On Sunday February 22, some 20 activists gathered in Praça São Judas Tadeu, outside the bondinho (tram) station leading up to the Christ the Redeemer statue, in Rio’s leafy Cosme Velho neighborhood. Hailing from Cerro Corá, a favela just five minutes walk from this busy tourist spot, they wanted to combat the invisibility of Rio’s favelas and “show Cariocas and tourists what happens underneath Christ the Redeemer.”
The activists, members of Cerro Corá–Moradores em Movimento, highlighted a number of issues currently facing Rio’s favelas: home demolitions and evictions, failure of basic services such as water and electricity, and police violence against favela residents all being publicized. Watched by crowds of tourists on their way up to the statue, they unfurled banners and put up posters in Portuguese, English and Spanish–from “The Favela is part of the City,” to “Cabral: Oppressor from 1500 to 2014.”
The protest included a performance watched by passers-by. An indigenous Amerindian, a slave and a modern-day favela resident all stood tied and handcuffed by “Cabral,” a hybrid of Pedro Álvares Cabral, the Portuguese military commander credited with discovering Brazil in 1500, and his modern-day namesake Sérgio Cabral, the current governor of Rio state. Cabral explained his desire to conquer and control, while the three prisoners explained their plights and suffering at his hands.
Once the scene finished, a drum began to beat and the group burst into song, with renditions of funk classics such as Rap da Felicidade–“I just want to be happy/And walk peacefully in the favela where I was born”–and chants about corruption, violence and the right of the favela to the city.
David dos Santos, one of the organizers of the event, elaborated: “Today we decided to come down from the favela, to come to a tourist spot, in order to explain a bit to the visitors what is happening in Rio’s favelas… We performed a show that speaks a little about the situation today, which is not that different from colonization.” He continued: “There are removals happening all over Rio. We’re here resisting–here to say that the favela has been abandoned.”
“Five minutes away from the Corcovado, people see a beautiful landscape, but little do they know that we live there without water, and without electricity,” said Jeferson Dias da Cunha, member of the group and one of the actors in the performance. “The importance of today’s event is to bring this reality and show it to the tourists who come here, to show them that Rio isn’t simply ‘marvellous.’ It is marvellous, but it has a population whose needs have to be met.”
Cerro Corá – Moradores em Movimento was founded last year by residents of Cerro Corá to campaign for and protect the rights of the community. Their projects include creating a community museum and library. According to Jeferson, they want to “inspire the residents, and bring them a political consciousness so they don’t wait around for the State, because they’re only going to come every four years, wanting votes.”