3. ASMOCONP, a neighborhood association

After years of subsisting under an authoritarian regime, the early 1980s saw a period of gradual redemocratization in Brazil’s society. Civil associations and community activist movements, which had up to that point been banished or inhibited, flourished vigorously. In this wave of change, the residents of Conjunto Palmeiras who were still largely neglected by the municipal government, created in 1981 a neighbourhood association called Associação dos Moradores do Conjunto Palmeiras (ASMOCONP; Residents Association of Conjunto Palmeiras; see Figure 3).  Headed by local community leaders and supported by progressive sectors of the Catholic Church and local/international NGOs, ASMOCONP’s purpose was to help the community attain their rights to basic infrastructures such as access to water, electricity and education.

Figure 3: Creation of ASMOCONP through mobilizing the local community

The results achieved by ASMOCONP’s organized actions were noteworthy, though not immediate. It took seven years for the neighborhood to gain access to a public water supply, an achievement which is still considered as one the most difficult in the Association’s history.  Over these seven years and through lobbying local authorities, ASMOCOMP brought outdoor lighting to neighborhood streets and electricity to the community’s houses. Asphalt and sanitation, however, did not arrive before the 1990s, and was achieved through international aid. A partnership between ASMOCONP and GTZ, a German government-owned corporation specializing in sustainable development projects, provided funds and technical assistance for the construction of a sewage system and other urban improvements such as sidewalks and a drainage system. By the end of the 1990s, and as a result of nearly two decades of continuous effort, the former favela was finally urbanized.

Despite these urban improvements, the socio-economic condition of the community – instead of simultaneously improving – deteriorated to critical levels. In 1997, it was revealed, through an informal census by ASMOCONP, that most of the neighborhood’s residents were unemployed or held precarious jobs. Ninety percent of the families lived on less than two minimum wages per month.[1] Seventy-five percent of the adult population was illiterate, and at least 1,200 children of school age were not in school. These conditions compelled saeveral families to put their houses on the market and leave the community, because they could not afford the public fees for the new urban infrastructures such as electricity and water. It was an ironical situation, since the payment burden for these infrastructural improvements was now driving out the neighborhood’s residents. When asked: “Why are we poor?” all residents would respond: “Because we have no money!”[2]

[1] The minimum wage in 1997 was R$ 120 (Brazilian reals) per month, and the exchange rate was around R$ 1.10 per US dollar, meaning that 90% of families lived on less than approximately $218 US/month, or $7 US/day.

[2] Ceras Project, 2011. Banco Palmas ou les richesses d’une favela.  Avaiable from http://www.ceras-project.com.

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