Against a monopoly of force

Slums

You have lived in your house for eight years. You built it with your own hands, sweating over bricks and tiles of zinc. The house is more than a building; it is your life since you came from the countryside with a 1,500 others in 2004.

Now, all have ended up in this same desolate piece of land, which once belonged to scoundrel in a suit and necktie, named Naji Nahas. This borrowed ground is where your children were born. No one helped you, and you did not ask for it, yet you have managed to create a home. You built a ranch for your family. You all did.

Pinheirinho-62Water? Power? A sewage system? With poverty and precarity on all sides, these are the least of the neighborhood’s concerns. The government only comes around when if it is election time. You must depend on your own wit and resourcefulness to survive.

Toc Toc! Bang! One day, then, without warning, the police knock at your door and ask you to move on, to disappear quietly.

Pinheirinho-31Eviction? This government can go to hell. You are 100% pinheirinho and this is your favela, the largest in Sao Paulo. And here in Latin America, Weber’s claims have already been disproved—the State has no monopoly on violence. You have already prepared for battle.

On the 22nd of January 2012, a swarm of 1,800 policemen in cars and helicopters brought clubs, tear-gas, and rubber bullets to evict the pinheirinhos by force. Some speculate that the eviction is part of a larger battle between two political parties: the Social Democrats (PSBD) and the Workers Party (PT). But others claim the tear gas and batons have been introduced to clear space for new developments, which must be ready for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. Whatever the reason, local officials plan to make you homeless.

Nine thousand pinheirinhos live here; there are enough to muster several battalions of desperate foot soldiers. You match the police’s equipment with your own ingenuity. Motorcycle helmets become combat gear. Discarded pieces of plastic and cans become body armor for the chest, arms and shins. Large plastic drums are cut in half to make shields. Broomsticks become clubs and sticks with nails pounded through one end become vicious bludgeons. Knives attached to splintered boards are your spears. It only takes two PVC tubes and a little gunpowder know-how to make a gun.

Pinheirinho-21Then it gets serious. The people of Pinheirinho inscribe slogans on their shields, gather stones and learn to imitate police formations. Long bamboo poles are sharpened in one end and turned into a bristling barricade. Even your lazy pet pit bull stands up to fight with you.

“If the military police invade the area, the country will witness a great tragedy, like Carajas in 1996 and the Goiânia Occupation Real Dream in 2005, when dozens died in conflict with the police,” pinheirinhos warn the international press.

Pinheirinho-71They are right. Violent turmoil eats the favela roads. Many are injured, 30 resisters are arrested and according to rumor, seven die. The government remains silent; the situation in Pinheiro becomes obscured by hearsay and emotion. The pinheirinhos continue to cling to their hand-built weapons, armor and homes.