One of Rio De Janeiro's 40 shanty towns. These shacks are precariously perched on steep mountain-side. Photo courtesy of google images -http://www.google.co.uk/search?hl=en&q=rio+de+janeiro+slums&meta=&aq=f&oq=)

One of Rio De Janeiro's 40 shanty towns. These shacks are precariously perched on steep mountain-side. Photo courtesy of google images -http://www.google.co.uk/search?hl=en&q=rio+de+janeiro+slums&meta=&aq=f&oq=)

 

I read an article this week in the Independent titled Rio tries to contain slums with concrete’ with utter disbelief. The Brazilian government has begun a ludicrous scheme to wall off the slums of Rio De Janerio to stop shantytowns from spreading. Outrageous was my first response to reading this first paragraph. As I read on the government minister behind this plan, Icaro Moreno, justified this scheme with more ridiculousness; this was all for the good of the environment, and more specifically, to protect the Amazon rainforest.


Brazil‘s National Institute for Space Research, which monitors forest destruction, reported in December that between 2005 and 2008, deforestation of Rio‘s urban rainforest had doubled as compared to the previous three years. About 506 acres were destroyed in the last three years. So the poor are now being blamed for the depletion of the rainforest as well as their impoverished situation? This kind of blame culture is exactly the reason why the rainforest is being depleted at rapid levels. No one is willing to take responsibility and blame is always displaced. Logging, drug running, unethical tourism. Surely these are much more critical causes of rainforest depletion than the development of marginal land by people who have no where else to live.

The most ironic and hypocritical thing about this latest strange project is that these 10 foot barriers, aimed to hem in the poor and further segregate them from rich suburbs, will cost 12 million to erect and will surround 40 favelas. 500 houses will be demolished to make way for this barrier in a with an already chronic lack of housing. 12 million pounds to trap the poor in and hide away an impoverished under class all in the name of rainforest protection. Outrageous.

Icaro Moreno, the planning minister behind this plan, said: “Each year that passes we’re losing more of the Atlantic rain forest, now we’re setting limits on where these communities can expand.” It doesn’t take a genius to work out what the real motives behind this shallow rhetoric are. Rio is a city of extremes, with rich neighbourhoods juxtaposed with shanty towns. Many of the slums are built on the steep mountains that surround Rio‘s landscape and look down on the wealthy, beach front areas. This is a scheme manufactured by the privileged so that they can more easily ignore the plight of millions of poor and enjoy the luxury of their swimming pools and mansions.

This barrier will divide the city further, exacerbate existing socio-economic problems and heighten segregation. In his blog, Portuguese writer José Saramago compares the wall to the Berlin Wall or the Israeli West Bank barrier, while other critics liken it to the wall between the United States and Mexico. Whilst Global Justice, a Brazilian human rights group, has likened this to social apartheid. Emphasis is not on solving the deeply engrained socio-economic problems of this city, but is on shielding the rich from having to witness them…and all in the name of the environment! This is ostrich politics at its worst.

 

Perhaps the real reason for erecting this cage to trap in the poor is, as the Latin American Herald Tribune suggests, to create a bullet proof barrier to protect the rich from the ferocious gun battles which occur on a daily basis between drug dealers and police. The president of building firm Ultra Greten, Pedro Moreira Leite, told O Globo newspaper that “Not even a rifle bullet penetrates those walls.” Still it seems blindingly obvious that this cage will not solve any of the problems it will just make them a little bit less visible to the Brazilian elite. The problems will not go away, they will just get worse.

 

 

Just think what this 12 million could be used for instead of a useless barrier. A third of Rio’s 6 million dwellers live in shantytowns. There is a chronic lack of housing. The city is rife with drug traffickers and drug related violence. Would this money not be better spent on addressing these widespread problems; food for the malnourished, proper housing and sanitation for the millions who live in squalor, creation of jobs, reduction of economic disparities, the development of a welfare state or adequate health facilities, bringing together of divided communities, deconstructing drug gangs and criminality in the favelas, and finally developing environmental schemes that will actually save the rainforest and it’s resources?

 

 

Whoever decides these planning policies needs to take a long hard look at the priorities of its nation, one which is an emerging world power and economic leader in South America. Barriers to hem in the poor should never ever be a top priority costing £12 million when there are so many millions of people living in great poverty and misery. The rainforest is important. I am not questioning that. What I am questioning is why the environment is being used as an excuse for unethical and imperialist planning strategies for the benefit of the rich minority at the expense of the poor.

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