hourly wage (2011/2012). Source: DIEESE/SEADE, MTE/FAT and regional entities

“Any way you look at it, blacks earn less than whites,” said economist Lucia Garcia, organizer of employment and unemployment research for DIESSE, in an interview with Globo News. “We have seen that progress in education has improved the education of the black population, but it hasn’t eliminated inequality. We see more inequality in higher education.”

Garcia shows that in metropolitan areas, blacks account for 48.2% of the workforce, but receive on average 63.9% of the pay of non-blacks. Among workers with college degrees, average pay is R$17.39 for blacks and R$29.03 for non-blacks (see table).

“The black worker encounters difficulty throughout his or her professional life,” says Garcia, “From the moment of hiring, through the opportunities to advance in his or her career.” According to DIESSE research, in the São Paulo metropolitan region, 18.1% of non-black workers reach management level, compared with only 3.7% of blacks.

The study shows that blacks are still concentrated in occupations of lower prestige, such as bricklayers, servants, painters, manual laborers, janitors, trash collectors, and domestic workers.

DIESSE says that affirmative action policies such as university racial quotas help increase opportunities for black citizens’ work and study, but adds that to effectively serve this population, quotas should also be introduced in business.

PDF of the full study, in Portuguese.


Community Leaders Reflect on a Decade of Bolsa Família

In 2003, President Luiz Ignacio “Lula” da Silva launched the Bolsa Família program to promote social progress for impoverished families. This and other programs were implemented in an effort to decrease Brazil’s infamously high inequality. At the time Brazil consistently occupied the first, second or third position as the world’s most unequal country. Incorporating what were previously four distinct programs under the umbrella of the Ministry of Social Development, this social program has become renowned as one of the most successful in reducing poverty rates not only in Brazil but worldwide. Bolsa Família’s wide appraisal led to its expansion in 2008, and today around 22 million families access its benefits. Today, Brazil occupies the position of seventeenth most unequal economy.

What is Bolsa Família?

Bolsa Família, or “Family Grant,” provides a basic income subsidy to the poorest families nationwide. The program provides a direct income transfer, on a conditional basis, stimulating an immediate alleviation of poverty; while other conditions, like the stipulation that children must be enrolled in school and cannot miss more than 15% of their classes, fight long-term poverty. As a result it combats poverty while simultaneously promoting access to public services, like education and health.

How It Works

Participation in Bolsa Família is based on a family’s income. Those that qualify collect their specified amount of financial support on a Bolsa Família card. This card can only be used to withdraw that specified amount of cash at a certain bank, and will only be allocated to the head of the household, with preference given to the woman of the house (mother or grandmother). Each household’s benefits depend on the family’s size, the children’s ages, and the family’s overall income. As the policy seeks to stimulate the use of education and health services, benefits can be revoked if, for example, a child’s school attendance record fails to meet standards.

What Beneficiaries Say

Speaking with community leaders from three very different favelas across Rio de Janeiro, the overall reaction to the program was extremely positive. Yet while the program has beneficiaries praising its success, community leaders are more critical of its potential in alleviating long-term poverty.


Located in Santa Teresa in central Rio, Fogueteiro is a hillside community which had a violent history of drug trafficking before receiving the 15th Pacifying Police Unit (UPP) in February 2011. The community started accepting benefits from Bolsa Família when the program was launched in 2003. Cíntia Luna, President of Fogueteiro’s Neighborhood Association, estimates that today around 70% of the community’s families obtain benefits: “If your income qualifies, it is easy to access. However if you are even just R$20-30 above the income bracket, you will not.” She complains that the strict system can either be impossible to access or as simple as registering, between two families with nearly identical monthly incomes. Although frustrated with that stringent divide, she applauds the program’s success in helping such a high percentage of the community. Cíntia also reflects on the policy’s main objective, that of combating poverty. Cíntia mentions some residents do abuse the program. In her opinion, a good number seek the Bolsa Família income as a replacement for employment, fostering a dependency on government support.

Cíntia also recognizes the developmental benefits of Bolsa Família, praising the program’s emphasis on school attendance. School attendance has increased substantially in Fogueteiro. She finds the monetary motivation to educate the new generation somewhat unsettling, however: “Bolsa Família is a way for [the government] to force education. Some families have little interest in educating their children, so the government pays to stimulate that interest. Now [parents] have a reason to educate their children: money.”

Asa Branca

In Rio’s West Zone, Asa Branca has recently received municipal infrastructure investments and is a peaceful, low-lying community near the future Olympic Park. President of the Neighborhood Association, Carlos Alberto “Bezerra” Costa has only positive comments in regards to Bolsa Família.

Immediately after the launch in 2003, those who qualified sought benefits, and today, Bezerra estimates that 80% of Asa Branca obtain benefits from the program. The remaining 20%, he affirms, either successfully improved their economic situations or never needed assistance in the first place. Bezerra also points out a huge increase in social mobility: he himself requested to stop receiving the monthly allowance, as he no longer needed the extra support. “There is not a sentiment of wanting to be unemployed here. We want to work. Bolsa Família helps keep us going when we are underemployed.” He continues, proudly emphasizing the effects the program has had on the younger generation: “The children attend school. We do not see children roaming the street during the day. The parents now have a reason to keep their child in school, so the children stay in school.”

Bezerra’s perspective reflects an overall view of Bolsa Família that is projected in both domestic and international press. According to a 2010 Economist article, “by common consent the conditional cash-transfer program has been a stunning success and is wildly popular… It is, in the words of a former World Bank president, a ‘model of effective social policy’ and has been exported around the world.” The program has indeed successfully reduced levels of poverty, as the number of impoverished families (monthly wage below R$800) has fallen more than 8% on a yearly basis since 2003. However, Pica Pau Neighborhood Association President, Irenaldo Honorio da Silva, offers a different perspective on Bolsa Família’s true impact.

Pica Pau

Pica Pau, a favela in Rio’s North Zone with significant infrastructure issues, has also been promised upgrading recently, under the municipal program Morar Carioca although this is currently stalled. Bolsa Família, on the other hand, introduced to the community around 2009 (after the 2008 expansion), has been quite steady in its support to the community. According to Irenaldo, “those who need financial assistance will receive it. If you need support but have not obtained Bolsa Família, it is probably due to a lack of documentation, or a child’s poor attendance records at school. It is the family’s problem, at least that is my opinion. If you want to receive Bolsa Família, you will.” However, according to Irenaldo, only 40% of Pica-Pau’s families receive Bolsa Família. This could be due to various factors; among them the relative newness of the program and thus lack of awareness, or low levels of school attendance.

When asked directly what problems exist with Bolsa Família, Irenaldo asserted that the program fails to sufficiently educate the community: “Do you know how many students in school today, at 8, 9, 10 years old, cannot read or write? They cannot even write their own name! The problem is the education system in Brazil. Kids cannot be sitting in a chair all day. Teach them to play an instrument. Teach them to sing. Theater, sports, give them a reason to go to school.”

Irenaldo argues for the need to educate not only children, but the family as a whole. He stresses two points: “There is a lack of education and culture. Girls become mothers at 13 years old. A 20-year-old woman with no children is a rarity. If you want to eliminate poverty, increase education, modify culture… A country that invests in education and culture is a rich country. A country that fails to invest in these will be impoverished.” Advancing Brazil’s education will allow for the future generation to halt the cycle of poverty, and foster a culture of development of their socio-economic situations.

Not only does Irenaldo suggest there is a lack of community education, he also criticizes the lack of financial education: “To be frank…do you think families really buy what they should be buying? They do not. Do you think they care for their child better because they receive Bolsa Família? We have children running the street without even flip flops on their feet.” Due to Bolsa Família and other government assistance programs, “the people have become comfortable, dependent, de-stimulated. If you do not stimulate the people, their situation will not change.” Irenaldo’s evaluation surpasses the immediate relief that Bolsa Família may present, and recognizes the true underlying problem in impoverished communities: “We need to change the perspective of the people in the favelas, we have to change the education system.”

The statistics indicating the success of Bolsa Família cannot be ignored. Bolsa Família has helped millions of people cope in dire economic conditions, while simultaneously promoting social services. It has reduced inequality across Brazil (see light green line on graph). Yet Irenaldo points to a clear limitation: the quality of education, for students already enrolled in school, needs improving, as evidenced by recent reports that illiteracy in Brazil has increased for the first time since 1998. The breadth of education, too, must reach the community as a whole, in order to attain sustainable community development. Without a strong educational system, Bolsa Família may ultimately fail to achieve its long-term goal of reducing poverty. And in Rio de Janeiro, where inequality has not decreased, despite access to Bolsa Família and running counter to the national trend (see turquoise line on graph), this should be of particular concern.

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