The previous research I completed in Cabelo Seco and my senior thesis focused on the strong presence of structural violence in Brazil. My work in Cabelo Seco endeavored to understand if social experiences of violence affect an individual’s relationship to his or her natural environment. It was through this research that I first came into contact with the subject of structural violence. My senior thesis explored the extent to which structural violence of the state precipitates explicit forms of violence, in the case of land distribution in Brazil.
If you are unfamiliar with the term, I don’t blame you. Structural violence often occurs undetected because it is an expression of violence that is least recognizable. It refers to the inequalities that arise from state policies, actions, or inactions, that are displayed through economic or social exclusion, exploitation and persistent poverty. Instead of guns and weapons, the state uses international loans, structural adjustment policies, and other exclusionary models of development that promote the isolation of certain sectors of society. To give one example (the focus of my senior thesis), social and economic exclusion is taking place in Brazil with respect to land distribution. Brazil holds one of the highest levels of land distribution inequality in the world. A large amount of public land is frequently transferred illegally into the hands of large private landowners. The reluctance of the state to repossess this land and the consequent handling of confrontations between landowners and the landless demonstrate varied forms of structural violence.
I need to pause here for a second because the noise outside my room is destroying every possibility of forming intelligent thoughts. There is this absurd custom in Brazil where people are hired to drive around blasting music that promotes political candidates. Cars attach huge speakers to their roofs and play popular songs that have been dubbed with propaganda. These recordings fill the streets, with sayings like, “I stand for the people. The people are in charge of my campaign…blah blah blah”, a lot of bullshit. The cars are usually decorated with pictures of the candidate’s face. Sometimes there are flags. It can be one car driving around or a whole group, rolling slowly down the tight streets. Some jerk has his car parked right outside of my room, leaving me victim to a state deputy candidate’s fake promises. This past weekend there was a whole procession of people walking with the cars, waving flags and handing out flyers. Each car blasted the same music, but at a different interval in the song, so it just sounded like a lot of noise. Ridiculously annoying and such a waste of gas! Not to mention it is a complete invasion of personal space. The noise cannot be blocked out; you are forced to hear it. I wish a study could be conducted on the impact this type of advertisement actually has on swaying votes. Ah, finally he left.
Structural violence, or silent violence, is built into a structure of power rather than caused by a particular agent. Corruption, impunity and negligence can also be considered varied forms of this violence. The degree of illegal actions on the part of every level of Brazilian government and their exemption from accountability imply that social injustices can be permitted without repercussion. Therefore, the government continues to engage in oppressive actions that disenfranchise and disempower the poor.
Having spent time studying and writing about structural violence, I am very aware of its incredible presence here in Marabá. There have been profound developments since the last time I was here. Last year, we had a choice of many different bars and restaurants running along the boardwalk. The majority of these businesses are now boarded up and appear deserted. They lost all of their customers to one bar that has quadrupled in size, thanks to a revamping from the Secretary of Culture’s new project “Cultura Faz Bem” “Culture is good for you”. As if culture is a pill you can take. Nightlife now centers on the plaza where this bar is located. The most outrageous advancement that has taken place in the campaign to revitalize “culture” is a law recently passed by the Secretary of Culture. The law states that all cultural events must be approved by the government before they can take place. I only learned of this in a conversation so I’m trying to uncover the details of the legislation and when it was put into place. Nonetheless, the oppressive and authoritative nature of the law screams structural violence. It ensures that culture becomes something defined by the government.
If you didn’t know the deeper context, you would question my cynicism. The municipal government is promoting exciting cultural events for the people to enjoy and investing funds in improving bars- what’s wrong with that? The issue lies in the fact that the funding to make this possible is coming from Vale, the multinational that is gradually destroying Marabá. Funds are undoubtedly passed between Vale and the Secretary of State to make concerts (cultural events) possible. I find it hard to believe that corruption is not taking place here.Their partnership confirms the fact that an agenda is being promoted that benefits few at the expense of many. I am still trying to understand this complicated, interwoven relationship between Vale and the federal, state, and municipal government. Yet it is clear that they are carefully, deliberately, buying the support of the city and constraining the agency of its inhabitants. By organizing events every weekend, centering nightlife on their refurbished bars and buying all of the local newspapers, Vale is monopolizing the imagination. As mentioned in my last post, most of the people who recognize that it is taking place are too afraid to speak out.
Farmer, P., & Saussy, H. 2010. Partner to the poor: A Paul Farmer reader. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Gupta, Akhil. 2012. Red tape: Bureaucracy, structural violence, and poverty in India. Durham: Duke University Press.
Kingstone, Peter. 2012. “Economic Exclusion and the Shifting Patterns of Violence in Argentina and Brazil.” Pp. -143in Ascher, W. & Mirovitskaia, N. S eds. Economic development strategies and the evolution of violence in Latin America. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.