Favela, market and law



Source: Folha de S. Paulo, 14/01/2008

HOLIDAY in Paris, I tried to exchange different products, but at the same price, so as not to change the total invoice. "You can't," said the seller, "French customs will want to see the specified product, and you will be in trouble." Cultural shock. How could I not have thought of that? There was nothing morally wrong, but it was against the law.

Why do we Brazilians prioritize moral criteria more easily and forget the law? Where does the legitimacy of the law go? Law and morality do not always overlap. When they agree, legitimacy is indisputable. But in Brazil, the spaces not covered by both are greatly expanded.

And everything gets complicated, because morality is not always consensual and governed by criteria of justice, and there are many areas of economics, society and politics outside the control of the law. Even in crucial public policies, such as housing and the real estate market, the most evident example of which is the favela.

It has become truism to say that the favela is a solution to the lack of housing plans that include the poor. But the favela is no longer the same. Today the houses are made of masonry, more and more vertical.

In Rio de Janeiro, the legally prescribed templates are higher than in middle class neighborhoods: in Rocinha, five floors, on the hill of Fonte da Saudade, three. But, in the favela, templates, streets and spaces between houses are usually not respected. A wild real estate market has altered class relations within the favela in such a way that the huge distinctions between residents and between these and other economic and political agents that operate in it can no longer be ignored. Corrupt policemen have also become real estate developers in slums with or without militias. Residents' associations, controlled by militias or traffickers, demarcate land to sell, allow or disallow the construction of buildings, define rules for conflict resolution in the construction and rental of valued properties.

In slums controlled by drug traffickers, whose economic activity is not morally condemned by residents, informality-illegality has reached the verge of absurdity.
Traffickers expel residents, take houses and exercise ruthless justice, which condemns to death those who go through their desires for unlimited grandeur and power. And they build fortresses, crematoriums, clandestine cemeteries. These are illegal actions that are not morally approved by residents. It was the silence and indifference of the competent authorities and some experts about such illegal and immoral actions that allowed tyranny to be created in the favela.

ALBA ZALUAR writes on Mondays in this column.