Vidigal Debate Series: 4th Debate

[Click here for debates: 1, 2, and 3]

On Tuesday June 3, the Vila Vidigal Neighborhood Association, the Intersectoral Forum of VidigalAlbergue da ComunidadeVidblog Vidigal, ONG Horizonte and Catalytic Communities hosted the final of four debates in the “Fala Vidigal” series looking at the process of gentrification in the community, this time discussing the impact and objectives of public authorities in Vidigal.

This fourth debate discussed the quality of public services in Vidigal with representatives from the Pacifying Police Unit (UPP), POUSO, UPP Social, Light electricity utility, Territories of Peace and the Municipal Guard, in front of a heterogeneous crowd of locals and foreigners, which progressively grew up to nearly two hundred people, including residents, students and journalists.

Representatives from public service providers open debate

The introduction of the panel started with Leslie Figueiredo, a representative from the POUSO (Urbanistic and Social Orientation Post), explaining its function in the community: “We license building work, legalize constructions, notify if a building can be legalized or not… POUSO’s intentions are to legalize what can be legalized.” Working in the community since 1999, the role of POUSO is essentially administrative, as Leslie explained, “The Secretary of Urbanism does not construct, or demolish. We only hope to legalize constructions.”

Pedro Veiga, Director of the UPP Social program, spoke next, highlighting the importance of dialogue with the community: “The main objective is to discuss areas of the city that were historically marginalized for reasons of violence… The challenge, and this event is fundamental for it, is to construct the possibility of dialogue, understanding that some viable possible solutions exist, while others are still fantasy, but that we could realize these fantasies in a collective and constructive form.”

It was then the turn of Raimundo Santa Rosa from the electricity utility Light: “We are investing a considerable amount here. We are not only renewing the network, with the installation of new meters, providing quality energy for the community. Another part of our role is to list the people who are eligible to pay a social rate [which can vary from 10% to 65% off the bill depending on one’s social situation].”

Sub-Lieutenant Berbart, in charge of the UPP of Vidigal and Chácara do Céu, a neighboring community, shared his vision: “This [debate] is part of the exteriorization of democracy… The UPP of Vidigal was created in January 2012, and has the main aim to guarantee the rights of citizens… We count on the collaboration of the local community. We believe the role of the police is very important, but it alone is not enough. It is a necessary component of the collective work [that must be done], and that is why we are here.”

The program “Territories of Peace” was then explained by its representative, Denise. Functioning within the State Secretariat of Social Assistance and Human Rights, and more specifically within the superintendence of territories operating in communities where a UPP has been installed, the program currently works with around twelve communities across Rio. Denise explained that “Territories of Peace” was born out of the awareness that some of the programs implemented by the government in communities, which were supposed to benefit the local population, did not succeed due to lack of popular support. So “the program was created with the intention to listen to the population and respect the particularity of each territory. It’s a social program with the objective of facilitating the articulation between the government and communities, based on the demand of the local community.”

Transport coordinator at the Municipal Guard, Inspector Cavalcante, next talked about the Guard’s role: “The Municipal Guard always tries to reconcile the habits of a community with public order, which is our main duty. We already have a fixed post at the entrance of Vidigal with full-time guards. We often work on roads that do not have traffic signals–the Municipal Guard will therefore operate conforming to CET-RJ, installing signage on roads, within a collective interest, as requested by the community.”

Residents have their say

The debate opened up with a statement from the Vice-President of Vidigal’s Neighborhood Association: “The issue of land occupation in Vidigal, its disorderly growth, and its irregular constructions, is important.” He asked the POUSO representative: “Why doesn’t the City respect the law? Why does it apply one set of parameters to one [referring to the new high buildings in the community] and not for another? [existing residents’ buildings]” to which the representative replied: “The decree counts for everyone and for the entire city. Unfortunately, our team is small for a large area, and constructions here happen very fast.” She explained that in the case of irregular construction, a 30-day period is given for the builder to regularize the work, or demolish it, otherwise the constructor is subject to penal procedures. “A building that adheres to the decree of use and occupation of the land will be regularized, and can, for example, be sold to the Caixa Econômica [federal housing bank],” she explained.

Ivanete Alleluiah, member of the Vidigal Women’s Association, was the second resident to take the microphone, raising the recurring issue of parties in the community: “I would like to know why the community cannot host house parties, [why parties] have to end at 1AM. I would like to know why the people of the community do not have the space to host funk events. The youth of the community don’t have a place to enjoy, to dance, to play. But the party venues here, which charge up to R$80-90, are open much later but nobody stops them.”

A member of the Neighborhood Association then stated: “We are facing very serious challenges of urban mobility. The community has expanded a lot [and] the Growth Acceleration Program (PAC) works have not occurred in Vidigal. They have not created new roads, have not opened new lanes… What would solve the problem would be structural works.”

Electricity utility Light was also criticized by residents, as it has been by residents of various UPP communities. Maria, a Vidigal resident from the top part of the community said, “During the month of May, the bills went absurd and now it’s getting cheaper… There are people who do not receive a bill right next to people who do. The issue is not about what the neighbor is consuming, but about the absurdity of the bill. 436 kW on my first bill, and now 170 kW, but I haven’t been saving energy; everything is the same. What happened? Did the meter go off?” After listing other problems occurring in her neighborhood, from inexistent energy equipment and repairs to lack of customer service, the speaker pointed to Dona Vera, a long-time resident of Vidigal: “The bill of this lady, Dona Vera, is about R$772 (US$348)!”

Light respresentative Santa Rosa replied: “I will personally go to your house with a team to understand what is happening. Not just for you, but for all the other people who are having the same problem. I do not know exactly what is happening, and I want to go to your house to understand.” He mentioned that Light has had similar problems in Mangueira, where he claimed his team solved the problem.

Marcelo da Silva, president of Vidigal’s Neighborhood Association, added: “Residents living in the community do not mind paying. But we want to pay a fair price.”

Funk and hosting events in the community

Felipe Paiva, a young resident, actor and tour guide, spoke to representatives of the UPP to defend the culture of baile funk events, today prohibited in the community: “Today, it is impossible to have a baile funk in Vidigal. We are not beasts, we are not animals. There is a crowd that used to like the bailes funk organized by drug traffic, but there is also a crowd that just like the baile funk–for example my parents, who met in a baile funk.” He also mentioned the global misunderstanding of the rules concerning event hosting in the community, many legal resolutions being too complex to understand or obsolete.

Lieutenant Carlos Veiga, head of the UPP of Vidigal, responded: “The UPP is not responsible for evaluating if a place is secure or not [to host an event]. First, the fire department has to check the place. Then comes the civil police, and then the City government. To be honest, in an open space, people have difficulties meeting all of the requirements. In event venues, during a private event, we all know that the people have money. With this money, earned from ticket sales, they succeed in regularizing everything that the decree stipulates: extinguishers, emergency signs, illuminated exit, a 4-meter wide doorway… Things that people who want the good of the community and do not charge anything have difficulty obtaining. We really tried to explain this at the Neighborhood Association, with a presentation in very accessible language, but only four people showed up. But it is fine, the UPP’s doors are wide open.” The UPP’s attempt to explain these regulations was then said to have been poorly promoted.

“I have nothing against funk,” Lt. Carlos Veiga continued. “I love funk, but the funk that expresses the reality of the community. Often the artist does not have any other form of expression but music. I just do not like music that says I have to die… We’ve gotten used to seeing public authorities as an enemy, but that is not true.”

Paiva went on to to criticize the lack of communication between different public authorities: “There is a communication problem between the state security secretariat and other departments, between the state and city governments. We are not succeeding in passing ideas because there is already a problem between you. And if there’s a problem between you, it causes problems for us. That is the reason why things have not happened in the best way possible.”

Police approach and behavior criticized

Rafael, another young resident, also questioned the UPP lieutenant: “Many times I have been approached [by the police] in the street for no particular reason. I know that when there is no motive, the police officer can be considered abusive. When he is abusive, what should I do?”

Lieutenant Veiga replied with an explanation about police checks: “This type of police approach is meant to check if a person is carrying something that could be harmful to someone else. When someone is being checked, I know it can be really uncomfortable… But as we know that there is drug trafficking happening here, we have to check people.” He went on: “Police checks are founded on these principles: the policeman cannot shout at you, cannot push you, cannot put your face against the wall, and cannot treat you aggressively–his mission is only to check you. If you really think that he has treated you badly, you should report it at the police station.”

Another resident, Fernanda, complained about UPP police behavior: “During nights where events which aren’t even for the local community take place, we have serious traffic problems. Last Friday, I was walking up at night with my fiancé, and we had to go through the middle of the street. When we arrived a bit further up, we saw the outrageous situation of policemen stopping at the Japanese restaurant, with their cars parked in both ways on both sides of the street. What happens if a resident suddenly needs to go to a hospital?”

The UPP representative replied: “I punish [offending police officers], but I am not omnipresent. They do not have the right to park in any place. They do the wrong thing not because they are policemen, but because they are human beings, and come from a society which has many problems. But professionalism is a way to solve this problem–to have the right to punish, you have to set the example.” Fernanda was not satisfied by his answer, and she called back: “You are giving me a completely political speech, full of holes, in order to avoid answering me.”

Lacking or poor quality services

Long-time resident Delei then expressed his dissatisfaction with the lack of public services in Vidigal. He said: “We have two day cares. One of them is only half working, as it’s been partly unoccupied for six years. The demand for day care is very important, there should be three or four of them in Vidigal.” He went on to question POUSO and Light, saying: “Public space is occupied by foreign builders, and POUSO is doing nothing. I would also like to ask Light if they are here only to install meters, or also change old posts [precarious due to age and damage].” The Light representative assured they would look into the situation.

Facing the crowdEven after several hours of debate, residents had plenty of questions to ask and opinions to express. Aline Fernandes, president of the Vidigal Women’s Association, made a strong statement three hours into the debate: “Since the implantation of the UPP, we have made many demands, including complaints about the closing of Avenida Niemeyer, about our health center that does not function correctly, the lack of kindergartens in the community, the schools that are a mess, and here I am witnessing public authorities saying that they do not know how the community works. There is a certain irony in this.” She continued, “Everything is happening the way [the public authorities] want, not the way that we need. Because when they came and implemented all this here, nobody bothered to ask what Vidigal wanted.”

Throughout the debate residents demonstrated in their questions the lack of transparency and failure of public authorities to communicate full information. Of the many doubts and complaints, most were concerning the UPP, the UPP Social and the Municipal Guard, highlighting the community’s main concerns–traffic problems, a lack of possibility to host events, and poor infrastructure for children–with Light also questioned over the inexplicable bills and poor customer service experienced lately by the community.

This is the fourth in a 4-part debate. [Click here for debates: 1, 2, and 3]

Entire series also available on RioOnWatch.