Several economic and sporting events in recent years have exposed the contrasting realities that sometimes coexist in the same city and the governments’ concern to hide the “undesirable” parts while foreign guests are in town. When the international attention is focused on a particular place, governments tend to “clean it up” by hiding some parts and showing others. Poor and deprived neighborhoods are thus hidden behind walls that are especially installed to make them ‘invisible’ and cover up the government’s incapacity or inaction to eradicate poverty.
The implementation of “makeup” measures has many reasons and varies depending on the particular case. In Brazil for instance, the implementation of walls has gained strength due to recent sporting events such as the Olympics Games and the football world cup. A wall that separates the “favela” (Brazilian slum) from other neighborhoods was justified by the need of protecting the Brazilian Atlantic forest from the favela’s advance. However, humanitarian organizations have expressed their concerns since they believe there is no such risk for the environment, but the main goal is to sweep a part of the population under the carpet. 1
Living behind a wall exposes the stigmas and barriers that poor families have to deal with every day. On the one hand, they are misjudged and associated with delinquency, crime and violence. These prejudices threaten their effective integration into the society and reduce their access to resources that would help them improve their current situation. On the other hand, they are victims of increasing political corruption, since local authorities rarely provide solutions to their problems or unsatisfied needs, but on the contrary, try to please the tourist or the ones living on the other side of the wall.
Visitors will probably end up leaving the place without noticing the missing part of it thanks to governments’ efforts to try to keep the poor out the picture. By hiding them behind a wall however, the segregation between rich and poor will continue to grow and the critical conditions of those living on the wrong side of the wall will not easily improve.
1 – Inter Press Service. “BRAZIL: Walling Off the Slums…or ‘Eco-Barrier’?” Web Accessed April 3, 2009.http://www.ipsnews.net/2009/04/brazil-walling-off-the-slumsor-lsquoeco-barrierrsquo/
written by Alejandro Melita, LAPAS intern