After nearly 20 years of democratization, residents of Rio's favelas
suffer high levels of civil and human rights abuse at the hands of
both police and drug traffickers. The government is generally unable to
guarantee the political order necessary to protect the rights of residents
in these communities. Existing theories of democratization and advocacy
networks offer little to explain how the types of endemic violence
that affect poor neighborhoods in the developing world can be brought
under control. Based on more than two years of participant observation
and interviews in Rio de Janeiro, this article examines how democratic
order can be extended to favelas. It argues that networks can link favela
residents to organizations in civil society, and state actors can play
a critical role in reducing violence and establishing democratic order.
The military government that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985 committed
extensive human rights violations. Despite a laudable transition to
democratic rule, human rights abuse and violence against the populace has
significantly increased over the past decade-and-a-half (Pereira 2000,
217; Paoli and Telles 1998, 64-65). This is nowhere clearer than in Rio
de Janeiro's favelas (shantytowns), where years of neglect and broken
promises have caused the Brazilian state to appear to lose control of
these communities to gangs of highly organized drug traffickers who
enforce order, provide social services, and adjudicate disputes. In
October 1994, President Itamar Franco responded to the growing outcry
about public safety by sending the Brazilian military into Rio de
Janeiro's favelas to ensure order. This operation resulted in substantial
bloodshed (Human Rights Watch Americas 1997; Leeds 1996, 75). Dramatic
clashes between state forces and drug traffickers are still the norm.
Draconian state violence, however, has failed to bring order to Rio's
favelas and has actually had the reverse effect of reinforcing criminal
legitimacy, as residents suffer police abuse and lose faith in the state
(Garotinho et al. 1998, 134-42). Drug traffickers maintain prominent
roles in most poor communities, and their conflicts with police
continue to make residents' lives difficult (Jornal do Brazil
1996; Zaluar 1998, 218-20). The recent histories of Peru and Colombia
indicate that high
levels of violence can be destabilizing to democratic governments
[End Page 1]
(Correa Sutil 1999, 266). How can democratic order, which is necessary
to guarantee civil and human rights, be extended to Rio's favelas?
This paper recounts the struggles of the residents of three Rio favelas,
Vigário Geral, Tubarão, and Santa Ana, to protect their
rights and live their lives.
The empirical cases are presented in the historical context of Rio's
poor communities. Existing theories of democratization are used to build
an integrated model for establishing democratic order in the context
of ongoing social violence. The model shows how social networks can
help translate protest and governmental reform efforts into concrete
political change when traditional strategies for political transformation
Detailed local-level analysis offers a complex picture of the
microlevel politics that play such an important role in controlling
local conflict. The evidence shows that local civic groups and social
movements, networking with state actors, play a critical role in
stimulating police reform and controlling violence.
The History of Favelas in
Rio de Janeiro
The Brazilian state has had a complex and contentious relationship with
Rio's favelas. Settled illegally by ex-slaves and new urban migrants
over the course of the last hundred years, favelas have received only
sporadic improvements in basic urban services. State intervention, for
the most part, has been limited to policing, repression, and clientelist
As a result, local leadership plays an important role in favelas'
internal governance. During the late 1950s and early 1960s, residents'
associations (associações de moradores, AMs) were
formed in many Rio favelas, usually at the behest of outsiders trying
to deliver resources to residents (Resende de Carvalho et al. 1998,
20-22; Perlman 1976, 39-40). In the 20 years of authoritarian rule
that began in 1964, AMs worked to protect favelas from removal and
provided government services in large areas of the city (Santos 1995,
158-64; Perlman 1976, 23-57). With the return of democracy in the
1980s, clientelist politicians again used contacts with AMs to gain
access to votes. These efforts resulted in improved urban services in
favelas, but weakened the AMs and their statewide interest group as
the government met many favelas' most pressing infrastructural needs
(Jornal do Brasil 1996; Zaluar 1985, 1998, 218-20; Gay 1994,
31, 40-41; Leeds 1996, 74).
In the 1980s, drug traffickers began to employ many favela residents
in their operations, providing needed assistance to the poor and
fortifying their political leadership. Politicians, seeing the AMs'
growing fragility, worked more directly with traffickers to secure
votes. During this period, AMs began acting as intermediaries between
[End Page 2]
and state officials. The consolidation of drug
gangs' political power has provoked significant violence in Rio.
The relationship between Brazilian favelas and the state contributes
to ongoing conflict (Pinheiro 1997, 270-71). Upper-level politicians,
police, and bureaucrats often do not have effective control over
lower-level state representatives, and as a result, police take bribes
and engage in brutal repressive operations. Many bureaucrats, police,
and politicians take kickbacks or otherwise work with traffickers
to accomplish personal objectives. These actions strengthen drug
traffickers, who, as a result, operate with relative freedom inside
favelas. Traffickers provide economic aid, maintain order, and resolve
conflicts in efforts to build their legitimacy (Junqueira and Rodrigues
Narcotics trafficking broke the already fragile political links between
government and the poor (Resende de Carvalho 1998, 31). Today, for
example, residents refuse to help the police but offer assistance to
the criminals with whom they live on a day-to-day basis. Often tied
to traffickers, AMs criticize police violence but publicly say little
about criminal activity.
Rio's police provide almost no help in solving these problems. Formed
in the nineteenth century mainly to repress popular groups, the police
have historically maintained abusive relations with the poor, and today
are known to be extremely corrupt (Holloway 1993, 288-91; Leeds 1996,
64). Rio has two major police forces: the military police (policia
militar, PM) and the civil police (policia civil, PC). The
PM wears uniforms and conducts street patrols. The PC wears civilian
clothes and conducts investigations. The state governor commands both
forces under the Secretaria de Segurança Pública. Though
corruption is pervasive in the PM, the PC is generally considered to be
more corrupt (Leeds 1996, 63-66). In both organizations, these problems
result in poor administration and deployment of resources. Corrupt police
fail to enforce the law; they inform traffickers of police activities
and set up police operations in places where they will not interfere
The interaction between society and the state in Rio's favelas raises
serious questions about local-level democratization. In poor and
peripheral areas of major cities and some parts of the countryside,
the Brazilian state does not exercise an effective monopoly on the means
of organized violence (Pinheiro 1998, 13-14; Pereira 2000, 234-35). The
fragmented and diffuse nature of the Brazilian state, characterized by
corruption, official impunity, and lack of hierarchical controls, both
emerges from and engenders a divided society. Corrupt police strengthen
drug traffickers by taking bribes that allow the traffickers to operate
openly in the favelas (Pessoa 2002, 5; Leeds 1996, 64-65). Honest police
and politicians do not trust AMs or residents because of many AMs'
relationships with traffickers.
[End Page 3]
As Martha Huggins has argued in a broader context, public security has
become privatized as independent agents have taken control of different
elements of the state's repressive apparatus and as heavier weapons have
come into civilian hands (Huggins 1998, 202-4). With many police beholden
to the highest bidder, neither the state nor the federal government
can guarantee human rights. The poor, unable to hire their own security
guards, have to rely on criminals for protection. Corrupt state officials
work with locally empowered delinquents to enrich themselves and win
votes; criminals engage in conflicts with one another; out of fear,
the population calls for increasing police repression; and violence
spins out of control (Pinheiro 1997, 264-70; Caldeira 1996, 208-9).
Theoretical Building Blocks
These conditions are by no means unique to Rio de Janeiro. The persistence
of localized authoritarian enclaves characterized by state impunity
and criminality poses serious challenges to democratic consolidation
in many countries. Neoliberal reforms and a difficult transition from
authoritarian rule have limited poor peoples' access to the state and
have exacerbated conditions of violence (Yashar 1996, 99; Chalmers
et al. 1997, 552-53; Fernandes 1994, 104-7). Crises of confidence in
democratic regimes' abilities to control everyday violence and corruption
have resulted in the emergence of semiauthoritarian democracies in many
parts of Latin America (Correa Sutil 1999, 266). How does a democratizing
state guarantee order in crime-ridden neighborhoods without resorting
to draconian force?
Institutional reform plays an important role in any effort to control
continuing social violence. Guillermo O'Donnell notes that democratic
governance depends on states' efforts to extend the rule of law and basic
protections to excluded groups (O'Donnell 1999, 322-23, 325). Under the
prevailing conditions in Latin America, many scholars argue, political
elites must reform judicial institutions in order to treat citizens more
equally and to hold police accountable under civilian laws (Méndez
1999, 221-26; Zaverucha 1999, 72; Correa Sutil 1999, 255-71). To end
ongoing abuse of poor and minority populations, furthermore, these same
leaders must also reform the police by "inculcating" democratic values
and ending corruption (Pereira 2000, 234-35). This will help not only
in limiting police violence but also in decreasing criminal violence
as police, responding to reform efforts, begin to effectively enforce
Ending state corruption, however, is only part of the battle. Government
efforts politically to incorporate the poor also play an important role
in extending the rule of law. Latin American governments must also worry
about the role of criminals in providing informal security and
[End Page 4]
to groups at the margins of the economic system. Some scholars argue
that by offering basic welfare guarantees and by recognizing irregular
urban land tenure, states can more effectively intergrate these portions
of the population into the democratic system and reduce their dependence
on illegal actors (Becker 1999, 144-46; De Soto 2001, 19).
While these reforms make some sense from a theoretical perspective,
there little reason to believe that governments will implement these
suggestions. Why, for example, would government agents initiate reforms
if the principal beneficiaries of those changes have little presence or
representation in the state? Even if the government actually does begin
reforms, how are those policies implemented when the responsible state
agents' interests may run counter to the policy? (For a discussion of
this problem, see Migdal 1994, 16-17.)
The literature on civil society and on social movements provides
some answers. Writers on social movements argue that mobilization
and protest is one avenue for political change in exclusionary
democracies. Historically excluded groups in Brazil have demanded
political change through movements.
By taking to the streets, excluded populations can put pressure on the
government to alter policies and behaviors (Cardoso 1992, 291). Writers
on this subject have begun to investigate the complex role of movements
not just in pressing the state to change policy but also in reforming
authoritarian and repressive practices in society (Alvarez et al. 1998,
While the study of social movements goes a long way toward explaining
how marginal groups can engender political change, the approach
is more limited in explaining the role of civil society in ongoing
political activity. Social movements tend to operate in mobilization
cycles and deactivate after they achieve a few major objectives,
factionalization emerges, groups are coopted, or activists tire (Tarrow
1998, 147-50). In these periods between marches and public clashes,
civic institutions play an important role as a bridge between citizens
and the state. Representative groups work with state officials to
help implement policies by mediating relations between government and
the population (Evans 1995, 50, 72, 228; Kurtz 1999, 295; Wang 1999,
232, 237-46; Migdal 1994). These ongoing contacts help build public
accountability and ensure effective governance.
But how can these societal efforts to create reform work in extremely
violent communities? Under dictatorships, civic actors often became
targets of government repression. Today, social leaders working
to control violence can become the targets of corrupt officials or
criminals (Leeds 1996, 69-73). Furthermore, if some state officials are
more closely attached to violent social actors than to other officials
concerned with the rule of law (and vice versa), it makes little sense
to operationalize politics along a single state-society dimension.
[End Page 5]
The model of a network suggests an alternative, flexible framework to
explain local-level political organizing. It transcends conventional
understanding of state-society relations by allowing for participation
by nontraditional political actors, such as international organizations
and the media; it explains how social groups can remain active even under
the threat of violence; and it offers a complex model of the state that
reflects the internal divisions common in Latin American politics today.
Networks are horizontal, informal organizations based on connections
between actors with similar interests (Chalmers et al. 1997, 567-68;
Keck and Sikkink 1998, 8). Member groups use connections to help build
coalitions that transcend state-society and domestic-international
boundaries and exploit the unique resources and skills of different
member groups to accomplish common goals. Networks thereby provide a
description of how different organizations relate to one another. Network
analysis helps to explain the specific dynamics of how politically
interested actors build cross-institutional connections and exploit
those connections for political gain (Keck and Sikkink 1998, 10-38).
Through a network, groups with similar objectives can share labor and
risk among themselves. Networks help member groups to accomplish complex
objectives under difficult circumstances by promoting specialization
among members, linking like-minded groups, and allowing those that
want to change political conditions in violent places to share risks in
such a way that it is more difficult to stop efforts to promote change
(from a business perspective see Kanter 1991, 68; Uzzi 1997, 70-71;
Powell 1994, 303-4).
Contemporary scholarship on social networks suggests that this
framework can provide channels for communication, collective action,
and representation under conditions in which traditional forms of
political activism are ineffectual. One way networks do this is by
bringing together a set of functionally and spatially diffuse actors. For
example, significant evidence shows that transnational networks that
bring together nongovernmental and intergovernmental organizations
and governments have had success in controlling human rights abuse in
places where authoritarian regimes made domestic political opposition
difficult or impossible. By deflecting attention from particular actors
exposed to violence and using alternative channels of communication
and representation, network connections helped to achieve political
change under difficult circumstances, such as the brutal Latin American
dictatorships of the 1960s and 1970s (Keck and Sikkink 1998, 75-120;
Risse and Sikkink 1999, 17-35).
This analysis also applies to local-level networks dealing with social
violence. In bringing multiple groups together, networks raise the cost
to violent actors of silencing individual groups. Networks allow more
protected actors to take riskier roles in controlling violence and more
[End Page 6]
exposed actors to take less public but equally important roles in those
The activities of networks also make state leaders aware of community
problems so that they can change existing policies or discipline
negligent officials. Local groups have access to important information
about police behavior and state activities that outsiders may not
have. By gathering data and disseminating it through contacts in the
media and civil society, local groups can help bring information to,
and put pressure on, state officials. As state leaders become more
aware of the activities of criminals and local-level bureaucrats,
they can more effectively monitor and implement policies.
A third role of networks is to facilitate efforts to build norms of
social and political behavior. Through ongoing social activities, civic
groups can help construct local norms that may constrain violent actors
(on movements and society see Alvarez et al. 1998, 18; Putnam 1993,
171-73). Networks, furthermore, allow groups with different and often
contradictory strategies to work together to achieve similar objectives
(on coordination between network members see Sikkink 1996; for an
example of these tensions see Hochstetler 2000, 169). A group engaged
in open protest thereby can operate in conjunction with a group that
puts more weight on negotiating accommodations with the government.
Through informal networks, different local organizations can interact
with outside NGOs, residents, and the state to seek outside assistance,
develop innovative solutions to problems, and change state policy. As
a result of these factors, network links restructure the relationship
between state and society to extend the rule of law to favelas.
While the model developed in this paper draws most distinctly from
network theory, it also reflects the insights of the other literature
discussed here. As the data from the three cases show, a coherent state
organization, capable of making reforms and ensuring that lower-level
officials follow the law, is critical in controlling local-level
violence. Networks help empower state actors concerned with the rule
of law to undertake these vital reforms. Dense, tightly linked social
networks, indeed, play an important role in the proper functioning of
any democratic state (Putnam 1993, 181-89).
Networks also contain various types of social actors, including social
movements. Spontaneous and organized social protest can provide
an important impetus in forming social networks and causing state
reform. Protest is a way of strengthening latent social contacts and
activating groups around new issues. By distributing risks, networks
can help to sustain state reform and social mobilization in the face
of high levels of violence.
Civil society, social movements, and networks, however, are not always
positive or politically progressive institutions. Significant writing
[End Page 7]
on Brazil, Latin America, and the developing world has suggested that
many civic institutions and networks engage in undemocratic behavior
and promote violence. Leigh Payne has shown that some civic actors are
ambivalent about democratic government (Payne 2000, 3-5). Orin Starn has
pointed out that the rondas campesinas in Peru, while reflecting
residents' concerns, are not necessarily either democratic or progressive,
and often engage in violent behavior (Starn 1999). Mark Duffield, Mary
Kaldor, and Phil Williams each suggest that criminal networks linked to
states and other important entitites promote international conflicts and
crime (Duffield 2001, 13-15; Kaldor 1999, 91-111; Williams 2001, 73-77).
In the case of Rio's favelas, Robert Gay and others have pointed out
that many AMs have links with drug traffickers (Gay 1994, 12, 97-98;
Alvito 2001, 153-54; Leeds 1996, 70-73). This study argues that such
links undermine efforts to control violence. These groups will often
try to chip away at efforts to promote the rule of law, and they pose
serious challenges to progressive political networks. Ultimately,
networks themselves have biases, and member groups do not always make
effective political decisions.
In Rio's favelas, where criminal groups are strongly connected to some
civic leaders and government agents, networks provide the most effective
way to extend democratic governance and protect citizens' rights. Only
by building connections between residents and organizations outside the
favelas can groups with resources to help reduce violence effectively
penetrate neighborhoods dominated by criminal organizations. The
specific, flexible structures of networks allow groups concerned with
controlling conflict to work together to build the confidence of fearful
and isolated populations, to undertake significant political reforms,
and to decrease residents' reliance on traffickers.
The Role of Social Networks in
What types of activities help protect the citizenship rights of favela
residents? This section examines three Rio favelas that experienced
conflict in the 1990s. While they initially responded to particular
crises in similar ways, the internal political structure of each favela
and its links with outside groups had important effects on political
outcomes. In communities where residents effectively networked together
and made contacts with outsiders concerned with human rights, homicide
and violence levels declined. In favelas where criminals dominated
local politics through connections to community leaders and police,
violence remained high. The data in this section show how the internal
and external political dynamics of these favelas affected levels of
violence after tragic events.
[End Page 8]
The first community, Santa Ana, is dominated by drug traffickers and
has a small number of internal organizations that maintain limited
relations with outside groups and the state. During one three-month period
in 1997, 28 people were murdered in and around the favela. Despite one
NGO's efforts, little has changed here, because a powerful criminal
organization has coopted much of the local leadership. The second
community, Vigário Geral, has a higher number of internal
organizations with links to outside actors. These groups succeeded in
bringing violence under control for several years in the mid- and late
1990s. During a nine-month period in 1997 and 1998, residents reported
only one murder.
The third community, Tubarão, has both a powerful drug-trafficking
presence and a number of active civic organizations. Between August
1998 and May 1999, police and traffickers murdered approximately 30
residents. After the police killed five residents in 2000, however,
police working with local groups set up an innovative community policing
program that contributed to a rapid drop in violence and the elimination
of local police homicides in the period between September 2000 and
Santa Ana: Persistent Violence
and Network Failure
Caught in the all-too-common crossfire between the police and drug
traffickers, Santa Ana is known as one of Rio's most violent areas. The
community is full of signs of conflict, ranging from damaged walls
and satellite dishes to scars on the bodies of young men and tired
faces of residents who have difficulty sleeping through the nightly
gunfights. During one three-month stretch in 1997 there were 28 gunfights,
27 murders, and 14 occasions when residents denounced police abuse
ranging from unwarranted searches to threats, beatings, and killings
With about four thousand residents, Santa Ana sits on a hill just west
of downtown Rio that it shares with several other favelas (Josias and
Antônio 1996; Josias and Manoel 1997). Access to Santa Ana is
available from a city-maintained road. About three-quarters of the way
up the hill, Santa Ana gives way to a larger favela that contains a
small police post, a school, and some commerce.
Santa Ana's residents build their homes with brick and cement. Some own
cars, and the neighborhood skyline shows an ample number of satellite
dishes. Many private businesses operate in the community; yet the favela
has few paved roads and a number of open sewers. Traffickers and their
allies control most of the public space. The central building is the
headquarters of the AM, which is run by the father of a
[End Page 9]
contains a large, semi-enclosed room used for public functions, an
office, and storage space. To obtain votes, politicians have funneled
through the AM and the traffickers to build a covered dance floor, to
which the girlfriend of a powerful trafficker holds the keys (Joselino
The only other semipublic buildings are a chapel and daycare center,
or crèche, maintained by the Catholic Church and a social club
maintained by an NGO. Two small stages on the main street provide
space for mounting loudspeakers and for addicts to take cocaine. Just
up the main street from the AM is the traffickers' boca de fumo
(a term used for point of sale and drug headquarters). Drug buyers,
residents trying to get financial assistance, and police demanding
bribes all frequent the boca (Josias and unknown woman, 1997).
Most of the violence that affects Santa Ana results from ongoing
low-level conflicts between drug traffickers and police. Both overzealous
law enforcement and police extortion contribute to this violence. In
the winter months of 1997, the police released several traffickers
after receiving payoffs (Joselino 2001).
Traffickers who maintain connections with police and politicians dominate
Santa Ana's politics. To build their legitimacy, these criminals provide
social and economic assistance to residents. To increase the security
of their trafficking operations, drug dealers pay bribes to police
stationed nearby. The AM acts as an intermediary between traffickers,
residents, and state officials. Josias, the AM president, has helped
traffickers by providing them access to the AM for social events,
mediating relations with politicians, and helping with communications
during police operations.
The Catholic-run crèche also provides important local services. In
1997 the crèche leader agreed to help the traffickers throw a
community party. A social club also operates in Santa Ana; it works with
an outside NGO to provide guidance to at-risk adolescents. The club is
the only local organization that eschews contact with traffickers. Its
leaders, however, are virtually marginalized because of their affiliation
with outsiders and, probably, their efforts to control violence.
Although the Catholic Church provides some services to residents, its
leaders put little time into addressing questions of violence. Many
residents worship in Evangelical Protestant churches. Some of the AM
leaders are affiliated with one Evangelical church that holds services
in the AM headquarters. AM leaders actively marginalize social club
leaders from the community, complaining about their activities and
critiquing their ties to outsiders.
Because of their connections, local organizations linked to traffickers
have only limited contacts with society outside the favela and do
not work to diversify those contacts. Camila, the director of the
[End Page 10]
noted that once she had participated in a group that
wanted to put a better public face on Santa Ana by throwing some events
and bringing in the
media to show that Santa Ana had positive activities for children and
adults. Traffickers, however, vetoed her efforts for fear of attracting
too much attention. AM leaders have contacts with some state officials,
but these are either weak, low-level bureaucrats with whom AM leaders
file paperwork, or corrupt politicians who have worked with traffickers.
Crisis and Response
On July 19, 1998, a PM group conducted an operation in Santa Ana to
shake down traffickers. As police entered the area, a group of criminals
fled up the hill. The police opened fire, striking a day laborer in the
head as he was drinking a soda. Angry residents quickly came out and
surrounded the police; the police fired bullets in the air but failed
to disperse the crowd. Fearing that more violence would break out,
one resident, an Evangelical hardware store owner, helped get the body
into the ambulance and persuaded the police to withdraw as the vehicle
left. The victim died before reaching the hospital.
After the police retreated, residents prepared to riot. The director
of the social club, however, a resident and activist trained both by
NGOs and in Catholic comunidades eclesiásticos de base,
persuaded residents not to riot and organized a group to march peacefully
down the hill and block the street below. A major newspaper carried the
story. At the residents' behest, the traffickers moved their boca
far from the favela's entrance.
For a short time, violence decreased dramatically, as both police
and traffickers avoided public confrontations (Sandrão 1998;
Camila 1998). Eventually, however, without a strong institutional
framework to continue pressuring the state, violence returned to high
levels. This outcome differed from that in a nearby favela where, when
police murdered a resident, other residents rioted and burned a police
booth. Had it not been for the leader of the social club, with her
extensive activist training, Santa Ana residents might also have rioted.
Press reports about the protest contributed to pressure on the police
to reduce killings. Residents noted that after newspapers reported on
killings, violence tended to decline for a short time. This was the case
when stray bullets killed several people in Santa Ana and neighboring
communities in March 1997 and when the protest occurred in 1998.
This account illustrates how residents' discontent and public attention,
when effectively channeled, constrain both police and trafficker
behavior. Both sets of actors made efforts to reduce the potential
fallout of their conflicts. This story also shows how effective
collective action can bring positive press attention. By organizing and
walking to the street, residents attracted media interest and forced the
police to change
[End Page 11]
their behavior over the short term. We also see here
how connected and well-trained local leadership can play an important
role in defusing a violent
situation. The director of the social club helped refocus residents'
energies away from attacking the police and toward protest.
Historically, favela residents often march or engage in spontaneous
violence when upset with the government. What is interesting and
different about this case, from the perspective of networks, is that
while the community was prepared to riot, a resident with extensive
outside training and contacts persuaded other residents to adopt
a political posture that was more likely to garner positive press
attention. As a result of her contacts with the outside and significant
leadership training, the social club leader had the knowledge and skills
to persuade residents to peacefully protest rather than riot.
Without a dense network concerned with human rights, however, locals
could not sustain efforts to reduce violence. With only the social club
directly committed to controlling conflict, a local critical mass did
not exist to maintain regular pressure on police or criminals. Leaders
of the social club engage in no collaborative activities with either
the AM or the crèche. The social club has no internal support
for its activities to control violence and, as a result, directly and
regularly reaches only about 40 children and adolescents. While the
organizers of the social club have leadership training, their limited
support in Santa Ana prevents them from having a long-term impact on
local violence. The AM, which is closely allied with the traffickers,
maintains contacts with state officials, but usually these officials
are corrupt, and have little interest in controlling violence. The AM
is openly critical of the contacts that the social club maintains with
None of the groups in the community, moreover, have regular contact with
the press. As a result, the press visits only during periods of high
violence, and residents have little influence with reporters, who often
depend on the police for information. Ultimately, the focus of local
organizing around the AM and traffickers prevents the community from
building the types of organizations, programs, and contacts needed to
control violence. At the same time, evidence shows that when residents
have contact with outsiders, such as with the social club leaders,
they have some success in reducing bloodshed.
Vigario Geral: Local Organizing
and Violence Control
The Parque Proletário de Vigário Geral sits on the northern
edge of Rio. The community is bordered on the north and east by the
São João de Meriti River, on the west by a wall that runs
next to a railroad, and on the south by its neighbor (and longtime
enemy) Parada de Lucas, another
[End Page 12]
shantytown. In 1997 Vigário's
approximately ten thousand residents could reach the favela either by
a dangerous road that passed through Parada or by foot
over a small bridge that crossed the railroad tracks.
Crisis and Response
On the August night in 1993 after Brazil's national soccer team won a
qualifying game for the next World Cup, a group of Rio de Janeiro's PM
invaded Vigário and killed 21 residents—some of whom were
in the streets quietly celebrating Brazil's victory—in alleged
retaliation for the murder of several police officers the night before
(Leeds 1996, 65-66). The police were involved in a corruption scheme
that allowed the local traffickers to operate on the condition that
they regularly pay bribes. Tired of paying kickbacks, the traffickers
attacked the police. The day after the massacre, the brutal killings
made headlines throughout Brazil (Ventura 1994, 66-68).
In the days and weeks that followed, a group of well-educated
young residents and survivors organized a movement called Mocovige
(Movimento Comunitário de Vigário Geral) to protest
against violence. Mocovige quickly made links to outside NGOs and
exploited these alliances to gain and maintain media attention. With
the advice of an outside activist, Mocovige leaders organized a
difficult but symbolically important 40-kilometer march from the
Candelária Church in downtown Rio (where police had murdered
street children several months earlier) to Vigário. This event,
a very creative reinterpretation of traditional favela protest marches,
received extensive press covereage and put local activism on the map.
Within months of the march, Mocovige, with the help of the prominent
NGO Viva Rio and others, reorganized into an NGO called the Casa da Paz
(CdP). Later, two other NGOs, the Médicos Sem Fronteiras (MSF,
the European Doctors Without Borders) and the Fundação
Afro-Reggae (FAR), set up projects with the CdP's help. Since 1993,
a number of other groups have operated in the favela, including a
work cooperative, an internationally supported crèche, a local
community management group, and two environmental groups.
Solutions to Violence in Vigário
In the wake of the massacre, high levels of violence continued as a result
of ongoing police retaliation. Between 1993 and 1996, the police had no
permanent presence in Vigário and would enter the community to
conduct actions against drug traffickers who operated openly in their
absence. When the police did enter, shootouts ensued (Pedro and Wesley
1997; Almeida and unknown resident 1997). Both police and
[End Page 13]
in such an unstable situation, believed that nearly all residents posed
threats to them (Ferraz 1997b; Charles 1997b; Evanildo 1998). Stories
abound of police violence ranging from unjustified detention to beatings
and killings (Charles 1997a; Mateus 1998; Daniel and Joana 1998). During
operations, police regularly conducted unwarranted searches and, in one
case, mistakenly dropped grenades on a home they believed traffickers
occupied (Charles 1997a; Mateus 1998; Jorginho and Eric 1998; Katarina
1998; Carlinha 1998). Traffickers, for their part, killed residents they
thought had informed on them (Miguel 1997; Evanildo 1998).
This changed in October 1996, when Marcello Alencar, then governor
of Rio, ordered police permanently to occupy Vigário. The PM
presence rapidly reduced violence and suffocated trafficking. Addicts
could no longer freely walk into the favela and openly buy and consume
drugs; and traffickers could no longer overtly move around. Major
traffickers left the favela, and more minor dealers took control of
day-to-day operations (Unknown resident 1997). The police thus had
little to gain from vigorously pursing the remaining traffickers,
so shootouts decreased (Pedro and Wesley 1997; Almeida and two unknown
residents 1997; Charles and outside filmmaker 1997). The reduction in the
volume of drug sales also reduced the interest of outside traffickers in
Vigário. As a result, between mid-1997 and early 1998, residents
confirmed only one murder. Traffickers, who previously had patrolled
the community with large weapons, did not appear armed in the streets,
and residents consistently indicated that the community had dramatically
improved (Almeida and women residents 1997; Cynthia 1997a; Luis 1997;
The state's decision to occupy Vigário was based largely on
the high levels of sustained media attention in the years after the
massacre. The massacre alone, however, does not explain ongoing media
attention or policy changes after 1993. Many homicides occur in Rio each
year; only a few of them attract public attention, and none retained
attention as Vigario's did.
Unlike Santa Ana, Vigário benefited from well-connected,
locally active NGOs, which skillfully attracted public attention to
the situation. Only through the activities of networked NGOs were media
regularly attracted to the community. The CdP kept the massacre trials
in the headlines by engaging in such innovative activities as taking
coffins to the courthouse during the trial of one of the police accused
in the massacre, holding a candlelight vigil outside the courthouse,
and informing the press when one of the prosecutors in the case toured
the favela (1997). As in the march from Candelária, residents
and outsiders often worked together to stage these activities.
The FAR's work with adolescents and children also gradually drew more
public attention to the social and cultural life of Vigário. While
[End Page 14]
CdP protested, moreover, the FAR avoided direct confrontation
with the state. Vigário benefited from this combination of
activities. According to one activist, a watershed moment occurred in
mid-1996 when a resident
unveiled a sculpture of a family made of bullet casings that local
children had collected in the favela and exchanged at the CdP for
candy. The work attracted both national and international attention,
appearing in U.S. newspapers and on CNN. A week later, the police occupied
Vigário. The active and innovative work of NGOs kept media and
state attention on the favela by exploiting connections between residents
and outsiders (Charles 1997c; CdP activists 1998).
While the police maintained low levels of crime, NGOs played an important
role in reducing police violence. For one thing, the simple presence
of NGOs limited police abuse. For example, the director of the MSF
post is affiliated with an important INGO; in Brazil's hierarchical and
unequal political system, he would have more credibility when testifying
if he witnessed an act of brutality than would most residents. The
MSF director, furthermore, has his own contacts in government. When
the Merití River flooded in January 1998, he quickly brought
public health officials to Vigário (Jaime 1997; Jaime and city
officials, 1998a, 1998b). In a case of serious police violence, he could
have drawn on those same contacts to bring officials to the favela more
quickly than local leaders could.
NGOs also educate residents politically and provide venues to denounce
rights violators. The work of the FAR is exemplary in this area. Through
classes and conversations, participants learn about their rights in
a democratic society. The FAR also has an agreement with another NGO
to support and finance lawyers to denounce human rights abuses on a
case-by-case basis (Roberto 1997b). If levels of violence increased,
a structure would be in place that would allow residents to bring
complaints quickly against abusive PMs (Visit of NGO workers 1997;
The NGOs' facility at attracting the media severely limits police
violence. As in Santa Ana, and as Marcos Alvito has documented in
Acarí, in most favelas the police dominate crime reports because
reporters have few contacts with residents and are often afraid to
venture alone into the favelas (Alvito 1998, 188).
In Vigário this is not the case. Reporters would often show
up alone or in groups and always without a police escort. Journalists
have developed relationships with local groups, and report on events
using local perspectives. Under the gaze of a "connected" press, the
police must respect the rights of residents (Visit of British Vice
Foreign Minister 1997; CdP leadership and staff 1997; Jorginho 1997b;
The social activities of the NGOs and the AM also decrease the role
in providing assistance to residents. For example,
[End Page 15]
historically had thrown a Christmas party for the
favela's children, where they would distribute presents and food. With
the decline of trafficking in 1996, it was apparent that no one would
throw a similar party
in 1997. Worried that residents would become nostalgic, the CdP gathered
funding from outside groups to host a party (Ferraz 1997b; Cynthia and
other women 1997; Cynthia and Tânia 1997; Jorginho 1997a; Cynthia
and Felipe 1997; Daniel 1998).
This same pattern can also be seen with the distribution of water in
the favela. Until the mid-1990s, the traffickers piped in the water and
employed a plumber to ensure distribution. By 1997, without trafficker
assistance, water pressure and quality had declined (Almeida, Cynthia,
and Lorivaldo 1997; Almeida, Cynthia, and unknown resident 1997;
Almeida and PROSANEAR administrator 1997). In response, the AM secured
government help to improve water service (Almeida 1997; Almeida and
PROSANEAR administrator 1997; Almeida and social scientist, 1997). The
government was probably more receptive to the AM's demands because of
both the attention the killings had already focused on the community
and the ways that extended activism in the community had built links
between local leaders and state officials.
The FAR made efforts to draw children and adolescents out of crime
through cultural and educational work. FAR leaders would work to persuade
adolescents at the edges of trafficking to participate in the group's
activities. Slowly the FAR would envelop them in group social life and
offer them jobs. Once a participant had become sufficiently immersed,
FAR leaders would ask the youth to leave trafficking (Pedro and Wesley
1997; Roberto 1997a). The CdP, through technical classes and social
programs, has offered young people alternatives in building their future
The MSF played an important role in delivering medical and public
health services to residents. In the context of Rio's favelas, this
was especially important; one of the ways traffickers traditionally
supported residents was to provide them with money to seek medical
care. While the MSF pulled out of the community in 1999, it helped
create the Community Management Movement (Movimento de Gestão
Comunitário, MOGEC). Today this group provides medical and
public health services to residents, researches local problems, and
lobbies the government. By offering services traffickers had provided,
network members decrease residents' support for criminals.
Religious groups also have a prominent role in Vigário, partly
because many of the victims in the massacre were Evangelicals. A
Protestant group from another neighborhood provided the funds for
Mocovige to purchase the property that became the CdP. On occasion,
Evangelical groups came through the community to provide medical
services to residents. The Catholic Church has considerably less
[End Page 16]
in Vigário than it does in Santa Ana. While a chapel
and a congregation are there, the church plays no political role in
the community and church leaders do not attend local meetings.
These efforts are supported by contacts that each of the locally based
groups maintains with outside organizations. Without backing from Viva
Rio, Amnesty International, Evangelicals, and other groups, the CdP
would not exist. The MSF, of course, drew on the international MSF's
network of support. The FAR drew funding from the Ford Foundation, Cirque
de Soleil, the British Council, and the EU. Both established a local
presence through contacts with the CdP. One result of the presence of
active NGOs and, in particular, the activities of the MSF was that a city
administrator regularly attended local activists' meetings to respond
to questions about the role of municipal government in the community.
The combination of the implementation of a constructive policing policy
and the development of social programs reduced local dependence on
traffickers. While the police presence increased the risks of being
involved in trafficking, the NGOs increased the rewards for not being
involved and restricted the activities of the police by giving voice
to the community's needs.
The structure of the Vigário network differs considerably from
that of Santa Ana. First, Vigário contains a large number of
locally active groups connected to each other and to the outside. Each
of these groups engages in extensive local activities and has relatively
little contact with criminal elements. Because none of these groups
are seriously compromised to traffickers, all are able to maintain and
develop extensive outside networks. Whereas in Santa Ana most local civic
groups are connected to traffickers and have limited outside contacts, in
Vigário the combination of dense local interlinking and extensive
outside contacts provided a basis for local program development, funding,
and political activism.
In the pattern of their external contacts, the groups in Vigário
have more in common with the social club in Santa Ana than they
do with the other organizations in that community. Trafficking and
some complications in the network, however, created difficulties in
While groups active in Vigário succeeded in attracting public
attention and controlling police, the network also encountered some
problems. In general, local groups worked well together. The AM provided
security at FAR events, and the leaders of the FAR, the AM, and the
MSF sat on the board of MOGEC. This was not the case with the CdP,
however. Until early 1998, the president of the CdP was Caio Ferraz,
a university graduate and former resident who had taken a significant
leadership role in Mocovige. Although Ferraz won Brazil's first human
[End Page 17]
many residents and activists did not like his aggressive,
outward-looking leadership and the fame that he acquired (Daniel 1998).
In 1995, police officers whom Ferraz had publicly accused of taking
bribes threatened him and forced him into exile. In his absence,
an executive director was appointed to run the CdP. Errors made by
the first executive director led to a significant budget deficit and
resulted in the appointment of a new one (Carlinha 1998; Evanildo 1998;
Lourenço 1998). The new administrator, a Protestant activist who
had worked in several other favelas before coming to Vigário,
arrived with an obligation to cover the budget deficit. His efforts to
do that prevented the CdP from paying its employees. The new executive
director also made residents unhappy by bringing in outside workers and
not building close local contacts.
These tensions came to a head on January 20, 1998, when a group of
community residents, leaders, and CdP workers gathered in the CdP for
a conference call with Ferraz. By the end of the phonecall, Ferraz and
the executive director both had agreed to step down. In the next several
weeks, one of Rio's major newspapers published a prominent story on the
conflict, as different groups wrangled over the CdP's leadership. The CdP
failed to reorganize itself and significantly decreased its operations
(Commission to Reorganize CdP 1998). Organized public pressure on issues
of violence and the trials of those accused in the massacre decreased
drastically. In November 1998, with little fanfare or comment, the
Supremo Tribunal de Justiça, Brazil's highest court, acquitted
11 of the police accused in the massacre of all charges. Courts also
released two police officers who had earlier been convicted. By mid-2000,
Onda Azul, a growing NGO that recycles plastic bottles to make furniture,
had taken over the CdP building (Sneed 2000).
Linkages in the Vigário network contributed to events that
brought down Ferraz and ultimately the CdP. On the most basic level,
dissatisfaction with the CdP stemmed from popular dissatisfaction with
Ferraz. Despite his accomplishments, many residents thought he was
smug and egotistical. A number of Mocovige activists said that he had
assumed leadership of an organization that should have no leader. This
created an alliance of Mocovige activists and massacre survivors
against Ferraz. Mismanagement of funds under the first executive
director worsened dissatisfaction with Ferraz. With that deficit,
the CdP could not pay its employees. Local dissatisfaction with the
work of the new executive director helped to build an alliance between
disgruntled residents and unpaid workers. Prior contacts between the
new executive director and a powerful trafficker from another favela in
which he had previously worked worsened an already tense situation. Some
people whispered that Vigário's traffickers wanted the second
director out because of this relationship. He agreed to leave, but
explained to residents why his relationship with the other trafficker
should not have created a problem.
[End Page 18]
This evidence reveals three important points about network
organizing. First, not all networks or network components operate
effectively all the time. Some network member group leaders make poor
choices that cause
their organizations to fall apart or that separate them from their
constituencies. Second, members of networks do not always agree with
each other and may compete among themselves. Under some circumstances,
this may cause member groups to undermine each other. In this case,
members of the Vigário network became upset with the CdP and
allied against its leadership in the hope of reforming it. While
this might have had the positive effect of improving the CdP and its
relationship to the rest of the network, it had instead the negative
effect of significantly reducing the CdP's activity, and also reducing
pressure on the government to control violence.
Much of this outcome was caused by a breakdown of open communication
among different groups in Vigário. The discussions that led to
the breakdown of the CdP occurred behind closed doors. In the runup
to the conference call when Ferraz resigned, one resident pulled this
researcher aside and secretively told me about the efforts to remove
the CdP leadership. Activists called in outside reporters and others
only when Ferraz had already agreed to step down.
A final point about network organizing is that aggressive actors, such as
criminals, may use connections into a network to undermine organizations
antagonistic to their interests. In this case, traffickers used contacts
with residents effectively to eliminate the CdP.
Although the policies of NGOs and the state have had great success in
reducing violence in Vigário, some problems continue. Residents
still resent the police in many ways (Luis 1997; Roger 1997;
Miguel 1997). Traffickers continue to operate in the community,
and many residents and outsiders remain extremely tense about their
firepower. With the end of the CdP, violence began to increase again as
pressure on the government declined and police corruption rose. In short,
a decrease in outside connections and problems with internal connections
resulted in a moderate increase in violence in Vigário in 1998
and 1999 (Eric 1998; Carlinha 1998). Organized efforts to control
violence continued nevertheless, and levels of bloodshed did not rise
dramatically immediately after the CdP's breakdown. The presence of
other groups kept pressure on the state to minimize violence until at
least 2000. Thus the existence of a network in Vigário allowed
local activist efforts to survive the destruction of the CdP.
Tubarão: Top-Down Network
Located in the wealthy Zona Sul, the Morro do Tubarão
(Tubarão Hill) is privileged with spectacular views of the city's
beaches. Two favelas
[End Page 19]
sit on Tubarão Hill: Tubarão proper
and Ceuzinho. Combined they have roughly 15,000 residents. The favela
of Tubarão has a large migrant population from the Northeast,
while Ceuzinho's residents are predominantly
locally born. Both favelas have a lively cultural life, with an active
samba school, weekly forros (a popular northeastern dance), and
hip-hop balls funded by local traffickers (Carlos 1998; Elizete 1998;
Baile Funk 1998; Oscar 1999).
Tubarão and Ceuzinho have experienced tensions, which, in
the 1980s and 1990s, culminated in open gang warfare between the
two communities. In recent years, however, relations have calmed
as traffickers from Tubarão have taken control of both hills
(Bernardo and unknown resident of Ceuzinho 1998; Anderson 1998; Sister
Elena 1998; Elizete 1998). Access by wealthy buyers to Tubarão's
bocas, however, creates heavy drug sales and, eventually,
intense conflict among rival drug gangs for control of local points of
sale. Caught between the sea and the sky, the Morro do Tubarão
stands out as an example of the contradictions of wealth and poverty
that define Brazil (Sara and Bartolomé 1998; Sara 1998; Denise
1998a; Vilma 1998; MC Big 1998; Carolina 1998).
With the exception of religious groups, few outside organizations
operate in Tubarão. Those that do are either tightly connected
to Bernardo, the AM president, or to the traffickers with whom he
has worked. Bernardo uses his connections with other groups to limit
possible challenges to his authority and to maintain tranquil conditions
for traffickers. Ceuzinho's political structure is much more divided,
with a number of interlinked groups operating separately, with different
connections to the state. Despite this more complex structure, Bernardo
and the traffickers occasionally interfere in politics in Ceuzinho. As
a result, collective action in Ceuzinho has been rare over the past
Tubarão is a very violent favela. Traffickers and (often corrupt)
police frequently engage in shootouts. In the nine months I regularly
worked in these favelas during 1998 and 1999, more than 20 shootouts
occurred. During this time also, traffickers and police killed at
least 10 residents. One resident reported that in 1999 alone, 30 were
murdered in the two favelas (Cedric 2001). Residents indicated that
violence had actually occurred at much higher rates in earlier years,
because of gang warfare.
Overall, the favela has benefited from contacts with the government
that have led to extensive housing and infrastructural improvements. The
favela has also received significant assistance from NGOs and religious
organizations (Bernardo 1998; Denise 1998b). This assistance, however,
has been largely clientelistic and funneled directly through the AM. This
has reinforced the importance of AM leaders, who have been linked to
traffickers since the 1980s.
[End Page 20]
Crisis and Response
On May 14, 2000, elements of Rio's PM went into Ceuzinho and murdered five
residents. While police claimed they had killed traffickers, residents
disagreed and rioted in the streets, breaking windows with rocks and
cooking gas canisters. In the aftermath of the riots, with extensive news
coverage on everyone's mind, the state government promised to improve
local policing and began a series of discussions with angry residents
(Amalia 2001). Despite these meetings, however, the government did little
in the immediate aftermath of the murders. PM Major João Antunes,
however, began to work with Viva Rio to develop a community policing
program. One Viva Rio leader knew about Operation Cease Fire, a police
program centered on harm reduction that had successfully controlled
violence in the Dorchester section of Boston, and arranged for Antunes
to travel there (Samuel 2001).
On his return, Major Antunes began the collaborative process of setting
up a police program based on the Boston experiment. It involved building
the confidence of residents to denounce police abuse and, at the same
time, establishing an effective police presence to prevent serious
crimes. Initially, Antunes tried to work with Bernardo of the AM, but
encountered significant resistance. He then made contact with Jorge,
the president of Ceuzinho's AM. Long an important local figure, Jorge
had many contacts with outside political and civic leaders and little
sympathy for the drug traffickers who, years earlier, had briefly driven
him out of the favela. Jorge readily gave the police access and helped
them build local contacts. Eventually, the traffickers again forced Jorge
out, but not before the police had set up the program and established
strong ties to some residents. A former Ceuzinho AM president who had
once worked closely with Jorge said,
The police in the community control violence and there are few
shootouts. That is good. It wouldn't have happened without Jorge, who was
willing to come with his chest out and take a lead in bringing the police
into the community and to walk up and down the hill with the major to help
start the program. This was a huge risk that almost cost Jorge his life,
but he got the police in there, and it made a difference. (Alexandre 2002)
On September 22, 2000, the Rio PM began a social occupation of
Tubarão with the support of Viva Rio and the Ceuzinho AM. A
team of one hundred police took control of key points in the favela and
adopted a nonconfrontational crime-control strategy based on monitoring
access to the hill and slowly suffocating trafficking. PM officials
worked with Viva Rio to set up a police training program focused on
increasing professionalism and improving service to residents (Police
group 2001). Antunes told arriving police that they should see themselves
[End Page 21]
the needs of residents, and quickly removed police who did
not follow orders. This strategy reduced conflict and resulted in a
decline in reported homicides.
In conjunction with the change in policing, Viva Rio and the state
government began a series of social programs designed to build local
confidence in the police and reduce dependence on traffickers. The State
of Rio invested in high school completion courses for three hundred
at-risk teenagers. The government paid students in these courses a
stipend. Former members of the Ceuzinho AM and other respected residents
took the lead in these programs to help build up the confidence of
residents (former AM president in Ceuzinho 2001).
Viva Rio provided legal assistance to residents, helped another
NGO to set up a volleyball program, organized a second high school
equivalency class, organized competing local religious groups to work
together collectively to address neighborhood problems, and set up other
programs to help build local capacity and meet residents' needs (Viva
Rio 2001). Viva Rio, the federal government, and an important local
foundation worked with UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund, to
open a large sports program designed to serve 1,500 children from the
hill and surrounding neighborhoods (Sports project, 2001). Finally,
Viva Rio organized a community forum to give local leaders a space
to meet with each other, police leaders, and NGO workers to discuss
problems. These activities helped groups in Tubarão to engage
with one another.
Solutions to Violence
The efforts of police, local leaders, and the outside groups had a
significant affect on Tubarão. Residents and police reported a
considerable decline in shootouts. One resident who worked with Viva
Rio said, "Things have gotten a lot better in the community. There are
no more shootouts. There is no violence" (Cedric 2001).
Although residents remained wary, relations with the police
thawed. Residents reserved special complements for Major Antunes,
who they thought was a good man working in a bad institution. One NGO
worker said, "many people say that they don't like the police but say
that Major Antunes is okay" (Guilherme 2001). One resident deeply linked
to trafficking, both personally and through family connections, and who
had once served time in prison, sought out Antunes for help when she
had no work. She said that while she could not trust most of the police,
she felt that she could trust him (Elizete 2001). Another resident, an
Evangelical, said that while she did not trust police in general, she did
think the major was a little bit better than the others (Carolina 2001).
Growing confidence in the police hierarchy allowed residents to denounce
police behavior to officers. As a result of residents' assistance,
[End Page 22]
Antunes removed 40 of the 100 police assigned to him for disciplinary
reasons (Antunes 2001). A resident noted,
the work of Viva Rio and the new policing program has changed people's
vision of the police. Now they [the police] have a way to talk to the
community. The police walk in the community, residents have access to
the police; they talk to them. [When there were problems with other
police]...the major went to the battalion to fix things. He gave his
cell phone number to [community] leaders. Residents didn't trust the new
program at first, but after they [the 40 police accused of extortion]
were removed, it gave a new viability to their work. (Cedric 2001)
Major Antunes's commitment to this program and his ability to negotiate
the complex relationships between the state, the favela, and the NGOs
allowed this program to move forward. Through his contacts with NGOs,
Antunes developed strategies for effective police reforms. By maintaining
those contacts, he enlisted the help of Viva Rio to advance the project
and to obtain outside funding to realize the social component of the
police occupation. Through his connections with the PM, Antunes secured
the resources necessary to set up and maintain the project. A populist
state government interested in developing innovative public security
programs facilitated this. Antunes and other high-ranking police also
maintained extensive contacts with the press to promote international
awareness of the project and obtain additional support.
The work of Viva Rio was important for several reasons. First, Viva
Rio helped Antunes develop his program by putting him in touch with
Operation Cease Fire. Later, the NGO monitored violence, trained police,
and offered advice to both residents and state representatives. Viva
Rio also helped legitimate the social aspects of the project; the
participation of a civic organization showed residents that this project
had support beyond the state.
Viva Rio also brought significant funds to the social and educational
sides of the project, and served as a liaison between residents and
the government. Through the funding, Viva Rio helped to meet some local
needs, gave small stipends to at-risk teens in equivalency courses, and
generally decreased residents' dependence on traffickers. Finally, Viva
Rio helped build local capacity to pressure police and traffickers to
control violence. It did this by building a community leadership council
to discuss problems, establishing a network of religious organizations
to develop new programs to help meet residents' needs, and setting up a
training program to help professionalize the police. As one resident put
it, "The community is growing and learning. The [leadership] council is
proof that the community is uniting and making demands on the government"
[End Page 23]
Jorge, Ceuzinho's AM president, represented the important role of
local leaders in that he helped to bring in the police and set up
social programs after Bernardo refused to help. Jorge walked around
the favela with
Antunes and other outsiders, introducing them to residents and
community organizations. Through these introductions, outsiders built a
strong network of contacts that proved invaluable in implementing the
program. Having community leadership was essential to these programs
because the target audience was underserved, at-risk teenagers close to
drug traffickers, who had reason to distrust outside authorities.
Of course, some actors resisted the program. Because of his ties to
the police, Jorge was forced out by the traffickers, and Bernardo took
over the Ceuzinho AM. Bernardo tried to limit the role of the police by
calling for the removal of a number of police posts in the favela. Some
police took bribes and not only allowed drug dealing but also provided
drug traffickers with information about police operations. Viva Rio
also had some internal divisions that led to poor decisionmaking and
the hiring of outsiders to work in the community when residents could
easily have done the job. As one former Ceuzinho AM president who was
involved with a sports program said, "[a foundation] gave [Viva Rio]
a lot of money [to start the UNICEF sports program] and they used
it to hire outsiders." He went on, "They pay them R$2000 or R$3000 a
month and they run things. Residents were only given jobs as janitors"
Over time, this decreased Viva Rio's community support, much as a similar
decision by the CdP executive director to hire outsiders decreased his
support in Vigário.
Despite all these problems, the contacts that had already been
established in the favela helped maintain the program. Community leaders
gave legitimacy to the police presence by publicly speaking out in favor
of it even after Bernardo took over the Ceuzinho AM. The vice president
of the Ceuzinho AM publicly said at a leadership council meeting,
The police are in the hill every day. If the police go down the hill, the
community will pay. They [the residents] need someone to go to directly
to make sure they are satisfied. If they get rid of these police, other
police will go up and invade the community. (Tubarão leadership
Although Bernardo immediately and publicly admonished him, other residents
at the meeting endorsed what the vice president said. Statements such
as this help to reinforce and develop community support for positive
Viva Rio helped to resolve some of its own problems in working with
the community by hiring Eduardo, an activist from a nearby favela, to
act as its intermediary with local leadership; and by employing Cedric,
a local Baptist pastor, to work on a number of its projects. With
[End Page 24]
own strong local contacts and history of working with leaders in these
communities, Eduardo and Cedric helped immeasurably in dealing with
difficulties in Tubarão. When Bernardo would resist the program,
they could advise
him that he was hurting their work as favela residents. This would
be politically untenable for Bernardo as a local leader committed to
defending local interests.
By establishing a strong network of local contacts, efforts to
maintain the new policing program succeeded. Residents who previously
may not have had the courage to speak out publicly about these issues
now were connected to other residents and outsiders who shared their
concerns. Residents supported each other in efforts to improve policing
despite traffickers' attempts to limit those activities.
Without the support of such a variety of actors, the intervention would
not have had significant success. If, for example, Bernardo provided
the only link between Tubarão and the outside, the police could
not have set up the program. Efforts to set up, maintain, and develop
the project encountered such resistance that Jorge was forced out of
the favela; yet the complex, interlocking network of government agents,
civic leaders, and residents made this intervention succeed.
The efforts of the government and Viva Rio in Tubarão were part
of a broader public security policy undertaken by the administrations
of Governors Anthony Garotinho and Benedita da Silva between 1998 and
2002. These governors were elected on a reform platform written by Luis
Eduardo Soares, a sociologist and Viva Rio collaborator. The platform,
and government policies during this period, focused on building links
between favelas, civil society, and the state to decrease the power
of traffickers in these communities and to control violence. Antunes
actually had been Soares's aide while he was in government. Soares
himself was also, no doubt, aware of the activities of Viva Rio in
Vigário in the early and mid-1990s. Any overall decrease in
the growth of violence in Rio during the Garotinho and da Silva
administrations is most probably attributable to a broad set of
policy recommendations that involved increasing police transparency
and strengthening ties between poor communities and the police. The
success of the efforts to control violence in Tubarão reflects
Postscript on Tubarão
Bernardo died suddenly in a car accident in mid-2002. His death seems to
have made some communications between police and traffickers difficult,
and his replacements were unable to smooth relations between police
and traffickers (Guilherme 2003). This difficulty, combined with the
increasing distance between Viva Rio and the community and the transfer
of Major Antunes from the favela, seems to have weakened the
[End Page 25]
July 2003, one contact in the community and an outside activist reported
increased levels of conflict in the favela (Elizete 2003a, b; Guilerme
An Analysis of the Factors that
Promote Network Success
The events in these three communities offer a number of insights into
the basis for political action in highly violent neighborhoods in Latin
America. Both police reform and social action play a critical role in
any effort to control violence in favelas. In all three communities,
the government initiated police reform only after significant local
protests. In the two successful cases, a significant amount of time
passed between the peak of crisis, when protests occurred, and policy
change. Only as a result of ongoing contacts with the government, outside
groups, the media, and residents did change occur. Even with reform,
furthermore, many problems persisted. What structures of state-local
engagement made these reforms successful over the long term? The answer
lies in the activities of networks.
In both communities where police reform offered some palpable relief
to residents, complex networks evolved that brought numerous local
groups together with actors from civil society and the state. In both
Tubarão and Vigário, government, civic, and local actors
all had important roles in helping to change local conditions. Each group
had a functional role in controlling local violence by drawing on its own
unique resources to restrain police and traffickers. Government leaders
ordered police reforms and provided funds to supplant traffickers'
aid to residents. Civic leaders provided funds and helped mediate
the relationship between the government and the community. Residents
provided information about police violence necessary for reforms, and
provided government and civic leaders access to the community. Only
through the concerted activities of groups and individuals committed to
change could organizations committed to controlling violence overcome
the resistance of traffickers and their allies.
In Santa Ana, by contrast, a lack of significant outside connections
limited the impact of local groups' protests. With most local actors
linked to criminals, outsiders had little access to or contact with
the favela. The activities of the social club offer some hope; the one
group effectively connected to outsiders and not compromised with the
traffickers played an important role in organizing the protest against
Government agents have access to certain types of political resources
that other groups do not, and play a fundamental role in building
citizenship and controlling violence (Velho 1996, 22-23). The Brazilian
state, however, is often very divided and corrupt.
As a result, state
[End Page 26]
actors concerned with political change and decreasing
violence need to manipulate links both inside and outside the state to
promote policy outcomes that
help them achieve their goals. In Tubarão, Major Antunes had a
critical role in the reforms that occurred. Using his contacts in the
state and in civil society, Antunes built support for an innovative new
police program that effectively controlled homicides. Antunes used his
position of power in the police to promote reform and informed residents
of his efforts. In Vigário, the orders of Governor Alencar
forced the police to change their behavior. In both Vigário and
Tubarão, changes in government behavior created changes in levels
Civic actors also help in efforts to transform local politics. In
each of the three cases, outside actors provide financing, training,
and political and media connections that help in effecting policy
change. By providing money and training, outside civic groups help build
local institutional capacity, build programs to decrease dependence on
traffickers, and maintain pressure on state actors. Networks facilitate
this process by accelerating the learning process as groups become more
densely connected; networks also provide an efficient system for the
transfer of resources (see especially Podolny and Page 1998, 64-66;
Uzzi 1996, 677-80, 682; Putnam 1993, 174; Powell 1994, 303-4).
Through political and media connections, groups in civil society put
actors in favelas in touch with outside groups to which they might not
previously have had access. The FAR in Vigário, for example,
regularly brought in political dignitaries and reporters and maintained
routine contact with lawyers whom residents and activists occasionally
contacted. Isolated poor people can use these connections to the state to
put new types of pressure on political leaders, as human rights groups
did throughout Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s (Sikkink 1996,
70-71; Chalmers et al. 1997, 580-82).
By putting direct pressure on the state and increasing public awareness
of violence, the media contribute to this process. At the same
time, the media, when connected to the wrong actors, can also create
justifications for further police violence. The media themselves form
parts of these networks, but only rarely develop intimate links with
particular favelas. Essentially, groups with experience dealing with
the media have some idea of how to control what the media publish; but
it is rare that groups with this experience are active in or linked to
favelas. Often residents believe that they are in so much danger that
they will not talk to the press. Thus it is difficult for activists to
get the type of reporting that can pressure the state, over the long
term, to control violence.
Distrust and violence also make it difficult for the media to gain access
to favelas. The media therefore depend on contacts with possibly corrupt,
violent, and complicit police to report on crime. Only when favela
residents develop connections with groups that know how to manage the
[End Page 27]
media can residents get the type of attention, and the media get the type
of access and data, that will help control violence over the long term.
The evidence from all three favelas shows that the actions of both
state actors and civil society groups depend on their coordination
with groups inside the affected communities. In closed, violent places,
it is difficult for well-intentioned outsiders to gain access without
the help of trusted locals. The evidence here supports the theory
that networks help to transfer legitimacy between different groups
through introductions and peer surveillance (Powell 1994, 303-4;
Putnam 1993, 171-72; Podolny and Page 1998, 64-65). In Vigário,
numerous outsiders gained access through politically active locals
who introduced them to residents. These groups then used their outside
connections to develop programs to help residents and to monitor the
police. Tubarão followed a similar pattern. The new policing
program and Viva Rio gained access through the numerous leaders in
Ceuzinho who favored change. The program, as many observers noted,
could have been set up only because of Viva Rio and the government's
contacts with Jorge, the Ceuzinho president.
Poor, isolated communities also tend to have strong protective ties among
residents that make it difficult for outsiders to obtain information
(Granovetter 1983, 212-13; Espinoza 1992, 52).
Local groups in Vigário, Tubarão, and Santa Ana were long
aware of the details of violence in their favelas. Only through links
with outsiders, however, could residents get their information safely
into the hands of institutions with the connections necessary to get the
information to those with the means to effect change. In Vigário
these groups brought attention to police violence through the media and
through contacts with high-level state officials. In Tubarão,
groups worked through Major Antunes and Viva Rio by making these
authoritative actors aware of police abuse.
By linking multiple actors, networks also provide member groups
protection from violence and help to ensure that efforts to bring
about political change will continue even in circumstances where
criminals successfully intimidate a number of activists. When groups
operate together, the cost to violent actors of threatening or coopting
member groups increases. If violent actors eliminate only one leader,
it may not deactivate the network as a whole. This can be seen in both
Vigário and Tubarão. The network as a whole continued to
operate, if at a slightly lower level, despite the departure of Caio
Ferraz in Vigário and Jorge in Tubarão and Ceuzinho. This
stands in sharp contrast to Santa Ana, where one civic organization,
the AM, ran the favela.
The different groups in Vigário illustrate how members of
networks collectively can pursue different political strategies that a
single group could not effectively pursue. Thus, while the CdP adopted a
more confrontational attitude toward the state, the FAR and MSF worked
[End Page 28]
collaboratively with state actors. Ultimately, networks succeed
in changing policy because their decentralization and specialization
produces a concert of diverse voices and perspectives focused on
changes in a specific area. Politicians, instead of confronting isolated
local leaders, face groups that not only represent but demonstrate,
through their independent actions, local agreement about the need for
change. Different groups say and do different things and do not strive,
as social movements often do, to produce a single voice with which to
pressure state actors; but they nonetheless coordinate their activities
and speak to the same local issues. In a place characterized by very
high levels of violence, this decentralization, specialization, and
polyvocality are essential in creating political change. The consistent
activities of multiple groups also help to build new local norms that
discourage residents from turning to traffickers and empower them to
call on the government to solve local problems.
Of course, networks and civic groups have some negative aspects. Not
all groups active in poor communities are politically progressive
or concerned with human rights. Police, traffickers, and local
leaders worked together to limit reform in Santa Ana and provided
significant resistance in Tubarão. With access to violence,
these groups pose significant threats to networks whose members are
concerned with controlling conflict. At times, these violent groups
may try to use connections in a network to undermine groups they are
unhappy with, as in Vigário when traffickers felt threatened by
the connections between the new executive director and a trafficker
in another favela. Because these groups pose the threat of violence,
however, only networks offer a significant hope for change, because
they can share risks and more easily resist cooptation than other
types of organizations can. This resilience can be seen in both the
Vigário and Tubarão networks; despite demobilization
efforts, traffickers could not end network activities. The flexibility
of networks helps them deal with challenges that criminals pose and
allows them to work to reduce violence.
Criminals and their associates are not the only challenge to groups
concerned with controlling conflict. As evidence from both Vigário
and Tubarão shows, poor political decisions on the part of
network group leaders can result in reduced network activity, local
dissatisfaction, and increased violence. Furthermore, evidence from
Vigário suggests that networks' connections can even bring about
the deactivation of some network members. The CdP stopped functioning
because a coalition of activists quickly came together to undermine its
leadership. The evidence suggests that when communication breaks down
and groups do not effectively distribute or manage funds, problems can
arise in the network.
In general, organizations that are more densely organized and maintain
more effective open connections among member groups will tend
[End Page 29]
these problems. As connections become more distant and groups communicate
less effectively on a formal level, it is easier for outside groups to
have negative influence on networks. One of the problems in
the CdP was that, by moving to the United States, Caio Ferraz cut himself
off from his contacts in Brazil. At the time the CdP fell apart, both
Ferraz and the new executive director had poor links to groups living
and working in Vigário.
The real challenge that activists working in networks will confront is
how to structure their networks and their communications so as to limit
the impact of bad political decisions and self-destructive internal
coalitions. Overcoming these problems probably means that group leaders
must make constant efforts to maintain contacts with diverse groups
inside and outside the community.
This all leaves one important question unanswered: where do these
networks come from? Evidence in this paper suggests that many
communities, even those with powerful trafficking organizations,
contain latent activist groups with connections to the outside. Under
some circumstances, such as Santa Ana, some groups with limited
connections to the outside can be forced to limit their political
activism; but these groups exist nevertheless. The question is
why and how they activate. The data here suggest that at certain
critical junctures, when violence becomes unbearable or when certain
widely held community norms are suddenly violated by state agents,
the community will rise up. This process can be seen in Santa Ana,
Tubarão, and Vigário. While sometimes this might develop
into short-lived social movements, in some cases groups will activate
that have effective links with the outside and the ability to develop
new connections. Where groups can develop connections and use them
to mobilize external support, violence can be brought under control;
this was the case in Tubarão and Vigário. The emergence
of the network, however, can follow either a top-down pattern, as in
Tubarão, where outsiders initiated changes and then activated
groups in the favela; or a bottom-up pattern, as in Vigário,
where mobilization began in the community and made links to the outside.
This article has looked at three cases of political change in violent
neighborhoods in Rio de Janeiro. The data presented here show that while
both institutional reform and popular mobilization play critical roles
in addressing problems in those communities, networks provide essential
impetus to support reforms and stimulate long-term mobilization.
Active organizational contacts help local groups transcend their
own community to bring in resources, support important programs, and
pressure government agents to undertake reforms. Network contacts promote
[End Page 30]
learning and communication, thereby helping to create more effective
and longer-term popular mobilizations and to compel state leaders to
control crime. These efforts promote local administrative reforms that
result in controls on police violence. As police corruption diminishes,
drug-trafficking violence will tend to subside, as police enforce the law
and, as in Tubarão, residents begin cooperating with police. By
operating in networks, groups concerned with reducing violence can
limit the effect of attacks against member groups and continue efforts
to control conflict.
Evidence presented in this paper also suggests, nevertheless, that
networks struggling to reduce violence may experience significant
internal and external challenges from groups that would prefer things
to continue as they are. The drug traffickers who operate in these
communities, allied with local organizations, can resist some efforts
to control violence and can use network resources to prevent groups
concerned with controlling violence from building the local connections
necessary to reduce conflict. Criminals can also use internal conflict
and the specific structure of networks to undermine network cohesion. To
succeed, therefore, network members must be aware of the problems they
can confront and must work to keep communication channels open. Only
through mutual cross-institutional support can networks overcome
challenges from criminals.
The stories told here suggest the need for further research in small
case studies to understand the dynamics of local-level organizing
in Latin America today. Under conditions of ongoing social violence,
only close, detailed local studies can provide the types of insights
necessary to understand the important localized political dynamics that
will be essential in furthering the process of democratic consolidation
in the region.
Enrique Desmond Arias is an assistant professor of government at
John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY, and a fellow at the Bildner
Center for Western Hemisphere Studies at the CUNY Graduate Center. His
current research concerns the roles of criminal gangs, human rights,
and local-level governance in Rio de Janeiro.
I would like to thank Leigh Payne, Michael Schatzberg, Richard
Merelman, Aaron Seeskin, Beth Dougherty, and four anonymous
reviewers for invaluable advice and comments on different drafts of
this article. Funding for the research discussed in this piece was
provided by the Institute for the Study of World Politics; a Fulbright
Scholarship; a Tinker Grant from the Latin American and Iberian Studies
Program at the University of Wisconsin, Madison; a MacArthur Fellowship;
a Scott Kloeck-Jensen International Internship Grant from the Global
Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin, Madison; and a grant
from Oberlin College.
Santa Ana and Tubarão are pseudonyms used to protect informants'
confidentiality. The real name of Vigário Geral is used because
a secondary literature already exists on this favela.
On the role of the state in extending guarantees to the poor, see Reis
1996, 122, 133-34.
[End Page 31]
On mobilization for gender rights in São Paulo, see Alvarez 1989,
225-28; on labor mobilization see Keck 1989, 255-72. For examples from
Rio's favelas, see Gay 1994, 20, 25-26; for suburban Rio see Mainwaring
1989, 168-69, 173-82.
4. Acari is a set of favelas and a public apartment complex in the
municipality of Rio, many miles northwest of downtown.
At existing exchange rates, this would equal between US$800 and
US$1,200. Typically, favela residents with jobs as janitors in the center
would probably make around US$100 a month.
On the structure of the Brazilian state, see Evans 1995, 60-66. On
shifting structures of the state and the role of networks in state
decisionmaking, see Chalmers et al. 1997, 556-57.
On types of network ties, see also Putnam 2000, 22-23.
The research for this project was conducted in July and August 1996,
April 1997 to May 1999, June and August 2001, and June 2002. The
data presented here were obtained through extensive participant
observation and selective interviews with local leaders, residents,
and activists. With the exception of one public figure discussed in the
project, all names used are pseudonyms. All interviews were conducted
in Rio de Janeiro.
Almeida, President of Vigário AM, and unknown
resident. 1997. December 5.
Almeida and administrator of PROSANEAR state program to improve water
service. 1997. November 24.
Almeida and two unknown residents. 1997. June 28.
Almeida and two unknown women residents. 1997. June 18.
Almeida and social scientists working on Favela-Bairro city-run
urbanization program. 1998. January 29.
Almeida, Cynthia, and Lorivaldo. 1997. Vice President of AM 1997-mid 1998;
receptionist of AM; resident. October 2.
Almeida, Cynthia, and unknown resident. 1997. November 17.
Alexandre. 2002. Ex-President of Ceuzinho AM. June 13.
Amalia. 2001. Viva Rio lawyer working in Tubarão. July 3.
Anderson. 1998. Head of local government center, Ceuzinho. October 21.
Bernardo. 1998. President, Tubarão AM. November 24.
Bernardo and unknown resident of Ceuzinho. 1998. October 6.
Camila. 1998. Director of crèche, longtime resident, Santa
Ana. September 9.
Carlinha. 1998. Massacre survivor, CdP activist, resident of
Vigário. January 30.
Carlos. 1998. AM worker, longtime resident, Ceuzinho. Conversation,
Carolina. 1998. Evangelical Christian, resident of
Tubarão. December 17.
Cedric. 2001. Baptist pastor, liaison with Viva Rio, resident of
Ceuzinho. July 10.
Charles. 1997a. Artist, activist, resident of Vigário. October 15.
----. 1997b. October 17.
----. 1997c. October 20.
[End Page 32]
Charles and outside filmmaker. 1997. November 18.
Cynthia. 1997a. Former resident, AM receptionist,
Vigário. September 16.
----. 1997b. October 7.
Cynthia and Felipe. 1997. Community sanitation worker, resident,
Cynthia and Tânia. 1997. Vigário resident. October 9.
Cynthia and other women at the Vigário AM. 1997. October 7.
Daniel. 1998. Activist, Vigário resident. January 7.
Daniel and Joana. 1998. Daniel's mother, Vigário resident. January
Denise. 1998a. Employee of government center, resident, Ceuzinho. November
----. 1998b. December 3.
Elizete. 1998. Ceuzinho resident. November 12.
----. 1999. January 6.
----. 2001. July 4.
----. 2003a. July 15.
----. 2003b. July 18.
Eric. 1998. Associate Director, CdP, Vigário; nonresident. January
Evanildo. 1998. Van driver, activist, Vigário resident. January 10.
Ferraz, Caio. 1997a. Activist, president of Vigário CdP, social
scientist, former resident. August 27.
----. 1997b. Comments in CdP video. Watched October 1.
Guilherme. 2001. Viva Rio Organizer. June 28.
----. 2003. July 15.
Jaime. 1997. Director, Vigário MSF; nonresident. May 28.
Jaime and Vigário city officials. 1998a. January 9.
----. 1998b. January 29.
Jorginho. 1997a. Executive Director, Vigário CdP;
nonresident. October 13.
----. 1997b. October 14.
Jorginho and Eric. 1998, January 15.
Joselino. 1997. Evangelical, hardware store owner, longtime Santa Ana
resident. July 3.
----. 2001. July 22.
----. 2002. June 5.
Josias and Antônio. 1996. President and Officer, Santa Ana
AM. July 26.
Josias and Manoel. 1997. Vice President, Santa Ana AM. May 13.
Josias and unkown woman. 1997. Santa Ana resident. June 26.
Katarina. 1998. Mãe de Santo (Candomblé religious leader),
Vigário resident. January 29.
Lourenço. 1998. Vigário CdP activist, resident of nearby
community. January 30.
Luis. 1997. Vigário community business leader, former AM
president. October 9.
Mateus. 1998. Nonresident teacher, community activist,
Vigário. January 7.
MC Big. 1998. Radio disc jockey, Tubarão resident. December 16.
Miguel. 1997. Former plumber, Vigário AM member. November 25.
Oscar. 1999. Occasional resident, Tubarão. Conversation. May 8.
Pedro and Wesley. 1997. Members of FAR band, administrators of FAR
Cultural Center in Vigário, Vigário residents. May 28.
Roberto. 1997a. Vigário FAR director, activist,
nonresident. October 10.
----. 1997b. October 15.
[End Page 33]
Roger. 1997. Vigário resident. Conversation. October 17.
Samuel. 2001. Coordinator for Human Rights and Public Security, Viva
Rio. June 28.
Sandrão. 1998. Social club director, longtime resident, Santa
Ana. September 9.
Sara. 1998. Doctor at local health clinic, Tubarão. December 1.
Sara and Bartolomé. 1998. Epidemiologist, local health clinic,
Tubarão. November 24.
Sister Elena. 1998. Foreign nun living in Tubarão. November 25.
Unknown Resident, Vigário. 1997. July 2.
Vilma. 1998. Evangelical Christian, longtime resident,
Tubarão. December 6.
Baile Funk. 1998. Tubarão, April 16.
CdP activists. 1998. Meeting at CdP. January 30.
CdP leadership and staff. 1997. Meeting. September 30.
Commission to Reorganize CdP. 1998. Meetings. January 30, February 8.
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Sports project. 2001. Observations and conversations at opening of sports
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Tubarão leadership council. 2001. Meeting. July 7.
Visit of British Vice Foreign Minister. 1997. Vigário, September
Visit of NGO workers. 1997. Vigário, October 2.
Visit of prosecutor in massacre case. 1997. Vigário, September 19.
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