The favelas of Rio de Janeiro in times of coronavirus: less violence and solidarity in the crisis

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Of the 7 million inhabitants that the city has, more than a million and a half come in those populous neighborhoods. How to survive the pandemic.

The streets returned to their dynamics in Maré. In the midst of crowded commerce and traffic congestion, this complex of favelas in Rio de Janeiro is experiencing a “new normal” in the midst of a pandemic. Poverty and violence remain, but solidarity is now more visible.

Despite the evident abandonment of the State in a community in which poverty prevails and where the precariousness of essential services such as health, basic sanitation and security are the daily bread, the people of the “Complexo da Maré” does not give up on the challenges posed by the coronavirus.

With a population close to 140,000 inhabitantsThis complex that includes 16 favelas is one of the most densely populated communities in Brazil, with more than 32,000 inhabitants per square kilometer.

In Maré there is a tense calm. Through its narrow streets cars continually battle to make their way, while motorcycles dodge the handmade bollards erected by citizens or criminal gangs to slow down.

The thirsty trade after months of quiet prevails on the platforms. In its surroundings, other streets, much narrower, give way to dozens of houses whose facades intertwine in a chaos of cables that bring light to homes.

In the daily routine, inhabitants and armed bandits can be found in the streets. An unspoken respect is evident. It is the daily life of the favelas where the power does not belong to the State but to the drug trafficking groups and militias that are established there.

River, with about 7 million inhabitants, 22% of them residents of favelas, add more than 111,000 infections by coronavirus and it is the second city in the country with the most deaths from the disease with some 11,000 deaths.

Since the reactivation of the economy began two months ago, life in the city has gradually returned.

Unlike the more affluent neighborhoods of Rio, such as Ipanema or Copacabana, in the 16 favelas that make up the Maré complex, the change has been felt, but not in a sharp way.

First because the order to stay home To prevent the spread of the virus, it was not a luxury that its inhabitants could afford, and secondly, because the crowded conditions and the lack of adequate ventilation forced people to go outside.

The increase in police violence During the first weeks of the pandemic it was another factor that complicated the situation. Only between April and May, when the social confinement was in full force, 65 people lost their lives at the hands of the uniformed, according to the Rio Public Security Observatory.

Instead of helping with the pandemic, the authorities caused chaos and confusion in the favelas with each advanced operation, according to the neighbors themselves.

This led the courts to prohibit from June 1 – and while the pandemic lasts – police operations in the city’s favelas. The results are amazing. The violence continues latent, but the deaths caused by the agents fell by 74% in that first month alone.

The difficulties were also seen by the precariousness of basic services in Maré, the deficient health system and the pressure from the Government of President Jair Bolsonaro for the population to take to the streets to work, because Brazil could not stop because of a ” little flu. “

The situation led to the complex registering nearly 1,000 infections and the highest number of deaths from the pandemic among the favelas, with more than 123 deaths, according to reports from the same communities.

Thus, the priority during the pandemic has been to help those most in need, a work led by Redes de la Maré, an NGO that for more than two decades has sought to guarantee ua better quality of life for the residents of the complex.


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