BY THERESA WILLIAMSON | MARCH 21, 2018
Marielle Franco represented a new, empowered generation of favela leaders. Despite her death, they are unlikely to back down.
“They tried to bury us, but didn’t realize we are seeds.” – Proverb cited at events marking the March 14 death of Rio de Janeiro city councilwoman Marielle Franco.
RIO DE JANEIRO – When Brazil abolished slavery in 1888, enslaved Africans comprised 40 percent of Rio de Janeiro’s population. Lacking rights in what was, and remains, one of the world’s most unequal countries for land ownership, newly freed slaves mostly settled into informal communities, favelas, which today shelter 24 percent of Rio’s population.
More than a century of public policy, often repressive and discriminatory by design, has kept the favelas and their residents from realizing their potential and from making full use of the assets they have developed in their communities.
Though the deck has been stacked against them, Rio’s favela residents have succeeded in weaving together a vibrant cultural and collaborative fabric over generations. This emerging, more positive favela identity has been made possible by a growing generation of local leaders who have taken on roles to organize themselves, improve their communities and confront often neglectful authorities.