Looking at past favela mediators

Dom Helder

It is impressive how the situation has changed in Brazil’s favelas over the last decades. In the 1950s, it was common to find bishops and other charismatic leaders brokering dialogue between favela dwellers, mainstream society, and the state. They used to ask authorities for food support, or helped to halt evictions, often protesting police violence. There was a need to appropriate the favela people’s voice for their own benefit.

Indeed, the above picture is particularly powerful to show the dependence of favela populations to external mediators. It portrays the Bishop Dom Helder Câmara visiting one of Rio’s most famous favelas, Rocinha, illustrating what was an original report by O Globo newspaper. He was then a popular Catholic Church authority who grew to prominence for his work for the poor and his resistance after the 1964 coup.

As far as Câmara was well intentioned and successful in championing social policies, in this picture we see in his gesture a mix of compassion and charisma, nothing is compared to today’s ability of favela dwellers of self-mediatising their thoughts. Through blogs and social media, they can develop a new image of independence, aligning their presence to that of mainstream media characters.

Weighing in all limitations that stem from the use of new media, and there are many, that is to show that besides the staggering poverty that still strikes today’s favelas, it is possible to improve the situation by – at least- giving the locals ways in which they can communicate and appear to the wider world with their own faces and language.

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