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In 2010 things got so bad in and outside the favelas of Rio, that the Brazilian Army was called in. It seems the violence increased after attempts by the Police to create a permanent presence in the favelas and a desire to crack down on organized crime in advance of the World Cup in 2014. However, to what extent does the reading suggest that forceful policing may well be as much the cause of such violence as its cure?
The exact essay question for this class is:“what accounts for the fractured urban geographies and escalating cycles of urban violence in many contemporary Latin American cities? You should also refer to at least one other additional source (see reading in course booklet)”
It is important that you note here that the question is asking you about Latin American cities in general, while the reading is focused on Brazil and the case of Rio De Janeiro. This should guide you as to what other sources you might look at in the reading list for this course. Also please note here that the question is asking you to explain what is causing the violence and its spatial distribution, what social forces (if any) are underlying it? You are not asked to spend a great deal of time recounting the extent of the violence and how horrible it is (we know this). What is more puzzling is what is driving such violence and its patterns?
If you read the piece by Elizabeth Leeds she begins with a discussion of the ‘new poverty’ idea, which argues that in relative terms things are as bad now as they were in the 1960s. Moreover, in the case of Brazil the society has changed massively-70 per cent of the population live in urban areas so population pressure and density could be one immediate cause. Equally, employment patterns have changed with industrial work more important, but often of the precarious informal type, rather than regular waged factory work. I think however, when you delve a little deeper she has a clear thesis-you can find it stated on the second page.
Central to this is the idea that the Brazilian state has refused to engage in advanced social policies to ameliorate poverty and more particularly that the state has chosen to respond to crime with harsh policing policies which actually make things worse and perpetuate the violence. In this regard the author seems to be point to a very ‘top down’ explanation.
Notice, there is a geographical or spatial dimension to this-the favela becomes the source of violence and is then contained by the state policing powers, further reinforcing the violence.
There is a discussion of drug gangs and favelas…to what extent does the power of the gangs mark the limits of the power of the Brazilian state and reveal that they have abandoned the favelas to the gangs? However, if the Brazilian police took ownership of the favelas would this makes things better or worse?
How does schooling and education suffer in the favela zones….has the state simply left the schooling system without protection?
To what extent is racial prejudice also a factor here in the marginalization of favela citizens-give examples from a number of references in the text?
What is the relationship between the Police and the Favela? To what extent are their policies at a minimum ineffectual and maybe even counter-productive? Does in fact she really go much further and reveal that much of the violence actually originates with the Police and their culture?
Were there attempts to try a softer more community focused policing style in Rio?
How and why do some types of violence break out of the cycle of Favela, Gangs, and Police warfare, for example the case of the attack on Bus transport outside the favelas…what was that about and how can it be explained as ‘rational’ within the pattern of state/police relationships with Favela gangs and drugs?
In the end do you think Leeds gives an adequate account of the pattern and intensity of the violence, and to what extent is her explanation simple and mono-causal, or instead complex and multi-causal?
If the Police had a totally different culture and relationship would things be radically different?