Interview: If they globalize the way they kill us, we globalize our struggle!
The Black July 2018 dedicated to the struggle against militarization from Palestine to Latin America. (Credits: BDS Colombia.)
In September 2019, Stop the Wall interviewed Gizele Martins, activist and community communicator from one of Rio de Janeiro’s largest favelas, the Complex of the Maré.
Stop the Wall: The Brazilian government of Bolsonaro is internationally recognized as part of the new wave of ultra-right, racist, homophobic, militaristic governments that, for the most part, are strong allies of Israel. Before talking about the connections between Brazil and Israel and between the struggles in the favelas and the Palestinian people, can you explain the reality of the favelas [slums] of Rio de Janeiro?
Gizele Martins: The favelas are poor and black neighborhoods with a population that comes from the countryside of Brazil. The impoverished population in the favelas is the target of the current government. Both Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro and the governor of the state of Rio de Janeiro, Wilson Witzel, are right-wing, conservative, racist, fascist politicians and even before they won the elections they already stressed how much they hated the impoverished populations.
For their war on the poor they need weapons. Therefore, they are friends of arms dealers in Brazil and globally. During Bolsonaro’s electoral campaign, the Brazilian arms manufacturer, Taurus, significantly increased its arms sales worldwide, using Bolsonaro’s propaganda to project them globally. One of the first things the current governor of Rio de Janeiro did once he got to power was to buy more armoured vehicles for the police, called ‘caverões’
. These armoured vehicles have been destroying our favelas for years.
As a result, police operations intensified their level of violence. They use a lot more helicopters and shoot with them in the favelas. They even shoot at schools and at our children. More than 10 children were killed by gunfire this year already in the favelas. There is an increase in so-called “acts of resistance”1, which is equivalent to an increase in murder by police. More than 1,000 people have been killed in the state of Rio de Janeiro since the beginning of the year, including 16 children. These are the worst numbers in the last twenty years.
Last week alone more than 10 people killed. Last Friday the police killed Ágatha Víctoria Sales Felix, an eight-year-old child in the Alemão, one of the largest favelas in Rio. Ágatha’s murder triggered a series of demonstrations that are continuing daily and now, a week after, we are organizing a big public rally that is being supported by similar protests nationally and internationally.
In the meantime, our governor in Rio is on television celebrating the people killed in the favelas, the death of the children. Witzel said publicly that the police have to act and shoot at ‘the little heads’. For him, there is an enemy population and that is the black population.
Recently the mainstream media has also begun to promote a parallel between the Palestinian people and the people of the favelas. Commenting on the protests that began after Ágatha’s killing, TV Band, a commercial television, argued that just as the Palestinian people defend terrorists, the people in the favelas defend criminals and that is why the police must act in the same way as the Israeli military has to act there in Palestine. They portray us as the enemy and the police as their savior. This explains their degree of racism well.
StoptheWall: It is shocking that the commercial media supporting this right-wing government make this parallel between Palestine and the reality of the favelas. This justifies the use of technology and techniques that Israel uses against the Palestinian people. Israel and the Brazilian government seem to simply ignore that those they are targeting are civilians and they have an obligation to protect – not to kill them. The favela population are targets of open war, just as the Palestinian people are for Israel.
When you went to Palestine, did you recognize similarities to these tactics that Brazil is adopting more and more in the favelas?
Gizele: What I witnessed in Palestine was segregation of populations. Even Palestinian families divided by Israeli policies of segregation. What I saw was a sharp image of apartheid. There’s no way not to see it. You go to Hebron, for example, and see how the Palestinian population can’t even go on the streets of their own city, there are rules that divide Palestinians from Israelis.
The wall is very symbolic of all the different levels of apartheid policies there. This wall that divides villages, families, populations is a very cruel expression of how much the Israeli state is segregationist, racist … in the end is murderous.
Also here in Rio de Janeiro there is a Wall that we call the ‘Wall of Shame’. It is a wall that separates the favelas from the rest of the city. Our politicians, instead of investing in health care and education, buy weapons to kill and spend money to segregate our populations. This leads us to create ties of joint struggle among populations to defend our spaces.
When I compare Palestine to Maré, the favelas of Rio, I explain that here in Brazil and Rio de Janeiro our politicians who create more and more ties with this Israeli terrorist state, have the same idea of controlling people’s lives. Only here it is us, the black population in the favelas that are their target.
Another thing I have noticed in Palestine as well as in Rio is how the state violence targets children. They seem to consider it a way to literally root out these populations. Thinking about the murder of Ágatha, the 8-year-old child from the favela Alemão and the helicopter that shot last week at the school in another favela, the Maré, I realized children are a focus of this ongoing genocide against our people. I compared these policies with what I saw in Palestine: the imprisonment of children, the shooting of children, how women often can’t pass a checkpoint to have their babies in the hospital, risking that they and the children might die.
If they have a policy that targets children, then we need to be increasingly vocal about the fact that we need our children alive and we need to denounce what these states are doing to our children. When they kill our children, they target not only these children, they destroy the possibility of all our children to have a childhood. We have to campaign against this internationally.
The hardest thing to perceive and understand is that Palestine is a laboratory for so many cruelties. And the cruelties that I have witnessed in Palestine are the laboratory for our lives.
Stop the Wall: With the current government building stronger ties with Israel, it seems that Brazil is moving ahead to “Israelize” its policies, adopting more of these practices…
Gizele: Bolsonaro made several trips to Israel before he was elected to align himself with the Israeli terrorist state and to prepare exchanges of control and killing. He returned to Israel after he won the elections. Likewise, the governor of Rio, just after winning the elections, visited Israel to buy more repressive technology. So it is not surprising that we see practices that I saw there in Palestine being used here in Rio de Janeiro, in the favelas.
In fact, not only is Palestine a large laboratory, the favelas in Rio have also become a large laboratory. We are up against a global discourse and global politics, a politics of control and genocide.
The wall is a very strong symbol of this global segregation project, of this apartheid that exists in Palestine, as much as in the Maré, in Santa Marta, in Mexico, in any country that has a government that adopts policies reminiscent of the terrorist state of Israel.
The central objective that Israel and other allied governments like the one in Brazil pursue is the control over the impoverished population in order to gain land, to colonize their lives, to dominate the land and the culture. I see this project advancing rapidly here in Rio de Janeiro. To achieve this plan, the world’s elites work together, and Israel and its weapons and practices are very useful for these governments.
Stop the Wall: You spoke of the idea of dominating cultures and colonizing lives. This goes beyond control through bullets and armoured vehicles. When we first met we spoke of the evangelical churches. Do you think they have a part in this effort to colonize the mind?
Gizele: Religious fundamentalism is continually on the rise throughout Brazil. In Rio de Janeiro, the favelas are dominated today by neo-pentecostal churches that promote a very racist and homophobic ideology and therefore support this murderous government that segregates and builds walls.
With all this racist discourse and practices, it may seem very strange that these churches have a very strong influence here in the favelas. But these churches have not grown by chance. And it is also not by chance that a governor like Witzel and a president like Bolsonaro win the elections in Brazil. They support each other. It is not by chance that these churches play with the imaginations of the people in order to convince them that these far-right politicians are the ‘saviors’. Bolsonaro even calls himself “messiah”! He changed his name on his birth certificate so that people will consider him to be the messiah.
Further, the residents of the favelas that are members of these churches will not only vote for right-wing politicians locally, they also raise the Israeli flag because the churches preach this and ask their followers to blindly support Israel. And just as the people in the favelas raise lots of Israeli flags, the governor and others in his same political camp also identify with the Israeli flag. In many interviews they give you can see an Israeli flag behind them.
Stop the Wall: Churches support this new Brazilian right-wing by securing votes. Once elected, the politicians reinforce the racist ideology of the churches and go to Israel and, among other things, buy weapons to kill the favela population. And the churches celebrate these relations with Israel as a way to fulfil the divine duty to support Israel and pacify the favelas. Is that the dynamic?
Gizele: The neopentecostal churches and their religion are a way of taking control of people’s emotional life and they are another form of control. We are dealing here with the control of the wall, the control by the way of shootings, weapons, and armoured vehicles. The current increase in killings and imprisonments means an intensification of this form of control. But we have to recognize also the control of the mind, people’s emotional life, faith as another layer of control.
This dynamic of rising religious fundamentalism that helps to control impoverished populations happens not only at the state level here in Rio but also nationally and internationally. It is part of an internationally organized right-wing policy of control and Israel is one of the protagonists in this.
Stop the Wall: The movements in the favelas are building opposition to all these forms of control through initiatives such as the ‘Black July’ …
Gizele: The Black July is a month of mobilization that is organized by the movement of the mothers and families of those killed and imprisoned in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, along with other residents of Rio’s favelas and outskirts, community media activists, in short, the favela movement as such. We have been organizing the Black July for four years now and our focus has been militarization and racism since the first year. After we have come in contact with the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement we also put the question of apartheid on our agenda.
At first we did not discuss militarization at the international level. It was after this contact with Palestine, with Mexico, with Haiti, with other countries that we began to realize that what happens in Rio’s favelas is also a result of the internationalization of militarization, apartheid and racism.
What we suffer here, Palestine suffers, India, Haiti, Mexico suffer. We began to study and to realize that there is an international connection between these terrorist states, the colonizers, the white population. Then we started to study about it and last Black July we started to fight internationally against militarization. For example, we have put Israel on the dock in the Popular Hearing about militarization in Palestine and Latin America that we did in 2018 together with the Palestinian movements and Palestine solidarity groups. We have put the terrorist state of Israel on trial as one of the biggest weapons producers and exporters in the world– weapons that are being used against the people in Palestine and around the world.
In addition to internationalizing our debate on militarization, we have further developed our analysis of the system of control we live in. We have begun to discuss different forms of control, including internet control, private control and surveillance companies, digital surveillance technology, and forms of training. We began to discover that the military police in Rio de Janeiro, the BOPE2, has had exchanges with Israel, that the military police use techniques they learned from Israeli trainers. We have increased our knowledge and deepened our understanding which is essential to globalize this fight against militarization, racism and apartheid. The Black July connects these fights and our idea is: If they globalize the way they kill us, we globalize our struggle!
Stop the Wall: The Black July and the possibility of being able to participate in this event through the Popular Hearing was certainly a very important moment of growth for Palestine solidarity. But we still have a lot to do if we want to unite the struggles to truly build a World Without Walls, without racism, without militarization, a world for all …
Gizele: I think we have made a lot of progress in this sense because it is important to see that, for example, in our protests, events and discussions nowadays you will always find the global dimension of militarization, racism and apartheid. We talk more about other countries too. We are growing our sensibility towards the sufferings and struggles of these populations. This is the result of the Black July. It is the result of the organizing that the BDS movement has also been doing in Latin America. We have been able to advance but we need to continue to organize seminars in universities and workshops. We also need to work on this in schools and on the streets in a stronger way. So let’s make this happen. And we need to start globalizing our thoughts and actions from every locality. I trust that we will achieve this in the coming years.
1 When a police officer kills an alleged “suspect,” he claims self-defense or that there was resistance to arrest. The occurrence is recorded as an “act of resistance” and the witnesses are the police officers who participated in the action. The crime will almost never be investigated.
2 The Special Police Operations Battalion, generally known by its acronym BOPE, is the elite troop of the military police in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.