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What if technology could undermine drug violence in Brazil?

A debate in Rio de Janeiro focuses on how access to information and technology among low-income youth might weaken the drug trade and empower young people in favelas.

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Young people from the Agência Redes para Juventude were also present at the debate. Last year, 300 young residents from pacified favelas transformed ideas into projects. The thirty chosen to receive 10,000 Reals ($4,903) from Petrobras and implement the projects are now competing for additional funding, with development help from Sebrae, a non-profit small business entrepreneurship agency, funded by federally-mandated payroll deductions.

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Agência activity focuses on building networks across the city, both real and virtual, as a crucial step towards making ideas happen.

It’s hard to quantify the aggregate reach of the many programs in Rio that aim to mobilize young favela residents. Those discussed last week are relatively small, though over a thousand young people have just applied to the Agência’s  new round of project development. But thousands are still peanuts, considering that in 2010 the state of Rio boasted a total population of 16 million, with  almost 3.5 million of school age. Greater Rio accounts for three quarters of the state’s overall population.

“Public policies for youth are very pulverized,” said Social UPP coordinator Tiago Borba at the debate last week. “If more planning and strategy were involved they’d be more efficient and effective.”

As Rio attempts to integrate its formal and informal urban areas, lessons and models are in the making.

Brazil’s 1970s to '80s baby boom is peaking now, with the 15-29 age cohort just starting to decline in numbers. It can be said that the future of Brazil’s poor youth will in large part determine the country’s own future – just as American baby boomers influenced so much of their country’s politics and culture.

So?

Whether or not increased access to information and technology weaken the drug trade and empower young people in favelas on any significant scale, the youth mobilization now taking place in Rio de Janeiro brings up some thorny questions, as do the young people themselves.

During the debate, a young participant criticized the communication and selection process for local Social UPP field agents, who are mapping Rio’s pacified favelas – and naming alleyways. A young community TV entrepreneur wanted to know how he could possibly compete for government funding without a long resumé. Another participant fretted about program continuity; and a fourth’s question about the Social UPP program and police behavior brought on a tirade on the ban against nighttime funk dances in pacified favelas.

“[Police rule on this issue is] a quasi-dictatorship,” said a furious Junior Perim, founder of the Crescer e Viver circus arts NGO.

Never say never, when it comes to this town

Marcus Faustini, who moderated the debate, summed up the tense moment: “Many actors want a say. There’s going to have to be a lot of participation in this transformation.”

And so ends a post that asks more questions than it answers. Please comment!

– Julia Michaels, a long-time resident of Brazil, writes the blog Rio Real, which she describes as a constructive and critical view of Rio de Janeiro’s ongoing transformation.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of Latin America bloggers. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here.

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