Mega-Events and the Neoliberal Production of Space in Rio de Janeiro

By Sam Smith
2016, Vol. 8 No. 03 | pg. 5/7 |

Scalar Dissonance and ‘Integration’

As historical processes of modernization produce urban divisions and spatio-temporal scale, simultaneous projects of counter-scaling occur, in which historical ties to place are deployed to resist discourses of integration and progress. Integration and fragmentation are seen as simultaneous material impacts, while discursive claims define them in strongly polar terms. The APO and private developers claim wholesale integration, while residents complain of the frustration of desires that are in fact articulated in partial agreement with the ideals of integration. The opposition of scalar projects surrounding the terms of ‘community’ and ‘neighborhood’ appear as crucial for understanding the contestation of scale and urban integration.

In Morro da Providência, lying in the branded zone slated for the ‘Marvelous Port’ renovations, developmentalist discourses of progress stand in stark contrast to those of a number of community members who have appeared as outspoken opponents of the construction. These residents view the work not as improving the integration of their community with the city, but instead triggering rupture and fragmentation through forced removal and gentrification. Nonetheless, the desire for integration and civic participation is not eschewed, but appears as the grounds for their critique of Olympic development.

Roberto Marinho, born in Morro da Providência in Rio’s port zone, is a journalist and outspoken voice against demolitions as part of infrastructural projects. Marinho’s grandparents first settled in Morro da Providência in 1942. His is one of 8 families made up of their descendents now living in the neighborhood, consisting of around 33 family members in all. In his essay “The Story of a Family from Morro da Providência,” Marinho states his support for what he calls ‘progress’ in the form of development projects in their neighborhood, but suggests that members of his community are not included in the benefits of the massive construction projects, including the construction of an aerial tram in addition to plazas, drainage, and electricity. He writes,

We are not against progress in Morro da Providência. But we want to be a part of this progress, to have a place to live that’s comparable to what we have now, in the same area, since our whole life revolves around this neighborhood: school, market, work, church, among other things…We have tried several times to negotiate with the Municipal Secretary of Housing (SMH) at home and at the SMH building, but our negotiations have never left the realm of promises and verbal answers. What the city is offering does not meet our needs. The city’s proposals: temporary subsidized rent until new residential apartments are built; cash compensation for our homes; or assistance in purchasing an apartment far from our neighborhood, in places such as Santa Cruz, Senador Camará, and Bangu. (2012)

Removal is opposed by some residents not only because the compensation for material losses incurred does not meet their expectations, but also in its capacity to fragment what they perceive as a community that is localized and historically connected to its place in the city. The lack of substantial inclusion in these projects of urban ‘integration’ makes up an essential contradiction of the development processes associated with Rio 2016, and is connected to ambivalence of the urban poor towards the Olympics. It is not the Olympics that are opposed so much as the limitations being imposed upon the civic participation and inclusion in economic gains of moradores. Marinho continues,

For political and financial reasons, the city has already demolished several houses along the staircase, and it wants to demolish not only our family’s buildings, but also all these years of our family history. We are people who have fought for our rights like any other citizens of Rio. We want equal housing rights. Only those who live here truly understand the needs of the community. It doesn’t help to come up here, build a cable car, and think that everything is going to change and improve. The city keeps saying that the Porto Maravilha and Morar Carioca construction projects will bring the city together. The only “bringing together” we have observed is the bringing together of the city and the tourists – these projects don’t help to integrate the citizens of Rio who live in this community or others like it. That’s not what the city government is interested in. (2012)

Painting a stark contrast between ‘the government’ and ‘the people’, Marinho’s essay reflects an understanding of discourses of development as ‘integration’ that in fact fragment communities running counter to interests of favela residents as citizens with rights to the city.

In a 2013 investigative journalism piece, demands of residents to prevent demolition and relocation in Barreira do Vasco echoed the need to prevent the segregation and the fragmentation of favelas (Clarke 2013). Vaninha Miguel, 46, President of the Barreira do Vasco Residents Association, states, “No one from here will leave to go to Caxias or Santa Cruz [distant neighborhoods on the edge of the city]. Apartments will be built in the surroundings of Barreira do Vasco. Our war cry is this: people only leave if they’re to be relocated right here.” The notion of fragmentation of a longstanding local community is at the heart of discourses that contest city plans for mass removals, and serves as a discursive expression which is dialectally constructed with, but not equivalent, to material processes of fragmentation.

Residents, indeed, are frequently moved out of their own neighborhoods as part of relocation, though the ‘Cidade Olímpica’ publicity extols the creation of new tight knit communities in gleaming high-rise apartments. The material circumstances of the situation are far more heterogeneous than municipal and state discourses will admit. Some residents certainly are able to remain near their old community, but the new apartments have been criticized as being of poor construction, and cost-prohibitive to residents relocated there. Others claim that they have been offered no compensation whatsoever. The point is that fragmentation and integration are in fact occurring, but never precisely in line with collective strategic and discursive claims of either moradores or of the Olympic city planners. Abstract and concrete formations of space thus remain dialectically engaged, but never equivalent, around the locus of fragmentation/integration. The ideals of political discourse appear on all sides as always already receding. Discourses of fragmentation and integration are not equivalent to material processes therein, but are instead always engaged in dialectical relationships, spaces of practice that are also never entirely present in the ethnographer’s gaze.

“UPP Brings the Market:” Securitization and Privatization

A central aspect of both visible and invisible modes of violence taking place in the favelas has been the collusion of private interests with forces of militarization and securitization. In this section I examine the interplay of these forces, and the ways in which the use of force for the expansion of capital is undertaken in the course of Olympic development. I suggest that a neoliberal governmentality is in play that forges the stakes of development in terms of the market, going beyond simple ‘state coercion’. Here, the interplay of visible and invisible modes of structural violence is explicated by the Olympic moment, in which physical force colludes with capital investment in the rational management of favelas.

Under the military dictatorship of 1964 to 1985, Brazil experienced a remarkable surge in lethal violence, in the form of crime, civil police enforcement, and extra-legal forms of military force. Following the transition to liberal political democracy (abertura, or opening up) the high levels of violent crime and police violence did not decrease, as many predicted. Contrary to assumptions that the advent of political democracy would bring about a wholesale pacification of Brazilian society, criminal and police violence continued throughout the 1990s and 2000s at many times the rate of that other archetypal political democracy, the United States. The fact that violence on the part of criminals and police officers has increased rather than decreased with the advent of political democracy is not easily explained by liberal doctrines of Western economics. However, Caldeira and Holston (1999) nonetheless point out that these forms of overt police violence are intimately tied up with legislative, bureaucratic, and infrastructural capacities of the state within Brazil.

In the context of changing economic conditions in the 1990s and 2000’s, violence and criminality in Brazil are undoubtedly linked to transnational processes and trends of uneven development, reduction in trade barriers, and privatization. These political-economic impacts of neoliberalization are linked to concrete practices on the ground, in which privatization and securitization have occurred in close coordination by Brazil’s post-dictatorship regime. The impacts of national policies for ‘cleaning up’ the slums have proven highly consequential on a local level in the last two decades, as poignantly displayed in the Police Pacification Units (UPPs), put in place as part of mass securitization campaigns for the impending mega-events (Fig 17).

Fig. 17. Military police raid in preparation for police occupation

Mangueira, November 2011 (

In 2007, Rio de Janeiro hosted the Pan-American games. Efforts to securitize and pacify the city were accompanied by a number of instances of police violence, along with trafficker retaliation25. During efforts to ‘pacify’ Complexo do Alemão, nineteen residents were killed in a single day in a joint military and civil police operation, resulting in international outcry, including a report by the Order of Attorneys of Brazil stating that at least eleven of the people killed had nothing to do with trafficking operations (see Fig. 18). A government investigation indicated that executions, a common tactic of the military police, were carried out during the operation. Despite this momentary public relations nightmare, the city’s securitization efforts were ultimately perceived as ‘successful’ enough to qualify the city as infrastructurally capable of hosting the 2016 Olympics. Police violence and trafficker retaliation has continued as police pacify slums in preparation for the 2016 games, and civilian deaths continue to occur in clashes with occupying military police.

Fig. 18. T-shirt made in 2007 in response to the Pan-American Games

(Reproduction). A favela is depicted alongside a trigger-happy police ‘death squad’ soldier, whose T-shirt bears the logo of the games (photo by Gaffney 2010).

As visible forms of violence that functions as techniques of neoliberal government, the police are understood within favelas as a source of danger that is often as least as potent as that of the traffickers. While some moradores under the UPPs suggest that they feel safer than under the rule of traffickers, the overwhelming sense of indignity at police occupation is apparent in their testimonies. As Caldeira (2000:182) notes, members of the working classes generally have reason not to trust or respect the police.

The peculiar lethality, and particular tactics employed by Brazil’s two major police entities, the civil police and military police, is apparent in ‘shoot to kill’ policies and the widely publicized imagery of the elite ‘death squad’ (esquadrão do morte). Military police in particular accrue a ratio of deaths to injuries far higher than those of police in the United States (Caldeira and Holston 1999). The civil police, conversely, are more likely to torture, but less likely to kill their suspects (Arias 2006). According to a 2003 Seattle Times article, Rio de Janeiro police killed 900 people between January and August 2003, “almost 75 percent of them in the favelas.” Aggressive police operations in the favelas associated with upcoming mega-events have resulted in hundreds of deaths, and many more arrests each year, and have been publically backed by Olympic organizers. Carlos Nuzman, the President of the Brazilian Olympic Committee (BOC) has stated the “total support” of the Rio 2016 BOC “to the public security policy being firmly conducted by Governor Sérgio Cabral and Security Secretary, José Mariano Beltrane” (MacKay 2010).

From 2008 to January 2013, Cabral’s administration implemented 31 Pacifying Police Units (UPPs) composed of military police, charged with the task of occupying neighborhoods deemed to pose a risk to security for the time period of the sporting mega-events (Brasil de Affected communities have included most of Rio’s largest favelas, including Morro da Providência, Complexo do Alemão, Vidigal, Metrô-Mangueira, and Rocinha. Following initial police raids by elite Special Operations Battalion (BOPE) troops, hundreds of officers remain in the favela as armed patrols. Surveillance cameras have been installed throughout the occupied neighborhoods. Unmanned aerial drones (purchased from Israel) have reportedly been in use since 2009 (Egozi 2010), functioning to further extend the electronic sight of Rio’s military police.

The UPPs have been met with mixed reactions. While claims are made that homicide rates have dropped dramatically in some communities, and that traffickers are largely being driven out, residents also complain that shootouts with police are still common, and that police remain corrupt, liable to accept bribes from traffickers. They also suggest that forms of petty crime, including theft, which were not tolerated under the rule of the traffickers, are now rampant.

The language of ‘pacification’ implies a particular role of government in taming what are seen as unruly marginal subjects. The irony of this language, however, is recognized in the accounts of civilians employed by the UPPs. According to a “coordinator for social programs,” employed by the UPP in a pacified favela,

‘[P]acification’ implies that there was a war. A war of who against whom? What were the factors involved in this violence? I worked for 10 years in Jacarezinho favela and it wasn’t pacified then. I was doing the same kind of work that I am doing here. So I think the big problem has more to do with the State not wanting to engage in dialogue with the community. And there are still serious security problems in the favelas despite the so-called pacification program, the drug gangs continue to operate normally, they just don’t walk around openly with guns anymore. (Mier 2013)

Such allegations are accompanied by the assertion that police continue to operate extra-judicially, occupying spaces to which they are accused of having no legal authority. ‘Pacification’ is articulated here as taking place outside of dialogue, and linked to non-democratic conditions of the UPP imposition. ‘Pacification’ as a discourse serves to mask the ongoing violence in the favelas, while simultaneously working to exclude residents from civic participation by implying that favela spaces are intrinsically chaotic, and moradores undeserving of legal rights to the city (see Fig. 19).

The language of ‘pacification’, and folk theories of favelas as inherently criminal and violent places, contribute to the interplay between material and discursive forces in producing spatiality in the city. By the ‘elaboration of prejudices’ and ‘elimination of ambiguities’ (Caldeira 2000: 20), such narratives serve to construct urban space in ways that totalize and reduce the complexities of its spatial linkages and relationships to the rest of the city. Narratives of criminality, security, and pacification thus serve not only to segregate the poor through removal or separation, but also to advance upon spaces formerly inaccessible to markets, and map their position onto capital flows of transcendent scale. Militarization plays into the spatio-temporal process of producing modernity, at the same time that it props up less visible forms of violence.

In their highly disproportionate allocation near Olympic event venues, rich neighborhoods, and tourist destinations, Rio’s civil and military police forces are increasingly serving as privatized forms of security for capital investment in the games. This privatization of security takes place both indirectly in the form of gifts and bribes to police departments, as well as directly, in the form of private security and securitized enclaves (Caldeira 2000). As moradores are pushed out of the neighborhoods closest to event locations, the void is frequently filled by real-estate speculation, event venue and infrastructural construction, and tourism. Nonetheless, this process does not take place evenly across favelas. Rather, rent tends to increase faster at the periphery, while remaining cheaper at the top of the hill, farther from the edge of the favela. Such a spatialization of neoliberal marketization reflects another valence of the geography of the favela, in which the capacity of capital, and the market, to advance upward, reflect the the collision of spatial production with political economic ideology.

Fig. 19. “Manifesto against the dictatorship of the poor in the city of Rio de Janeiro”

The image links the skull and crossbones logo of the esquadrão de morte (military police ‘death squad’ with the state and municipal levels of government, and an armored bulldozer bearing the image of Rio’s 2016 Olympics. The article references Lei Orgánica artigo 429, an article of municipal law that guarantees evicted residents relocation in the same area, and democratic rights to participation as communities. It accuses the municipal and state governments of ignoring these laws (Rio on Watch 2012).

As a process deeply implicated with neoliberal apparati of governance and reorganization of urban space, the privatization of security regimes are connected with a neoliberalizing trend in which the market comes to rationally regulate processes of daily violence in the interest of protecting private property rights. Arias (2004:4) notes that the privatization of public security has occurred as “independent agents have taken control…of the state’s repressive apparatus, and as heavier weapons have come into civilian hands.” He adds, “With many police beholden to the highest bidder, neither the state nor the federal government can guarantee human rights.” Conditions have thus arisen in Rio in which laws regulating violence are no longer conceived of through the language of human rights so much as through the rationalizations of the market.

Real-estate speculation constitutes a striking example of the ways in which the police and commercial capital have formed a coalition that results in a rise in rent and a passive relocation of the poor. Property values in favelas have as much as doubled since the imposition of UPPs, making the favela in itself appear newly appealing as a place for capital investment. According to Rodrigo Castelo, professor at the Federal University of the State of Rio de Janeiro, “With the accommodation of the UPPs in the favelas, capital can now settle in those regions with some level of legal and patrimonial security, which has not always been the case” (Marinho and Flor 2013). The favela comes to be perceived as a place that must not only be prevented from impinging on nearby capital investments, but as a place that is profitable in itself. Here, the geography of capital undergoes an important shift that is predicated upon the presence of the civil and military police. The UPPs are used strategically not only to ensure the secure operation of the upcoming mega-events through militarization, but also as key technologies of markets for maximizing capital investments. They thus play a dual role in securitizing and commodifying the favelas (Marinho and Flor 2013).

UPPs are portrayed by the APO and by state governor Sérgio Cabral’s administration as peaceful and intimately linked to a spirit of participation and sporting camaraderie. Such a narrative finds complicity in surprising places, including in foreign ‘civilian’ discourses and non-profit initiatives. For example, Spanish athlete Fernanda Maciel’s upcoming film ‘White Flow’, apparently occurring independent of the Olympic authorities, portrays pacification of the favela as a function of sport and the Olympics as a larger process (Fig. 20). The film stands in support of hegemonic Olympic narratives of peaceful sporting spectacle. Maciel’s website describes her project, in which she was filmed running through police-occupied Rocinha:

Her goal is [sic] collaborate with the consolidation of the peace through sport, showing people that is possible to run or walk through its paths safety and that favelas are not any more synonym [sic] of danger. This is just possible thanks to the pacification process of the Rio de Janeiro’s favelas… With the creation of Peacemaker Policy Units, the UPPs, the program try [sic] to bring closer policy and inhabitants and encourage social activities. (Maciel 2013)

Fig. 20. Fernanda Maciel’s “White Flow.” Rocinha, February 2013

Promotional photograph of Fernanda Maciel under the watchful eye of UPP military police officer (Bruno Senna;

The imagery of pacification through sport cannot be written off as merely self-congratulatory myth. Rather, it occurs in the context of a larger epistemological apparatus, which conditions residents and subjectivates complicity both inside and outside of the favela. The children of Rocinha are portrayed as ecstatic to receive a ‘running lesson’ from Maciel.

This image of pacification through sport, above all, participates in depoliticizing effects of development discourses, and serves to support the notion that militarization is indeed a peaceful initiative. Police occupation remains controversial both inside and outside of favelas. As a principle instrument of privatization and technique of neoliberal governance, the militarization of the favela has participated in the production of private space as newly partitioned, discursively and materially, from those of the ‘public’.

The Production of Public and Private Space

Private spaces increasingly incur into the public under neoliberalism. However, this process is not inevitable or uncontested. Rather, the terms of the private and the public are constantly being socially produced, in ways that do not always favor hegemonic neoliberal ideology. Examples like the 2000 Cochabamba protests against infrastructural privatization (Albro 2005) point to the instability of neoliberalism, and of the doctrine of privatization as a rational manipulation of market forces.

In this section, I examine the valences of market-centric securitization and privatization of the favela as a form of commodification, wherein material processes and discourses of public and private are placed in tension. I argue that discursive claims to the private and public, while products of contingent and particular concerns that cannot be examined as ‘objective’ in and of themselves, are in practice deeply imbricated with concrete, material processes of spatial production. Finally I bring into play the methodological question of ‘objectivity’ versus ‘intimacy’ in an anthropological approach to neoliberal privatization.

Privatization in conjunction with the upcoming mega-events occurs in a variety of ways, including through the sale of public land, the hiring of contractors, and through real estate speculation. Stadiums make up a major locus of privatization, as structures built with public funds are sold to private developers. This transfer of public funds into private hands reflects the role of the games as, in part, a technology of privatization. As in the 2007 Pan American games, where only one installation built for the games remained in public use, the privatization of the Maracaña and other stadiums is in the process of being arranged, amid public protest.26 This trend towards a transfer of public funds and space into private hands is not unique to Rio, but rather is a general symptom of recent mega-events (Gaffney 2010:18).

Infrastructural development, alongside its capacity to transform, segregate, or fragment urban space, is also intimately linked with private interests in a number of ways. One of the most important of these is the role of corporate contracts, which have been extended to dozens of companies in connection with telecommunications, natural gas speculation, and transportation infrastrucure, in addition to favela upgrades including the addition of light, water, and paved roads. Leaked cables from Lisa Kubiske,Deputy Chief of the United States Mission in Brazil, reveal a view of Rio’s development campaigns that links them closely to privatization and the maintenance of the public image of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff:

One of Lula's signature initiatives, the PAC is a plan to use government resources to leverage private sector investment in infrastructure... While PAC implementation has been extremely slow, the program has a positive image among Brazilians, and by putting Rousseff in the lead, Lula helps build her up as the candidate to prepare Rio for the Games. (Wikileaks 2010)

The privatization of infrastructure is a central element of the PAC, and is by no means a secret. Rather, it functions openly as an initiative for economic stimulus, and the advancement of political careers.

If the imposition of privatizing policies is deliberately politicized at the national level, its effects on urban space, conversely, serve to open spaces of political inscrutability for the rich. Privatization of space serves as a form of depoliticization, through which the owners and users of space may ‘free themselves from various types of public surveillance, regulation and public contestation” (Duncan1996: 129). Surveillance, displacement, and police violence become simply articulations of the market itself, where the privileged may purchase immunity at the going rate.

In her work on São Paulo, Teresa Caldeira (2000:297) points to the erection of physical barriers as another common means of separating private spaces from the public, and the privileged from spaces perceived as criminal. These barriers serve not just to enhance ‘security’, but also effect the “patterns of circulation, habits and gestures related to the use of streets, public transportation, parks, and all public space” (2000:297). Thus, the physical partitioning of private and public spaces in Rio serves not only as a ‘practical’ technique for securitization, but also reproduces cultural assumptions and stereotypes, at the level of everyday uses of urban space.

Walls have been set up between main thoroughfares and favelas, euphemized as ‘acoustic barriers’. Local residents believe they are in fact there to shield the view of the Complexo do Maré from the gaze of wealthy tourists (Mier 2013). In this sense, the construction of urban barriers in the context of the Olympic games resonates with Caldeira’s observations; notions of security through privatization are linked closely to the production of inscrutability for the rich, and of containment and surveillance of the poor.

Scholars of urban planning have articulated the increased privatization and fragmentation of urban space as a conversion of use-value to exchange-value (Pirez 2002). Language that places human action authoritatively inside or outside of the formal market is, at first, appealing as a way of describing the formation of class-based theory of resistance. However, I hold that framing the issue solely through a dialectic of use- and exchange-value elides critical elements of historical formation that apply outside the sphere of a capitalist takeover of productive means, based on the production of ‘false consciousness’.

Rather, the primacy of historically constituted cultural forms of valuation specific to favelas means that ‘public’ space is constituted by something beyond political economy. The public, as the realm of community and collective agency, is valuated in ways that are far more specific than Marx’s (arguably ethnocentric) theory of use-value as a universal analytic category. In this vein, it also makes just as much sense to view neoliberal government, and its concomitant techniques for the transmutation of public space into the private, as a culture, or set of cultures, in itself (Comaroff and Comaroff 2001).

The institution of privatization, then, reflects tactics and techniques of governance that move beyond the purview of classical economics. Rather, the conditions for privatization are seen to occur also in the cultural embeddedness of neoliberalism, and its discursive production.27 However, the debate remains alive and well regarding how to balance ‘objective’ political-economy and ‘intimate’ ethnographic ways of understanding the interaction of ‘public’ and ‘private’ space. Ferguson (2010), for example, may be seen as advocating for a more structured and abstract view of the place of local and hybrid cultures with regard to broader political-economic trends.

He follows a markedly liberal line of thought in suggesting that subalterns may be able to ‘appropriate’ market structures with the aim of bringing about a more equitable distribution of the profits of capital. He asks, “are there specific sorts of social policy that might draw on characteristic neoliberal “moves” (like using markets to deliver services) that would also be genuinely progressive? (2010:181).” Graeber (2001) and other radical theorists, on the other hand, suggest solutions which favor a market-based set of solutions are simply reproducing a power dynamic based in the always already unequal benefits of a profit-driven system of commerce. In this view, ‘appropriation’ of the market and private space works to support systemic forms of violence through its very invocation of the market as a regulatory apparatus.

I leave open the question of whether the capitalist market can be turned to the favor of the subaltern. However, in seeking spaces for the inversion or subversion of its normative spatio-temporal scale-making projects, I suggest that the semiotic meditation of trans-regional processes occurs in ways that can never be reduced simply to the functioning of ‘the global market’. In seeking out the conditions for recognition across geographic and cultural boundaries, I endorse the notion that the capitalist market is just one of many semiotic systems of commensurability.

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