Stories of favela resistance

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Carlos dos Santos Jesus was president of the Ilha das Dragas Residents Association, a small favela located next to the Clube Caiçaras, in the Zona Sul. On February 6, 1969, a Thursday, he was on his doorstep wearing shorts and sandals when he was confronted by two armed men around midday. They forced Carlos to get into a truck and took him to an unknown destination. These and other cases are remembered in the Maré Museum’s course Living History – The history of Rio de Janeiro’s favela resistance, which takes place every Saturday of November 2016.

The initiative’s goal is to show the initial growth of these communities in the city and their later appearance in other parts of the country. The registration period is over, but a new edition is forecast for January 2017. The classes are ministered by researchers and favela residents for a group of 40 people. Having started on the 5th, the course is reserving the last two Saturdays  to discuss what happened in Rocinha, Borel and other areas during the dictatorship period. “We want to study and to try to understand who our missing political disappearances from the favelas are, and where they lived”, explains journalist Gizele Martins, a resident of Maré who created the course.

Carlos dos Santos de Jesus can’t even be considered himself among the “disappeared”, since the outcome of his kidnapping is unknown. His name is cited in the State Truth Commission (CEV) report (pdf), which dedicates an entire chapter to the actions of the military regime in the favelas. According to one document, more than 100 thousand people were affected by the forced removals of communities between 1964 and 1973 (see below for removals by governor). It wasn’t rare for these actions to involve political violence, such as what happened in the case of Carlos. Beyond this, those who lost their shacks were normally taken to a far-away place, without infrastructure or the offer of employment.

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“Removals were a strategy to dismantle associations that emerged and were seen as ‘communist cells'”, explains Fransergio Goulart, historian and resident of Manguinhos. In response to this, institutions such as the Federation of Favela Associations in the State of Guanabara (Fafeg) began to mobilize themselves (see below). But the response didn’t take long to arrive. On May 3, 1968, the Federal Government’s decree 62.654, created the Metropolitan Area Social Interest Housing Coordination (Chisam). The entity, responsible for carrying out “a continuing program of favela removal in short, medium and long-term”, existed until 1973. “Chisam had the goal of ending all favelas in Rio by 1975”, affirms Mauro Amoroso, PhD in History at the Getúlio Vargas Foundation and author of the article Golpe militar e remoções das favelas cariocas (Military coup and Rio favela removals).


“While the law is equal for everyone, the strongest always win, and removals to far-away places occur, bringing various inconveniences to the salaried man. What will be of the working man when the city reaches Vila Aliança, Vila Kennedy and Cidade de Deus? Where will you go?”

(Extract from the invitation of Fafeg’s II Favela Resident Congress, published on 11/03/1968 by JB).


Opposing the removals always carried consequences. The most famous case is that of the Praia do Pinto residents, a favela that turned into one of Vinicius de Morães chronicles and was the target of a fire attributed to “unknown causes” on May 10, 1969. Before its tragic end, three of the community leaders were arrested on March 12 by agents from the Department of Social Political Order (Dops) for incentivizing residents to resist the forced move. Praia do Pinto and the Ilha das Dragas found themselves near the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon. “The Lagoon was next in line for real estate speculation at the end of the 60s. And having a favela nearby devalued any undertaking”, affirms Mauro.

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Meeting with the Governor

Diva da Costa Campos was the wife of Carlos dos Santos de Jesus. On February 11, 1969, she and another three wives of community leaders from Ilha das Dragas, kidnapped five days before, had a meeting with Negrão de Lima, governor of the then-State of Guanabara. The politician argued that the removal of the community was necessary for the widening of Epitácio Pessoa and Borges de Medeiros Avenues and asked the women if their husbands were “agitators”. “No, they are workers, governor, we can guarantee it”, affirmed the four women – as was reported in Correio da Manhã. He promised to take action in relation to the case.

Removal politics weren’t the only arbitrary acts committed in relation to the favelas during the dictatorship. Created in 1967 by Negrão de Lima, the “E” decree number 3330 foresaw that resident associations “were subject to interventions by the Secretary of Social Services”. This came to happen in 1973, when the leadership of the Resident Association of  the Morro do Juramento was accused of harboring “leftist elements” and was placed under control of a provisional government junta nominated by the State. Additionally, the CEV report shows occurrences in communities of assassins motivated by political reasons. This is the case with Joel dos Santos, arrested while he handed out pamphlets in Borel on March 15, 1971. Black and a PCdoB militant, he was tortured and killed on Army installations. His body was found by the CEV in the Ricardo de Albuquerque cemetery.

“The favela resident didn’t manage to reach the category of political prisoner”

The so-called “eradication” of the Ilha das Dragas favela happened on Februray 24 and 25, 1969. After the kidnapping of the community leaders, the local population didn’t oppose resistance. Close to 300 families were taken to the Baixada Fluminense, Cidade de Deus, and other locations in the metropolitan region. The information was published by the newspapers of the time, which didn’t publish new information about Carlos Santos de Jesus. In Mauro’s opinion, he could have been released the following week after the kidnapping or he could have been killed by the dictatorship. “The favela resident didn’t manage to reach the category of political prisoner. When they disappeared, there wasn’t a militancy to demand the location afterwards”, explains the historian.

“At the turn of the decade, from 1970 to 1980, favelas stopped being seen as a problem for social services and became a question of public safety”, affirms Mauro. He remembers that the removals never stopped happening, even though they became less frequent in the 80s and 90s. In recent years, cases such as that of Vila Autódromo rekindled past memories and put the subject up for discussion again. For those interviewed, the victories with the end of the dictatorship in 1985 didn’t reach the communities. “There isn’t democracy without the right to come and go with the police controlling people’s routines”, says Fransergio. “In that era, the enemy of the State in the favela was communism. Today, it’s drug trafficking. The discourse shifted, but the practices were maintained”, he concludes.

Source (PT)

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