There’s a Cure for Brazil’s Slums. It’s Called Napalm

Favela in a Rio hill

The Lefts are amusing. They’ve always stood up for banditism, claiming that
criminality is a product of poverty. When governor Sérgio Cabral Filho, from Rio
de Janeiro, supports abortion as a method to reduce violence in the State and
says that Rocinha favela (slum), in Rio’s south side, is a “bad guy producing
factory” it’s a pretty kettle of fish.

Cabral based himself in the book Freakonomics by Americans Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, who associate abortion legalization in the United States to a reduction in criminality in poor areas, although they stress that such an association raises an ethical debate.

According to the daily newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo, non-governmental entities and slum residents accused the governor of criminalizing poverty and distorting the pro-abortion movement discourse, which supports suspending pregnancy as a woman’s right of having autonomy over her own body, and not as way of fighting violence.

“With these statements the government makes it clear that it supports the criminalization of poverty. Since the State has no policy to integrate the poor, they rather shouldn’t be born. The policy is one of extermination,” said Camilla Ribeiro, of the Global Justice NGO.

“For the wealthier the State acts as a protector, for the poorer as a predator. In order to justify itself it paints the slum dweller as the other, from where all the evil emanates,” said teacher Rodrigo Torquato da Silva, who has been living in Rocinha for the last 36 years.

According to Adriana Gragnani, of University of São Paulo’s (USP) Nucleus of Woman and Gender Relations Studies, Cabral based himself in old-fashioned ideas, from the 60s. “This premise of reducing the number of poor to fight violence, be it by abortion or contraceptive, is an old one. In reality you decrease poverty by boosting the population’s standard of living.”

Now, let’s get to the facts. Far from me supporting the Lefts’ vision that criminality is a factor deriving exclusively from misery. Criminals, we have them in all social classes, the same as with honest people to whom never occurred to commit crimes in order to enjoy a better life.

But it’s obvious that favelas are factories of criminals. They manufacture bad guys to a such degree that not even the police manage to get inside the hills where they live unless they get substantial manpower and heavy weaponry. For ages the Brazilian slums have become true Bantustans, where black populations for the most part are confined, in general at the service of drug trafficking or at least as a protection wall for drug dealers.

Bantustans were pseudo-states devised by the apartheid regime in South Africa, in order to keep blacks off the whites neighborhoods and lands, but close enough so that they might be used as cheap labor. In Brazil, this inactive labor was appropriated by the drug trafficking.

Are the high classes the biggest responsible for drug consumption? No doubt. But who supplies them is the favela. It’s also obvious that misery and frenetic prolificity favors criminality. If a family can provide for a child but instead has seven or eight kids it’s obvious that most if not all will go to the streets school. At this school one doesn’t learn exactly etiquette and good manners.

Then we have television as a catalytic element of violence. The little screen is within reach of any criminal and illiterate person and it shows, without any reserve, a dream world, technological wonders, luxurious environments and sensual women.

What’s left to the poor devil who roams the streets but resentment? Drug trafficking is a way out within reach of his hand. It pays better than the job of many liberal professionals and doesn’t require that many qualifications. Obviously the slum is a delinquents’ factory.

For a long time now I’ve been championing the idea that the luxury and ostentation shown on television constitute one of the main causes of violence in Brazil. The little screen promises paradise and the poor devil lives in hell. “I want that too,” the poor devil will say. It happens that he doesn’t have the money to buy. He then kills and steals.

What should we do? Should we censor TV? Absolutely not. What’s needed – something that in my opinion will never occur in Brazil – is to get rid of the country’s misery. I don’t say poverty but misery. I’m not adept at defending social equality.

The revolutionaries of 89 did not consult me – and haven’t consulted the French either – when they brandished as their flag Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité. Freedom and fraternity, it’s OK. On the other hand equality is another story. Poor and rich will always exist in all countries of the world.

What we cannot accept are men and women, elders and children, thrown to the rough streets, living in more than precarious conditions and eating badly without satisfying their hunger. People who take refuge in their sleep and who make an effort to keep on sleeping despite the traffic noise. Because to get up means to have to tackle reality.

There is a public opinion sector that doesn’t like to hear the truth. One day before Cabral’s statements, Rio’s Security Secretary, José Beltrame, said that “a shot in Copacabana is one thing and one in Coréia favela is something else.” It was another pretty kettle of fish. But it’s obvious that a shot in Copacabana is something quite different from a shot in the favela.

Just as the massacre of ten thousand people in Darfur is one thing and the death of an Israeli officer is another. As a subway accident with two or three wounded people in Berlin or Paris is a thing and a tragedy with a bus or train that kills hundreds of people in India or in Pakistan is another.

To the West, it’s indifferent that hundreds or thousands of people die in Africa or in the East. Yet the death of an Israeli soldier or a small subway accident in Europe will touch us.

It’s easy to any reader to admit the last two propositions. What’s hard it to accept the first one. It’s too close to us and it reveals the idea that there is no equal treatment to those who live in the favela and those who live in Copacabana.

Now, it’s obvious that there isn’t. Just for starters, on Copacabana’s corners there isn’t – for now anyway – drug dealers entrenched with high-caliber war weapons lying in wait for the policemen. The day this happens – and this day might not be far – a shot in Copacabana will be as banal as a shot in the favela. Today’s random shots are already preparing the terrain for future days.

In fact, abortion is not the solution. Abortion is just a patch. Solution would be family planning, misery reduction. But it’s also hard to admit that families of privileged classes have access to safe abortion, while the poor are exposed to the butchers fury.

Catholics are blind and deaf to this disparity, they prefer to see women dying or in jail instead of having the right to  a peaceful abortion and they obviously are shocked when someone stands up brandishing the obvious in public.

Meanwhile violence and poverty are part and parcel of being Brazilian. A birth rate reduction might even reduce drug trafficking. But it will never get rid of it. The drug trafficker moves around the favela hill as a fish in water.

If some governor wants to get rid of drug trafficking in the slums for good, the way I see it, there is only one solution: napalm.

Janer Cristaldo – he holds a Ph.D. from University of Paris, Sorbonne – is an author, translator, lawyer, philosopher and journalist and lives in São Paulo. His e-mail address is

Translated from the Portuguese by Arlindo Silva.



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