In Rio's slums, Stanford students examine social policy up close


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Students engage in community renovation at a favela in Rio.

In June 2013, Beatriz Magaloni, associate professor of political science and director of the Program on Poverty and Governance (PovGov) at the Freeman Spogli Institute’s Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law led the Stanford Bing Overseas Studies Program (BOSP) to Brazil. The three-week seminar entitled, “Rio de Janeiro: A Cultural and Political Social History,” drew 15 outstanding and diverse Stanford undergraduate students eager to experience life in Latin America’s largest country. The trip allowed the group to learn more about the political and social factors that have transformed - and continue to shape - life in economically marginalized sections of Rio.

Despite recent efforts to fight poverty and accelerate income redistribution, Brazil suffers from high levels of income inequality. In Rio, one of Latin America's largest cities, the results of this inequality are even more profound. There are roughly 763 favelas – urban slums- in Rio that are home to approximately 1.5 million people. The local government has tolerated, but never incorporated favelas into the formal city, leaving residents to organize public services such as electricity, running water or garbage collection in their neighborhoods. As a result of the virtual absence of the state, favelas have long been notoriously violent areas and breeding ground for criminal organizations, specially drug trafficking.

Students at Rocinha, with Paulo Amendoim, their local guide, showed them the highlights of the neighborhood including food, dance and pipa (kite flying).

In 2008, the state of Rio de Janeiro embarked on an unprecedented effort to take back the territories in favelas controlled by criminal organizations ahead of the upcoming World Cup and Summer Olympics, as well as securing favela citizens’ rights to freely move across their own communities. The Pacifying Police Units (UPPs) is at the center of the policy, with 24-hour patrolling and community policing every day. UPP officers focus on breaking down negative police stereotypes by working closely with the population – teaching classes, coaching sport teams, hosting events and organizing forums where community members can express their needs and concerns. The “pacification” process has already involved 31 favelas, with 70 more to come by the 2016 deadline.

Aligned with the ongoing research being carried out by Magaloni and her team at PovGov, the goal of the BOSP seminar in Rio was to introduce students to this important development and analyze how it has impacted the complex social dynamics found within the city. The students explored some of the implications to favela residents in terms of security, local governance, the preservation and dissemination of culture, as well as prospects for economic and social development in “pacified” territories.

The in-country seminar included an introduction to the Portuguese language and cultural activities, including field trips and lectures by experts on a variety of fields including: criminal violence, public security, local history and culture, social entrepreneurship, local governance and public policy. Speakers that participated in the program included: representatives of non-profit organizations such as Viva Rio and the Observatory of Favelas; officials from the Military State Police, including former UPP Commander Colonel Paulo Henrique; as well as university professors from Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro and Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro, including criminal violence expert and director of the Laboratory for the Analysis of Violence, Dr. Ignacio Cano.


“That hope, warmth, and resilience that the communities had in each favela is a something that still sticks with me, and leaves me optimistic that social change will occur. At the same time it gives me passion to go back, and not only witness the change in future of the favelas, but also be part of it, which is why I'm now taking Portuguese at Stanford!" 

                      - Daniela Olivos ‘16


In order to provide students with a more inclusive perspective of the pacification process on the ground, the PovGov team - working alongside local guides and community leaders - planned visits to the “pacified” favelas of Rocinha, Complexo do Alemão and Morro Dona Marta. During these visits the students had the chance to visit the UPP headquarters, talk to the UPP captain, and participate in a community work initiative with Coral Tintas - one of Brazil’s largest paint manufacturing companies committed to improving favelas by providing free paint for locals to renew the facades of houses and buildings. The students also visited the BOPE headquarters, Rio’s elite squad police unit, and Jongo da Serrinha, an NGO that seeks to preserve the tradition of Jongo - a style of music and dance - through a children’s daycare and education center. Additional day-trips and sightseeing tours included: the Rio Art Museum, the Imperial Museum of History, as well as many of Rio’s famous beaches.

According to student participant Marilyn Travis ('16), “Going to Brazil this summer was the trip of a lifetime. We were very lucky to have gifted faculty and staff who worked hard to put together such a rich program. This opportunity has literally shifted my frame of mind on many issues I was previously naive about. I have gained a more global perspective and had the opportunity to contemplate the affects of mega events on marginalized people.”

To view images from the trip please click here.  


About the Program on Poverty and Governance

The Program on Poverty and Governance at CDDRL explores factors that affect good governance and poverty alleviation in Latin America, with a focus on Brazil and Mexico. Led by Beatriz Magaloni, associate professor of political science at Stanford University, the program conducts empirical research, bringing together experts from across the disciplines of political science, economics, law, medicine and education to increase understanding of the complex causal linkages between political institutions, the quality of governance, and the capacity of developing societies to meet basic human needs. One of the research platforms, “Governance and Criminal Violence,” studies ways to rebuild the social fabric in violent places where the society does not trust law enforcement and government institutions, with the Pacification of favelas of Rio as a case study.