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Favelas – Lifting The Curtain On Brazil’s Forgotten Alter Ego


In all the shimmer and glory of grand spectacles, small specks get lost in the shuffle.

Favelas their origins rooted in the last leg of the 19th century continue to linger in the shadows of Carnival Festivals, top-notch soccer players, and the 2014 Rio Olympics that helped Brazil secure its firm footing on the global map.

But, be far from assuming that these stuffy, informal settlements cut off from government regulation, postal codes, and officially recognised residential addresses nestled in the alleys of booming cities like Rio De Janeiro and São Paulo haven’t been able to master the art of survival on their own.

Churning around R$38.6 billion GDP every year in Brazil’s economy this is a testament to Favelas having skilfully harnessed the potential of a self-help development model over the years unpacked in its makeshift electricity poles that resemble a mesh of tangled wires or informal houses built with materials like bricks, wattle, wood, and daub, provided by influential housing programmes like Minha Casa Minha Vida (My House, My Life), which kicked off in 2009.

The lovechild of Latin American slaves and post-Civil War Brazilian soldiers, Favelas rapidly mushroomed and mutated during the 1970s when peasants and farmers from impoverished, remote villages in the crevices of Brazil began migrating to the central landmarks in full force for better economic prospects and avenues for employment.

Here is a deconstruction of the existence of Favelas to their bare essence — an outcome of the shortage of affordable housing that emerged in major city hubs across Brazil with an influx of slave descendants and rural migrants — crystallizing into a diverse melting pot of cultural and artistic vibrancy, coupled with traditional intergenerational livelihood avenues one can rapidly immerse themselves in across any of the 6329 Favelas scattered across the nooks and crannies of this South American nation today.

Having long been characterised by difficult-to-navigate pathways — and not to mention, the authoritarian control of drug lords, organized crime groups, traffickers, and militias in the absence of government regulation — these densely-populated dwellings have been disconnected from the e-commerce chain. In times when Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been steadfast in its commitment towards disrupting workflows spanning across diverse industries — it has cemented the cracks of this gaping hole of e-commerce exclusion that Favelas have been sucked into all this while.

Big players like Amazon have catalyzed this transformation by building a logistic network that leverages a mix of AI and ML (Machine Learning) to establish a robust route system inside these Favelas that exist without traditional addresses — which have subsidiarily fuelled the community-centric development that the origin and operation of Favelas primarily owe its credits to — in the form of employing Delivery Service Partners (DSPs) from these very communities acquainted with the ins and outs of Favelas to deliver these parcels to the doorsteps of its residents.

Google unveiled its Plus Codes tool — which primarily assigns a concrete numerical code to various geographical regions across Earth’s surface, championing the revolution of AI in blurring the invisible barriers of inaccessibility within the e-commerce ecosystem — by giving a legitimate digitalized identity to the houses and streets of Favelas that were hidden beneath the sheath of anonymity.

However, none of this entirely mows down the grassroots inequities that lie at the heart and soul of Favelas — hard figures come to the epicenter of this discourse.

The average life expectancy of a Favela inhabitant is 48 — an acute contrast to the global life expectancy standing at 73 years in 2023. 14 per 1000 children experience death within the first year of life. 6.2 episodes of diarrhoea are seen in a child per year. An estimated 83 per cent of families with children up to six years old in Favela households have experienced moderate to chronic hunger and food insecurity from 2020 to 2023.

Favelas have had their big milestone moments — vested with the potential to turn a new leaf in Favelas’ security and identity.

2008 saw the ushering in of 38 Pacifying Police Units Program by the government of Rio De Janeiro — a State-controlled move meant to suppress the drug trade and abdicate gangs from the power and control they have exercised over Favelas from the 1980s. Residents from Favelas have been able to reclaim some of their lost identity and agency by becoming a rich powerhouse of cultural vibrancy intrinsically attached to Brazil’s core aesthetic.

Be it hip hop, rapping, funk or the more traditional Choro, Samba, and Capoeira, Favelas have found culture to be a saviour in rising up from the ashes of marginalisation, anonymity, and civic uncertainty which touched its peak during the 1960s and 1970s when a staggering 140000 residents were evicted from their makeshift, informal homes.

However, the fundamental question remains — does this legitimise the lack of governmental policy implementation in Favelas, that can’t even speak of lanes facilitating smooth vehicle passage as their own?

State investment of $14.4 bn for the 2016 Rio Olympics, with subsequent allocation of funds towards building walls in the peripheries of Favelas to conceal them from global scrutiny — a slew of displacements and demolishment of self-built Favela homes for stadium expansion purposes in the name of logistical convenience.

The last hand of rescue from the debris of loss, disservice, and bourgeoisie appeasement went out of grasp for Favela communities against the backdrop of the 2016 summer games — grappling with the trials and tribulations of being noticeable, but overlooked and sidelined in the collective scheme of state functioning.

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