A Promised University

In impoverished part of Rio, struggles to get a branch campus that the government pledged to build there.

March 26, 2015

One of the biggest and most troubled favela complexes in Rio de Janeiro is expected to get a public higher education institution, four years after it was promised one by the Brazilian government.

Rio’s City Hall has until next month to find a site for a Federal Institute of Education, Science and Technology (IFRJ) campus in Complexo do Alemão, a sprawling network of shanty communities on the hills of Rio’s north zone.

The satellite campus was announced in 2011 by President Dilma Rousseff as part of an expansion of the country’s network of federal institutes.

Plans unveiled by the Ministry of Education during Rousseff’s first term indicated that 208 such sites would be opened by 2014, including 5 new bases in the state of Rio. The government pledged to invest millions per campus, with the aim of enrolling 600,000 students overall by 2014. But plans for the campus in Alemão were held up by the search for an appropriate site.

Land initially marked for the campus was instead used for a police base after the favela was “pacified,” or occupied by police, at the end of 2010.

The operation to seize control of Alemão from Rio’s notorious drug gangs was one of the biggest in Rio’s pacification program, involving 2,700 officers and soldiers. Home to an estimated 100,000 people, the Alemão community received a pacifying police unit in May 2012 but conflict in the favela remains, with regular shoot-outs and gunfights between drug traffickers and police disrupting life. At the end of last month, the favela’s cable car was suspended for a morning because of a shooting between police and criminals that left two injured.

Community campaigners said that a higher education campus could help improve public security.

“A university will encourage other structural elements,” Alan Brum Pinheiro, coordinator of residents’ group Instituto Raízes em Movimento, told community website Forum Rio.

He said he saw the campus as an opportunity to implement public policies in the favela, including education. “We have, for example, a chronic problem with quality in primary and secondary education,” he added.

When it emerged at the end of last year that approval for the campus had expired, residents launched a petition to lobby City Hall to agree on a site and get the project back on track. A letter written by Raízes em Movimento to the authorities received almost 2,500 signatures. The letter said that if work on the campus did not begin soon, the education ministry could keep the funding, leaving Alemão without an institution.

The letter said: “The promise, which began to turn into a reality with the signing of the finance agreement between the Ministry of Education and the institute, meant the favela and its residents were being treated with greater rights, leaving behind the logic of criminalizing the poor. However, we’re already in 2015 and until now, nothing. Despite the City Hall initially saying it supported the initiative, in practice it has been the main obstacle for the arrival of IFRJ in Alemão.”

In a meeting with residents last month, Eduardo Paes, the mayor of Rio, promised to fulfill the commitment to bring a campus to the favela complex.

A City Hall spokesman said: “Rio City Hall is engaging in the search for land for an IFRJ campus in Complexo do Alemão. The mayor signed a letter iterating that the City Hall will have 60 days to find a plot to host the IFRJ.”

During a visit to the existing IFRJ campus earlier this year, Cid Gomes, the Brazilian education minister, emphasized the importance of technical education in Brazil and pledged to expand the network of public higher education institutions.

The Education Ministry confirmed that City Hall had a deadline for designating land for the campus.

“The IFRJ sent to the Ministry of Education on Feb. 2 a statement of commitment signed by Eduardo Paes, through which it undertakes to progress the transfer of land for an installation of a unit within 60 days,” the ministry said in a statement.

“When this procedure is completed, the next stages for the installation of the campus can be initiated.”

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