Covid-19 Exposes 12 Proofs of Necropolitics at Play in Rio Favelas #VoicesFromSocialMedia

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This is our latest article on the new coronavirus as it impacts Rio de Janeiro’s favelas and is also part of RioOnWatch’s #VoicesFromSocialMedia series, which compiles perspectives posted on social media by favela residents and activists about events and societal themes that arise.

The Covid-19 pandemic has cast a bright light on Brazil’s social inequality. Covid-19 was, at first, spoken of as a disease caused by a “democratic” virus, given that, supposedly, it affects all people without discriminating by race, color, social class, age, or sex. RioOnWatch‘s monitoring of favela voices on Twitter and Facebook between April 24 and May 8, however, has revealed a very different reality.

Favela residents, raising their voices on social media using the hashtag #Covid19NasFavelas, called attention to inequality in access to basic rights in Brazil, in cities like Rio de Janeiro, and how the coronavirus pandemic has further accelerated the state of exception in the favelas as a State policy of death. This holds true even as Brazil remains the only +100 million population country with a public universal health system.

Based on the social media posts cited below, all from favela residents, we highlight twelve pieces of evidence of necropolitics in relation to the increasing number of Covid-19 deaths in the favelas. These twelve truths show how necropolitics, reflected in policies whereby the state actively chooses who lives and who dies, not only robs residents of their right to life through armed violence, but kills and renders even more precarious the act of survival in the favelas by denying full access to the right to health care even amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, on top of denying the minimum conditions for living a dignified life.

1. No Hospital Beds or Ventilators: The Collapse of Public Health

Journalist and Complexo do Alemão resident Daiene Mendes used social media on April 24 to denounce a lack of hospital beds with ventilators, even for patients in the public health system’s (SUS) priority list (SISREG). She asked for help and reported the collapse, all the while seeking care for her own grandmother. Mendes’ tweets are devastating.

My grandma needs a bed in a hospital that has ventilators! I am doing everything I possibly can, if someone in my network can help, I will be very grateful! She is in the SISREG as a priority patient, but there are no beds or ventilators available. Can anyone help?

She is still interned at the urgent care unit (UPA) in Complexo de Alemão, in RJ. The oxygen level in her blood is very low (66), she is breathing with the help of oxygen but it isn’t enough and she needs a ventilator.

Journalists that want to/can share this, I am available to talk. The health system in Rio de Janeiro has already collapsed. They are waiting for my grandma to die.

She was unable to attain a transfer, and, on April 25, 24 hours after her first Tweet, the journalist’s grandmother passed away.

It was all for you grandma. You were strong! Me, not so much. I will love you forever. Rest in peace grandma.

One day after burying her grandmother, she spoke up again on social media to denounce necropolitics in Rio de Janeiro.

I am burying my grandma. The saddest day in my life.

No ventilators for hospitals, no policies for preventing the coronavirus pandemic. Food for those that are hungry, forget it.

There is nothing, but there is a Military Police (@PMERJ) helicopter and plenty of gunshots to wake us up in #ComplexoDoAlemão. #MurderousState

So tell me, our anger isn’t legitimate?

I am scared of dying and not being able to write everything that I would like to. Coronavirus is killing my whole family.

2. A Lack of Covid-19 Tests in the Public Health System (SUS)

The carrying out of laboratory tests to identify Covid-19 is essential to reducing its spread as well as contributing to the adequate treatment of patients. But tests aren’t available for the whole population. Meanwhile, private clinics offer their own tests.

OPEN CONTENT: As well as the tests that are conducted as part of the public network, usually only for suspected cases, private clinics can use laboratories that offer paid testing.

The cost varies between R$300 and R$400 (US$50-68, a third of Brazil’s monthly minimum wage, including a home visit from a medical team), including for patients who are past the contagious period or don’t have any symptoms, both to identify Covid-19 and to carry out Coronavirus Antibody Tests (IgG and IgM).

If there are no tests or treatment for those that are poor, it isn’t an accident! It’s on purpose!
I lost my grandma on Saturday, today my uncle died of suspected Covid-19.
Genocide is the name for what is happening in Rio de Janeiro.

We try to control the anxiety and the fear, but this is very frightening. The underreporting of cases in favelas is serious and real.

In the last two weeks, four close neighbors died and only one was tested for coronavirus. Two more neighbors are in the hospital…

3. Lack of Access to Tests Leading to Underreporting

Because of the speed at which the virus is spreading, and due to a context of such severe social inequality as ours, Brazil is already considered a new global epicenter. According to forecasts and research from the national public health institute, the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz), through its information portal, Infogripe, it is estimated that each infected Brazilian could infect two to three others.

Anastásio Amorim, 89, community leader from Baixa do Sapateiro, died of pneumonia. His death didn’t enter the statistics of suspected COVID-19 cases, like many underreported cases in Maré, due to a lack of testing.

20 or + deaths in #rocinha #COVID19NasFavelas #Covid19Pandemic

23 Rocinha residents have died of Covid-19, and not nine, as is being reported by the City. The number of confirmed cases and recovered patients is also different, as revealed by the groundbreaking monitoring panel made by doctors working in Rocinha. #COVID19NasFavelas

4. Favela Residents Dying in Their Homes

Patients with mild cases of coronavirus have been advised to treat themselves at home, whether or not they know they have Covid-19, given that coronavirus’ SARS-like symptoms can worsen quickly, presenting themselves with or without a lack of breath. Many favela residents have been dying at home.

I don’t want anyone to have this car visit them, their family, or their friends. Covid-19 is not a joke. And I have been seeing this car going up and down Rocinha more and more. Take care of yourselves! #COVID19NasFavelas

5. Lack of Accessible Burials

On the afternoon of April 24, the newspaper Voz das Communidades told the world that Rodrigues Moura, Complexo de Alemão’s first photographer, had died with suspected coronavirus. Voz also reported that the family didn’t have the financial means to pay for the funeral.

Our friend Rodrigues Moura, Complexo de Alemão’s first photographer, died last night with suspected coronavirus. Sadly, the family doesn’t have money for the burial. If you can donate, the family has set up an online donation page.

Requests for help arrive every hour… a warning that someone has died at home and several hours have already gone by… a request to help bury someone for free. This is hard! It is not a joke! #COVID19NasFavelas

On May 7, Mayor Marcelo Crivella announced that families receiving up to three minimum-wage salaries (up to around US$500 per month) could receive help from the City to bury their family members for free during the Covid-19 pandemic. The City has also started offering subsidized burials up to the cost of R$546 (US$93) for families of all income brackets.

6. Favela Case Data Hidden by City Government

According to Voz das CommunidadesCovid-19 Nas Favelas monitoring panel, which uses data published on the city government’s monitoring panel, the city has 487 confirmed coronavirus cases in favelas, with 168 deaths. However, data from the City’s own public health units demonstrate that in at least three favelas (Complexo do Alemão, Rocinha, and the favelas of Maré), there are a larger number of cases of infections and deaths from Covid-19.

The Voz das Comunidades team is in contact with many doctors from the Family Health Clinics that attend to the Complexo do Alemão region to understand the conditions of care during the pandemic we are living through. #COVID19NasFavelas

The data survey undertaken by community doctors reveals not only an underreporting due to lack of testing, but also that the City’s case calculation methods, which use patients’ zip codes, disguise the real data, since the large majority of favelas aren’t recognized by the municipality as neighborhoods. Even when they are, as is the case of Complexo do Alemão, there are still inaccuracies.

Another big question is the difference between confirmed cases and deaths on the City’s monitoring panel and that of the Zilda Arns Family Health Clinic.

Despite Complexo de Alemão being recognized as a neighborhood since 1993, the majority of zip codes in the area still indicate neighborhoods into which Alemão is integrated, like Inhaúma, Ramos, Bonsucesso, and Olaria.

As such, on the City’s monitoring panel, cases end up being divided between these neighborhoods, as opposed to appearing as a unified figure for Complexo do Alemão.

7. Lack of Access to Basic Income + Physical Distancing

The delay in releasing emergency assistance forced the population to go back out into the streets, whether to survive or to receive and make payments. The lack of organization, for example, of the pay-out of emergency assistance has caused enormous lines at federal bank Caixa Econômica Federal branches, contributing to crowds in the streets and on public transport, as well as a run on the supermarkets.

Helcimar: Hello @Caixa are you going to sort out this problem of all the people in line?

Renata: A complete mess, people can’t download the app, they can’t talk on the phone, and they are risking lining up at dawn, many without any masks or gloves. Cowardly government exposing our people to the virus.

[The line for] Inhaúma’s Caixa Federal branch is going around the block. You have no idea how many people are gathered, @Caixa’s app isn’t responding to the demand, it’s not working as it should work. Many heads of families still can’t collect.

This is such cowardice, with people in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic. We can’t hope for much from those that say “what am I going to do?.” [President Bolsonaro] How awful.

8. State Violence Even During a Pandemic

Residents of various favelas face, as well as the economic crisis, armed State violence. Police operations have already interrupted the distribution of food parcels organized by leaders and favela communicators.

It is one crisis on top of another. The activities of @gabinetealemao have been frozen this morning. Many volunteers can’t leave their houses. Reason: police operation. #COVID19NasFavelas

Police operations in Maré and in Mangueira. As well as surviving Covid-19, residents have to survive Rio’s public security policy. Not even during the pandemic, not even during the pandemic …

In the middle of a mission in Favela da Galinha @PMERJ (Military Police of the State of Rio de Janeiro) invaded the favela, claiming the possible theft of a truck. In other words, they confused our donation truck for the stolen one. We took shelter in the houses of residents because there was a heavy shoot-out.

I left City of God early. I am on an errand in another favela. I came face-to-face with the police operation. I am receiving many messages from scared residents. A resident told me that a moto-taxi driver was run over by the police armored truck. I am investigating but it is with a shaken heart.😔

After several attempts, one of them responded by phone “we are good, the residents took us in, we took our lifting belts off and we are waiting for it to pass,” I breathed deeply and went to protect myself in a safer place than behind the bricks.

Did I feel sick to my stomach? About many things. The absence of the State leaves me like this every day, and it still sends what it has always sent to favelas. The Police. The pandemic arrived here forcefully but the State isn’t doing and will never do anything for us.

9. Disinformation and Loosening of Physical Distancing

The change in two Ministers of Health, the disparity between the decisions of the federal, state, and municipal governments, but mainly President Jair Bolsonaro’s behavior and constant announcements, are confusing the population. Minimizing the risks of new coronavirus infection, the president condemned physical isolation decreed by governors and mayors as exaggerated and an abuse of power, provoking a chaotic framework for managing the crisis of the pandemic in the country.

With each of the president’s irresponsible declarations, more deaths are recorded. #BolsonaroÉCulpado (#BolsonaroIsGuilty)

As @oatila himself said in his live broadcast: testing is confronting the problem with a flashlight. Brazil began with a candle that went out and, now, we are in the dark, tripping over bodies. It’s sad.

With A LOT OF effort and isolation, we will manage to improve the situation, reduce infection, and save lives. However, the federal government’s drive to get people to leave their houses pushes us, quickly, towards the collapse now in May.

If you can, #StayAtHome

Since the start of @gabinetealemao, Bolsonaro’s words have negatively impacted our work.

Saying that he would hold a barbeque for 30 people destroys our arguments…

Unfortunately, this is the guy you chose to lead the country.

It’s our struggle, huh…

As well as saying that coronavirus was just a “little flu,” following the advance of the pandemic in the country, the president, when asked by the press for his stance on the increase in the number of deaths from Covid-19, responded ironically: “So what?” The statement reverberated on social media and press in Brazil and around the world.

In future ENEMs [Brazil’s college entrance exams], there will be a question with this photo (5,017 deaths – “So what? What do you want me to do? I am the messiah but I don’t make miracles.”)

NOW YOU TELL ME … What arguments am I going to use for those who live here in the favela to try to tell them not to have a barbeque with the whole family on Mother’s Day?

Bolsonaro said that he is going to have a barbeque with ‘some 30 guests’ on Saturday.

10. Lack of Access to Basic Rights for Survival

There are days when the water flows, there are days when it doesn’t. Other days, there’s no food. Hunger is knocking on the door for many. And for others, in the midst of the fight for survival during the pandemic, there is also the fight for the right to housing.

After three days without water, today it finally started flowing. Now there is the struggle to fill all the containers and the water tank, before it stops. 🙏🏽✨ #DiaryOfAFavelaResidentDuringThePandemic

Nearly 10 years receiving R$400 (US$68) of social rent support. With no set date for my house to be built. Nearly 1300 families in the same situation as me. When they say: Stay at home… I remember that I need to survive to continue fighting for mine.

11. Race and Class Determine Outcomes

It is the black, poor population living in poor neighborhoods, favelas, and peripheries who are feeling the effects of the pandemic most. Including, not just getting infected with Covid-19, but also by having their mental health compromised.

To live 2020 is to see necropolitics in theory and in practice.

Pedro Borges: Brasilândia: 130 confirmed cases and 81 deaths.

Morumbi: 331 confirmed cases and 8 deaths.

The inequalities of Covid-19 continue and are only increasing.

Where are the white influencers saying that coronavirus is affecting everyone without distinguishing color or social class?

And the media portraying the little show in the condominiums of the rich.

12. Us for Us. Nós por Nós.

Before the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic, community journalists in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas were working to bring accurate news and information to the local population and make their struggles visible. Now, dozens of community media groups, local leaders, and residents are on the “front line” to help neighbors faced with the absence of State policies. The hashtag #Covid19NasFavelas is also demonstrating that it is the favelas themselves who are producing solutions for favelas.

I confess that it moves me that I am seeing my friends, friends here from the favela itself and social projects showing solidarity to help other residents. It is all about that motto which once again makes so much sense in this time of coronavirus:


Today I am going to sleep peacefully and without sleeping pills (I hope)! My favela is clean, my neighbors are supplied with food! Our people need so little! I will never walk alone!

~ #COVID_19 is the symptom, inequality is the virus, and solidarity is the Cure ~

In view of all of the above, it is wrong to say that the Covid-19 pandemic is democratic. Various forms of violence, such as lack of access to medical care, hospital beds with ventilators, diagnostic tests, basic income for the purchase of food, potable water, basic sanitation, and even housing, on top of armed violence, compromise the favelas’ ability to prevent coronavirus infection, not to mention residents’ ability to recover and to treat the infected. The sum of this is more death. These unequal conditions for survival, marked by race, class, and gender, are among the central characteristics of necropolitics.

Support our efforts to provide strategic assistance to Rio’s favelas during the Covid-19 pandemic, including RioOnWatch’s tireless, critical and cutting-edge hyperlocal journalism, online community organizing meetings, and direct support to favelas by clicking here.