Last week I wrote that Brazil’s protest movement is playing out in a country that functions in a state of “violent democracy,” and attempted to speculate on how that movement might modify that country’s volatile patchwork of violent pluralism. Now Catherine Osborn reports at Americas Quarterly Blog that protesters have taken up the cause of favela residents (and one policeman) killed in police operations that took place in the orbit of protests in Rio on June 24.
The events in Maré, which is about to be pacified, throw into question how committed to peace the pacification process is and brings the issue of police violence to the forefront of Brazilian protesters’ concerns. The night after the killings, the story of the dragnet caused particular outrage when Maré resident and newspaper editor Gizele Martins, 27, related the events at a planning meeting for the next citywide protest.
“I just came from Maré,” she announced shakily to a crowd of thousands—mostly students—sitting in front of the downtown campus of the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro—UFRJ). Martins said that a group of 500 residents marching through the streets of the community had just been able to pressure the last police tank to leave.
After chants of “Maré, Maré,” the group voted to add a new demand to their message for the next protest: the demilitarization of Rio’s police force. Coalitions from Maré and various favelas marched in the citywide protests in the following few days.
If we see more protests against police brutality even as the broader protest movement is quieting down somewhat, or if we see whatever core of protesters remains in motion take up demands for “pacification of the state,” these could be taken as positive steps toward a more just and accountable Brazil. On the other hand, Brazilian democracy has countenanced a routinized level of violence in the favelas for a very long time, which unfortunately suggests that it will be only too easy for the violence of Rio’s pacification program, and of public security operations elsewhere, to fall back off the radar. This is true in spades if Brazil’s protest movement loses steam.
A related question is what effect greater public scrutiny will have on Rio’s pacification programs. Until now, these have seemed like an unstoppable force, at worst a necessary evil, and bolstered rhetorically by an ideology of progress for Rio (and Brazil), and the centrality of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics to achieving this progress through infrastructure construction and geopolitical bragging rights and so on. But the Brazilian protest movement has challenged this particular spin on an ideology of progress, dethroning the promise of international sports spectacle from its central seat as a signifier of national pride and unity, and attempting to turn the focus of public discourse toward gaps and inequities in Brazilian democracy. If Brazil’s citizens have the audacity to assert that the World Cup cannot cover over corruption, then perhaps they will demand as well that the Olympic Games not serve to justify state repression against some of Brazil’s most vulnerable. The pacification of the Brazilian state will not come easily, but it is vital to the process of rendering that state accountable, entrenching social justice, and deepening democracy in that country.