Slum walls raise suspicion in Rio

Wed Jun 24, 2009 8:56am EDT
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By Ana Nicolaci da Costa

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - When residents of Rio de Janeiro's mammoth Rocinha slum heard of government plans to build a wall around parts of their community, opposition to the idea quickly mounted.

The wall would be an "ecobarrier" aimed at curbing the unchecked and damaging expansion of the "favela" slums into Rio's lush tropical forest, state officials told them.

But in the Brazilian city tainted by inequality and violence and sharply divided between hillside slum dwellers and middle-class residents, many in Rocinha saw something more sinister in the plan for a 9.8-foot-high (3-meter-high) barrier.

"The wall represents a ghetto, an apartheid, the end of the communication between people, so we started to fight against the wall," said Antonio Ferreira de Mello, the head of a Rocinha residents' association. "There are other ways to prevent the growth of favelas into the forest."

Fierce opposition in Rocinha forced officials to scale back the planned wall there, but plans are in place to build more than 8.7 miles of walls around Rocinha and the other 12 slums identified as endangering nearby forests.

Construction began in March on one section and so far a few hundred yards (meters) has been completed.

Critics have drawn parallels with the Berlin and Israel-Palestine walls, saying it is the latest step in a security policy that criminalizes the slum dwellers who make up about a fifth of Rio's population of 6 million.

Brazil's Secretary of Human Rights Paulo Vannuchi said that "the idea of a wall is never a good idea."   Continued...

<p>Policemen patrol next to a wall being built by Rio de Janeiro city hall to limit the expansion of the Dona Marta slum from encroaching on the forest in Rio de Janeiro May 29, 2009.REUTERS/Sergio Moraes</p>