Favela Fever

Two weeks ago someone told me about the cable car (Teleférico) that was built in Complexo do Alemão after the occupation. From that moment it got my attention. I was curious to know more about such an installation as a means of public transport. Just imagine using a cable car as your daily way of transport to your work, or to visit a friend. This is the general reaction of people not living in Complexo do Alemão. “That thing is so going to improve their mobility”.

Last week, when I visited Complexo do Alemão for the first time, I got to see it. It’s not working yet, but I did see the cars moving as from time to time they test drive to ensure safety before the actual inauguration next month. I decided to try to take this “object” as a way to investigate the general opinion on the ocupation/pacification* of their community.

First some general information about the Complexo do Alemão. It’s a complex consisting of 14 communities and in total counts about 400.000 residents. That’s more or less the size of the third biggest city of the Netherlands. It used to be controlled by the Comando Vermelho until the invasion of the Brazilian army in November 2010. The invasion was the initiation of the PAC (Acceleration of Growth Program) and the pacification of the area. Different than the other communities that are being pacified by the UPP (pacification police unit – police that have been trained to interact with the community residents) Complexo do Alemão is occupied by the army. The pacification paved the way for companies to enter community. Commisioned by the municipality construction companies build apartments, squares, roads, stairs, and the cable car. Thus, the cable car is one of the many changes in the community, but it reflects a certain idea persistent in the community about the general approach of the project.

People explain me that althrough the cable car will be the major form of public transport, there were built 5 stations in order to attend the entire community (of 400.000 people). I could also see by myself that the cars, equipped with no more than 6 seats – in buses passengers not necessarily need a seat, in a cable car I imagine they do – don’t move very quickly. The capacity to transport the amount of people is doubtful.

I could also perceive a certain distrust or resistance towards the stations, which serve as the bases of the army. People told me how the stations are strategically positioned rather than facilitating the transport within the community. If it really were to benefit the community residents they would have been asked where to build the stations. Instead, they feel their opinion and knowledge of the structure of the community is neglected.

Besides the idea that the cable car does not really match their needs in terms of transport, people explain me how it could possibly generate the community. People could have stands inside the stations and sell goods (e.g. Food, drinks, snacks, movies/cd’s, etc.). As far as they know, however, this is prohibited as the stations are owned by the cable car company, which will not allow these types of commerce.

When I ask them why they think the cable car has been built most people answer: “for the government to show the favela to tourists”. It turns out that the cable car in Complexo do Alemão serves a cable car’s more common function as a tourist or fairground attraction. It responds to the increasing popularity of “the favela” by NGOs, social projects, artists and tourists (see: favela tour). The people I spoke with do not reject this curiosity about their way of life at all. They just want to have a voice in the way their life is exposed to others. Not to be used as an object of tourism, but to interact with visitors, to learn from each other, and establish mutual understanding and knowledge about their cultures. And if possible, to have a share in the profit. Only than development can be sustainable and fair.

And about the pacification and development of their community? A similar answer returns often. They know their community best. Why aren’t they consulted about what works best in their community?

I wonder what will happen next month. Will the cable car be used by the local residents? Will it really be a tourist attraction? I’ll keep you posted.

* Note the controversy: occupation and pacification are supposed to go hand in hand in this context.

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