Residents' Associations / Social Movements

De Dicionário de Favelas Marielle Franco

Translated by: Brenda Morassuti Tonetto

Review: André Rezende Broseghini and Junia C. Mattos Zaidan

Author: Lia Rocha


Residents' associations from favelas in Rio de Janeiro have played an important role in social movements as well as in public debates regarding the city, being fundamental in the battle against the removals from the 1960s and in the urbanization process of large favelas, in the 1980s and 1990s. Still, in spite of being numerous and politically relevant, residents' associations have been facing great difficulty in recent years when acting in public spaces in and out of the favelas. It has been public knowledge for some years now that the siege over favelas' residents by drug gangs, the police and militia also extends to favelas' associations, which has been the cause of death or eviction of many leaders from their houses and territories.

Research by the Human Rights Commission in the state of Rio de Janeiro's Legislative Assembly, in  2005, analysed data about 800 leaders of residents' associations between 1992 and 2001. It concluded that 300 of them were ousted from their localities due to divergences with local armed groups, while 100 were murdered. Leite (2005) points out that the eviction of leaders and other residents are as frequent as they are invisible to society in general, frequently unnoticed even as a type of violence.

Historical Background

The first residents' associations in favelas emerged in the 1940s, in a time when favela residents were reacting to proposals that aimed to remove favelas to areas far from downtown. In the early 1960s, the city government stimulated the creation of many “associations” in the attempt to contain the expansion of favelas. These “associations” would work as State agencies within the community to "help the government in the establishment of basic services and in keeping the internal order" [3]. The governmental policy in the state of Rio de Janeiro during this period oscillated between the removal and the urbanization of the favelas. However, the 1964 Brazilian coup d´état (known in Brazil as the 1964 Coup) set the stage for the strengthening of pro-removal proposals, violently suppressing any kind of collective action and weakening favela residents' movement. At that time, the dynamics of the relationship between the public power and favelas' residents was already based on the exchange of votes for external resources.  This granted local leaders a high position in the social and economical hierarchy within these communities, who became the "bourgeoisie of the favela" along with small-business owners, as defined by Machado da Silva [4]. The author also highlighted that most residents had little or no participation, and that only those with the highest social status would get involved in political activities. Control over internal resources granted the permanence of the association's leader in charge and blocked public access to such resources [5].

After the 1964 Coup, the state government's containment policy became more radical, with a violent removal program and strong repression to communitary organizations. As mentioned by Valladares (1978), between 1962 and 1973 more than 140 thousand favela residents were violently evicted from their houses. According to Pestana (2018), the intensification of the removal  program was due to strong interest of real estate associations, whose agents had great influence over the government before and after the the dictatorship. Even though many favela residents' organizations resisted the removals, the impact of the repression that fell upon them - including suspicions of criminal fires to force evacuation - the associations became representations of the government inside favelas, managing public services and keeping them from expanding [6].

During the late 1970s, with the country's so-called redemocratization process and the (re)appearance of social movements, the flow of removals started to decrease due to financial problems related to the construction cost of the housing complexes and the poor return of the financings, as well as the pressure of the favela residents' movement. At this point, urbanization was the flag that boosted collective organization, but without any practical public policies to truly  transform the urban condition of the favelas. This period was marked by patronage relationships between the government and favelas' leaderships, known as the "water spring politics" or "chaguismo" (in reference to the governor of that time, Chagas Freitas). Leonel Brizola's first administration (1983-1987) represented a change in the relationship between the public power and the favelas, especially because he was the first governor elected through direct voting after the merging of the states of Guanabara (which ceased to be the country’s capital) and Rio de Janeiro in 1975. Favela urbanization started and thus marked the end of the removal policies. The state government started to invest in water and sewage systems, and in garbage collection in these areas, as well as in changing the way the police operated in favelas [7]. In this new perspective presented by Brizola, leaders became the government's frequent interlocutors, keeping up on roles of state agents that had been previously attributed to them. The associations took over public tasks through negotiations with state agencies that included recruiting workforce for construction and maintenance, which granted residents' associations a 5% administrative tax, according to data from Burgos as cited by Pandolfi and Grynszpan [8]. The authors highlight that this relationship between associations and the government strengthened the action of many associations and motivated residents to join them, since being a part of these organizations meant having access to resources such as jobs, control over services, among others. Another consequence was that many leaders were hired as state government staff, working as community agents.

This way, Brizola went for a direct communication with residents' associations without  political mediation, encouraging these  organizations to approach the public power for their needs, to participate more actively in local public administrations, and so on. However, part of the base movement saw this conciliating position as a co-option of these leaders by the public power, and the turning of such organizations into agents of institutional politics.

This close relationship between associations and the government continued in the 1990s, now institutionalized in the form of partnerships. In fact, it even intensified during the  tenure of César Maia, especially due to the "Favela-Bairro" ("Favela- Neighborhood", in free translation) Program, started in 1994. Within the Program, associations managed programs that were funded using public resources, increasingly their power through hiring staff and services. As previously stated, the Favela-Bairro Program pulverizes the fight for change, as each favela starts to defend its individual interests, which "weakens the set of mobilizations and depolitizes vindications, circumscribing them to the administrative and technical-financial dimension in the figure of small lobbies (...)" [10]. Currently, public works funded by the Growth Acceleration Program (PAC) in Rio de Janeiro's favelas - known as PAC Favelas - seemed to reproduce the same kind of relationship between associations and the public power, but now also including the Federal government. The action format remains as that of localized activities, favoring some favelas over others. Residents' associations remained  "partners", but as executioners of policies instead of their co-creators. Meanwhile, public security policies are still monopolized by the State Secretariat of Public Security and accusations that the activity of residents' associations along with traffick organizations as mediators for the public power (if not as their accomplices) continue to increase [11].

Favela residents' movement

Favela Workers' Union (UTF), Federation of Favela Associations of the State of Guanabara (FAFEG) and of the State of Rio de Janeiro (FAFERJ)

As highlighted by Danielle Kiffer on her article "Favelas: da ilegalidade à associação política" ["Favelas: from illegality to political association", in free translation] "the Favela Workers' Union (UTF) was created in April, 1954 due to a threat of  removal from Morro do Borel favela (commonly referred to as Borel)". For researcher Rafael Soares Gonçalves, Borel residents were supported by famous lawyer Antoine de Magarinos Torres on the creation of this format of residents' association, which was innovative at the time. Kiffer mentions that according to Gonçalves "after UTF many subcommittees were formed to vindicate the right to basic services such as electricity, water, urbanization and the right of permanence". Also according to the author, "this articulation was not limited to political matters, but also extended to a supportive relationship among  favelas. As an example, Rafael mentions that when Morro do Santo Antônio, in central Rio, was destroyed, Morro do Borel welcomed part of their homeless residents". In the same way, UTF was innovative for vindicating the acknowledgement of favela residents as workers, claiming their citizenship and questioning their criminalization on grounds of  their supposedly illegal  housing illegal. As discussed by Kiffer,

One of the legal achievements regarding this issue was UTF's petition to the minister of Justice against the police, who respecte neither favela residents nor their houses and acted disrespectfully and brutally in these communities. "They pleaded that shacks should be respected and taken into consideration as any other citizen's house would be". UTF had the support of many militants even though it was not bound to the Brazilian Communist Party. This fact was even observed through the ostensive coverage of the communist newspaper Imprensa Popular ["Popular Press", in free translation]. With the party's crisis started in the late 1950s, UTF also started to collapse and in 1959 it was replaced by the Coalizão dos Trabalhadores Favelados da Cidade do Rio de Janeiro, which became the embryo of the formation of   the Federation of Favela Associations of the State of Guanabara (FAFEG) that later on would become the Federation of Favela Associations of the State of Rio de Janeiro (FAFERJ).

FAFEG was created in July, 1963, and in the following January it was already involved in the fight against the removal of the Pasmado Favela in Botafogo. This happened just a few months prior to the decree of the coup that instituted the military dictatorship in the country, which lasted until 1985. With the fusion of the states of Guanabara and Rio de Janeiro in 1975 the federation became the Federation of Favela Associations of the State of Rio de Janeiro (FAFERJ). (Rafael Soares Gonçalves' Interview about his research to FAPERJ's website, published on July 12, 2012. Available at: <>).

Itamar Silva, a journalist, former president of Santa Marta residents' association and Santa Marta’s Eco Group, and director at the Brazilian Institute for Social and Economic Analysis (IBASE) has a mixed opinion on FAFERJ. In his opinion, the Federation played an important role in the reorganization of the democratic forces starting in the 1970's and during the redemocratization period itself. In the 1980's, not only FAFERJ's name had changed, but also its perspective on favelas, supporting urbanization and assembling a series of residents' associations. When interviewed by researchers Sonia Fleury, Sabrina Guerghe and Juliana Kabad, Itamar Silva said: "We entered the 1980's strongly, debating with the public power and getting the State to open up some doors and negotiate directly with associations. However, this also represented an issue because part of the leaders were co-opted by the institutional dynamics. Many of them became almost managers of governmental projects. More than co-option, this is a process of mutual bargain." For the interviewee, residents' associations are currently going through a sort of "identity crisis'' regarding their political character, caused by several state interventions over these entities from the 1980's until today. "The ones that were more politically oriented towards gathering residents to fight for a democratic State remained in a more politicized role. However, most fell into the trap of the landlord role. This is a big issue regarding residents' associations that last to this day" (Itamar Silva's interview to Le Monde Diplomatique in February, 2013. Available at: <>). FAFERJ is currently operating and has an office in downtown Rio de Janeiro. The federation continues to fight forced removals as well as security policies executed by the public power that produce war-like scenarios in the state's favelas.

Criminalization of favela residents' movement

Parallel to the way favela residents' are marginalized and stigmatized as "invaders",, “outlaws” and criminals, so are their organizations. Since the beginning, residents' associations have been controlled and tutored by the State and its repressive forces, which aggravated during the military dictatorship. Juliana Oakim (2013) discusses how several administrative measures have been taken starting in 1967 by Negrão de Lima's government to weaken FAFEG's representative powers . According to the author: "In other words, the reduction of political freedom in the favelas was implemented even before the institution of AI-5" [12]. Similarly, Oakim highlights that, from 1971 on, other actions were taken to control favela residents' associations. Examples of this control are keeping track of elections through the state's Social Services and making it mandatory for candidates to be previously approved by the State Secretariat of Public Security (SSP), who would "veto those considered dangerous according to SSP's standards" [13].

Lucas Pedretti (2018) in turn investigates the crimes of the Brazilian military dictatorship against favela residents and their organizations. He argues that this community, along with other minorities, were affected by repression, but their story was silenced. The author also discusses how community leaders at the time were categorized as subversive and “communists” as a way to supposedly justify their repression, detention and even disappearance. As demonstrated by Pedretti (Ibid) and Pestana (2018), the fight against favela removals during this period placed favela residents in opposition to the interests of powerful real estate groups. This led to a great effort by repressive forces in order to dismantle their resistance.

There was an expansion of the favelas movement during the so-called redemocratization period that was soon refrained by accusations of illegality , now with the association to the presence of retail-level drug dealers in the region. Therefore, favela residents' organizations found themselves doubly besieged, especially from the 1990's on. On one hand, the presence of traffickers in favelas represented an obstacle to collective action due to the control and harassment of residents' associations activities. On the other hand, associations' leaders were deemed unfit and classified as spokespeople for criminal interests. This loss of legitimacy also occurred locally. Complaints of corruption, use of associations' resources for personal affairs, and involvement with drug trafficking led residents to walk away from participating in base movements and to discrediting the action of their representatives [15].

The ten years of the Pacifying Police Units (UPP) program in Rio de Janeiro promoted only slight changes to the situation. The "pacifying" project's "legacy" was the dissemination of militarization (Leite et al, 2018) through disciplinary procedures, moral conversion, surveillance, silencing, criminalization, repression and extermination [16]. Silencing has particularly developed through the criminalization and disqualification of community leaderships. This subterfuge was efficient to neutralize criticism against UPPs, by labeling  all opposing positions as "accomplices of drug dealers" or even "defenders of the drug traffic return" [17]. The forced coexistence of favela residents and drug dealers was used as an argument to criminalize and thus disqualify local leaders' position. In other words, as stated by a former residents association's leader who was accused of being an accomplice to dealers: "(...) the police has always seen us as conniving. In fact, we were not conniving with drug trafficking or anything bad at all. The right word is coexistent. We coexist" [18].

Studies on “associativism” in favelas

Research on favelas, its population, habits, values and its many forms of organization have  often been oriented by a reformer principle, as demonstrated by Valladares [19]. This was not different when it came to the study of “associativism” in the favelas. There are concerns related to the autonomy versus the co-option of these institutions in the face of governments and parties; as well as to the classism versus the clientelism of their leaderships. Furthermore, concerns about representation versus the emptying of these entities, among other issues, guided many studies. However, the relationship between favela residents' collective organizations and the public power, politicians, supralocal organizations and the favela residents' movement itself varied throughout its history. The local and national political scenario at the time as well as specific internal dynamics of each locality determined the mechanism of these relationships. Associations' bargaining power, their organizational autonomy, their cooperation with state policies, the level of repression of their activities, among others, was always conditioned to a correlation of forces that was set in a political environment - an environment that was  highly unfavorable to these social groups. Yet, residents' associations managed to resist and have their history and dilemmas become object of study for many researchers.

Among traditional studies on this theme, the following are some that can be cited:

LEEDS, Anthony e LEEDS, Elizabeth. A Sociologia do Brasil Urbano. Rio de Janeiro: Zahar Editores, 1978.

LIMA, Nísia Trindade. O movimento de favelados do Rio de Janeiro: políticas de Estado e lutas sociais (1954-1973). Dissertação (Mestrado em ciência política) – Instituto Universitário de Pesquisas do Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, 1989.

MACHADO DA SILVA, L. A. A política na favela. Cadernos Brasileiros, Ano IX, nº 41, maio/junho de 1967, pp. 35-47.

PEPPE, Atílio Machado. (1992), Associativismo e política na favela Santa Marta. Dissertação (mestrado). Departamento de Ciência Política da Universidade de São Paulo.

PERLMAN, Janice. O Mito da Marginalidade. São Paulo, Ed. Paz e Terra, 2002 [1977].

VALLADARES, Licia do Prado. Passa-se uma casa: análise do programa de remoção de favelas do Rio de Janeiro. Zahar Editores, 1978.

ZALUAR, Alba. A Máquina e a Revolta – As organizações populares e o significado da pobreza. Rio de Janeiro: Editora Brasiliense, 2002 [1985].

Recent studies on the subject that can be mentioned are, among others:

ARAÚJO SILVA, Marcella Carvalho. A transformação da política na favela: um estudo de caso sobre os agentes comunitários. Diss. Dissertação, UFRJ, 2013.

CARVALHO, Monique Batista. Os dilemas da" pacificação": práticas de controle e disciplinarização na "gestão da paz" em uma favela do Rio de Janeiro. Diss. Tese de Doutorado, Programa de Pós-Graduação em Ciências Sociais, Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro-Rio de Janeiro.[Links], 2014.

OAKIM Juliana. "Urbanização sim, remoção não". A atuação da Federação de Associações de Favelas do Estado da Guanabara nas décadas de 1960-1970. 2014. 211 f. Dissertação (Mestrado em História) – Departamento de História, Universidade Federal Fluminense Niterói, 2013.

OLIVEIRA, Samuel. Os “trabalhadores favelados”: o processo de identificação das favelas e movimentos sociais no Rio de Janeiro e Belo Horizonte. 2014. 333 fls. Diss. Tese (Doutorado). Programa de Pós-Graduação em História, Política e Bens Culturais do Centro de Pesquisa e Documentação de História Contemporânea do Brasil, Rio de Janeiro, 2014.

PESTANA, Marco. Os trabalhadores favelados e a luta contra o controle negociado nas favelas cariocas (1954-1964). Rio de Janeiro: Editora UFF, 2016.

ROCHA, Lia de Mattos. "Uma favela “diferente das outras?”: rotina, silenciamento e ação coletiva na favela do Pereirão." Rio de Janeiro: FAPERJ/Quartet (2013).

SANTOS, Eladir Fátima Nascimento dos. E por falar em FAFERJ… Federação das Associações de Favelas do Estado do Rio de Janeiro (1963-1993)–memória e história oral. Diss. Dissertação de mestrado. Rio de Janeiro: UNIRIO, 2009.