“9 Queens” and Argentine national identity

By Shane Cassidy 

By the late 1990’s, Argentina had become a country so straddled with debt due to the mistreatment of the economy by so many that went before it that this irrefutably disrupted and permanently altered Argentina’s national identity. National identity is the result of various different external factors such as the sharing of history and tradition with others to national symbols such as flag or anthem. Those who have now lived through and experienced Argentina’s crises have undoubtedly had their national identity altered. Following the end of the ‘Dirty War’ and the emergence of democratic politics in Argentina in the 1980’s, a new national identity has naturally emerged with the heavy weight of history inevitably ingrained in Argentinean psyche. The sight of the mothers of the Plaza de Mayo is enough to remind Argentineans of their dark history and the damages an unregulated, un-checked power can do. With that in mind, Argentina has since gone on to experience a different type of abuse at the hands of their leaders and this time through economic methods. Fabián Bielinsky, through his film ‘9 Queens’, attempts to portray this new society and shared national identity while also showing the affects it has had on a larger scale.

9 Queens focuses on two con men, Juan and Marcos who meet when Marcos comes to Juan’s assistance when a scam goes wrong at a petrol station and convinces him to work with him for the day. Marco is the more experienced of the two who will go to whatever lengths for the con, while Juan appears to be the beginner, an innocent with more noble reasons for pulling tricks and scams. In effect, his elderly father is in prison and he needs to earn enough money to bribe the judge. Ultimately they stumble upon a scam to sell counterfeit stamps to a businessman, Esteban Vidal Gandolfo, who is leaving the country the next day. Over the course of the film a web of intrigue and deceit is woven as all the characters appear to have ulterior motives. The film opens with the scene of a simple yet highly evocative and powerful image. Our protagonist Juan, crafty, smooth and clever cons a simple, hard-working and honest cashier out of money in her till. This is a microcosm for Argentinean society in general. A largely corrupt government taking advantage of decent, hardworking citizens for their own benefit. This scene is replicated many times throughout the film, the waiter in the restaurant, the unsuspecting old lady deceived into believing she is helping her nephew to repair his car, the news kiosk where Marcos gets his newspaper for free, the old lady in the lift. The film is an accurate depiction of the extent of present day Argentine society is. Corruption is closely woven into the fabric of society that it is no longer surprising to hear of those who have swindled the books or attempted to steal for their own gain.

A mentality of self-entitlement pervades the film and throughout we encounter many characters adamant in the belief that they are not only entitled but also deserving in whatever they can get. There exists also a delusionary aspect to their attitudes as, although they are all in one way or another caught up in criminal activity, they all state that they are not personally a thief or a crook. This idea that it is every man for himself and ones only concern is profiting by whatever means necessary. When the two protagonists are sitting in a café, Washington, a petty thief and stolen goods salesman attempts to peddle some of his goods. Juan turns to him eventually and enquires about the possibility of acquiring a gun to which Washington recoils in horror and insists that he is not a crook. The irony in the scene is evident in itself but it highlights the extent to which Argentina’s attitude towards crime and theft has been readjusted. What is clear from the film is that corruption has affected every level of society and even policemen are presented as opportunists looking to earn some more money as is seen in the scene where Marcos pays a police colleague to pretend to arrest him to trick Gandolfo into believing his story about the stamps is legitimate.

The brilliant Ricardo Darín plays the character of ‘Marcos’ and his is a portrayal of man caught up in modern day, corrupt, Argentinean society. He represents the mentality of so many of his fellow Argentineans. He has delusions of grandeur and views himself as above the status of a thief when he remarks to Juan, “¿Se cree que soy un ladrón? Yo no matar a personas. No utilizo una pieza. Nadie puede hacer eso.” He is out for himself, even going so far as to tricking his family out of their inheritance and Marcos doesn’t feel remorse for his actions. He believes that he has seen an opportunity and seized it and that he is deserving of it, he unrepentantly says “Vi una oportunidad y me agarró”. Marcos typifies a disillusioned, disconnected, modern-day citizen. When he meets his sister in her workplace he questions her marital and family status. This is a clear indicator that he does not stay in contact and does not display any interest in the lives of his sister or younger brother ‘Federico’. He also shows his lack of respect for elders and Sandro in particular when Sandro is attempting to explain what happened, Marcos interrupts and says disrespectfully “that’s when you blew your fuse”. Marcos is even willing to prostitute his sister to satisfy his insatiable thirst for money and greed. Even after the supposed act o f sleeping with Gandolfo is completed, Marcos rushes to his sister only to grab the suitcase enquiring about the money and showing absolutely no regard for his sisters well-being.

Marcos appears to care little but for the materialistic and monetary gains. He is clearly void of any admirable traits or scruples and only assists Juan at the beginning of the film as he needs someone to help him perform scams. In one scene he remarks to Juan, “Santos no hay, lo que hay son tarifas diferentes” and then he later remarks to Juan “putos no faltan, lo que faltan son inversores”. These two statements allow an insight into the workings of Marcos’ mind. He is motivated purely by his own profit and interest. It is a combination of his blind greed and inability to care for others which inevitably leads to the downfall of Marcos and this can be equally applied to the Argentine banks and society in general. Bielinsky cleverly juxtaposes Juan against that of Marcos so even though Juan is seen as a trickster, he is one troubled by a conscience and guilt. He is ultimately vindicated in his actions as he is assisting his lover Valeria to regain control of her inheritance. The relationship between the two main characters shows this clash of conscience and values in modern day Argentine society.

“Este país se va al infierno” (Marcos, Nueve Reinas)

By all accounts, the distrust levelled at banks reached a plateau by the turn of the century, most noticeably with the Cacerolazo’s[1], protests which involve the banging of pots and pans and made famous in Argentina. The reference to the banks and financial systems and the impact they have had in Argentina was therefore inevitable especially when Argentina experienced such economic and social turbulence along with massive financial loss at the hands of the banks. Bielinsky references them in several scenes and his reasoning for this is two-fold: firstly he wishes to highlight their recklessness and his second motivation is to present his audience with a deeper understanding of how the situation with the banks could have developed to such a stage. The audience witnesses Gandolfo in his hotel room, engaged in a rigorous debate about the price of shares. It is only with understanding of the impending financial crisis that is clear that he is wishing to quickly offload his shares and save as much money as possible from the inevitable loss and impending run on the banks. In another scene where the stamp expert attempts to extort a percentage of the takings for himself. Juan remarks to Marcos that he is “handing out too much shares”. This latter remark is subtle allusion to the banks and the way in which they banked so senselessly as to leave Argentinean society facing an economic emergency. As of May 2011 approximately two-thirds of Argentinean bank accounts are in short-term deposit accounts with banks also very wary of long term loans[2]. It is a curious that if one of the things that unties national identity is a shared past and similar mentality then a whole psyche of mistrust and suspicion has since developed into national identity in Argentina. Argentinean society is caught in this complex scenario where they are unsure and deeply suspicious of all types of government and understandably so. They have experienced and witnessed at first hand the atrocities performed by the military Junta in the 1970’s and equally they have seen the total financial destruction of their country and the wrecking of their currency by the corrupt elite in a ‘democratic’ government during the 1980’s and 90’s. Naturally and unsurprisingly a deep distrust has developed and it this can be witnessed by the manifestation of the idea of cautiousness towards the banks. The final irony is that Gandolfo pays Marcos and Juan by a cashier’s cheque which is certified by a bank but little do the characters know that this means very little given the country’s economic difficulty.

Bielinsky cleverly disguises the real motives of both characters throughout the film and this naturally leads to a development of mistrust and suspicion on both characters sides but also from the audience. The audience gets a disorientating sense of not knowing exactly what is going on while also experiencing the feeling that they are being duped or conned. This was a reality for Argentine society, especially in the 90’s and early 2000’s where Argentina’s economy and government was awash with corruption and manipulation. At every turn in the film, a new deceit appears to be uncovered and the narrative is constructed in such a way as to prevent the audience from ascertaining who exactly is involved with who. The film’s opening scene involves an act of deceit by Juan and is quickly followed by Marcos deceiving the petrol station employees to aid Juan. Marcos’ life has been a life of fraud and crafty dealing. He has tricked his siblings out of their inheritance and throughout the film he is unaware that everyone he encounters is involved in the ultimate act of misrepresentation in order to regain Valeria’s rightful inheritance. Even when Juan goes to visit his father in prison, his father is not only fooled by his son’s faux-innocence but also the card game which Juan’s father plays while Juan visits him is one of sleight of hand and trickery.

It is also through this use of characters that Bielinski also depicts Argentina in its multicultural, diverse way. Argentina, home to so many immigrants from all over the world is a melting pot of different cultural backgrounds and customs. Although largely Catholic, Argentina is home to the largest Jewish population in South America and this Jewish presence in society is also referred to in the film. Bielinsky himself of Jewish descent, depicts a whole area of Buenos Aries as being a Jewish area simply from the implied manner in which Juan states that his mother is from Entre Ríos, a predominantly Jewish area in Buenos Aries[3]. Bielinsky is attempting to show more than just one face of Argentinean society to his audience and wishes to reflect the vibrant, diverse culture which exists within Argentina. It is also pertinent as it displays and acknowledges the existence of a vibrant Jewish population because, despite Jewish people in Argentina representing only 1% of Argentinean population, 10% of all victims were Jewish during the ‘Dirty War’ from 1976-83[4].

Bielinsky makes clever use of his characters in order to represent Argentine national identity in a new light. Although he depicts his characters as deceitful, suspicious and untrustworthy it is never done to portray Argentineans in a harsh light. On the contrary, it is Argentinean society, reflected through Juan and his hopeful ending which encapsulates the goodness of Argentina and it’s society. However, as in every society, an ill prevails in the form of con artists and thieves, be it on a small level or a large financial institutional level. Argentina has experienced great change over the last 30 years and naturally their psyche and perspective will have been altered.


[1] http://www.cacerolazo.com

[3] FALICOV, T, The Cinematic Tango: contemporary Argentine film, Wallflower Press, 2007

[4] http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Terrorism/Argentina_STATUS.html


FALICOV, T, The Cinematic Tango: contemporary Argentine film, Wallflower Press, 2007

REIN, R, Argentine Jews or Jewish Argentines?: essays on ethnicity, identity, and diaspora, Brill, 2010

SHAW, D, Contemporary Latin American cinema: breaking into the global market, Rowman and Littlefield, 2007

Nueve Reinas, 2000, Bielinsky, F, Argentina. Buena Vista International (film)




By Shane Cassidy


Gated communities in Brazil

By Larisa Sioneriu

The fear of violence has driven people to create different ways of protecting themselves from the evils of the world. As time passes, society seems to be more and more terrorized by this fear and people live in a constant state of heightened awareness. Gated communities are one of the ways in which people try to secure their safety. This essay is an introduction to the gated community phenomena that is taking place in Brazil. It is well known that Brazil is a country with a high rate of crime; hence, this palatable fear has taking grip of the people, making them overtly conscience of their safety. Gated communities in Brazil is a topic that interests not only the rich who can afford a safer place to live but across class strata’s and areas in society such as the vulnerable poor, middle and working class families and even the Government, the police, the media, the architects, the anthropologist or anyone who is looking secure some form of safety for themselves and their families. I will talk about the emergence of these communities in Brazil, how they function, the violence that leads people to create a ‘sub’community within an urban setting and its negative effects.


 Along with the research from the scholars who have written about the topic I have also interviewed 7 Brazilian people. For privacy reasons I will not use their real name in this text, instead I will refer to them as Diego, Thiago, Bianca, Paolo, Gustavo, Mateus and Eduardo. I will introduce their opinions about topics such as violence and gated communities in Brazil where I think it’s appropriate and relevant. The interviews took place on the internet, through email; I sent them the questions and then they responded. Of those people I have interviewed some are friends and others I’ve contacted through mutual acquaintances. They all agreed to the use of their answers in this essay.

The Gated Communities

A gated community is a residential area where a few middle-class and upper-class families live. These gated communities are usually situated at the periphery of the big cities and can be found all around the world: New York, Los Angeles Cairo, Caracas, Rio de Janeiro, London, Bombay, Dakar, Sao Paolo, Toronto, Mexico City, Sydney and many others. (Low 2001, Kuppinger 2004, Falzon 2004). ‘Gated communities respond to middle-class and upper-middle-class individual’s desire for community and intimacy and facilitate avoidance, separation and surveillance. They bring individual preferences, social forces, and the physical environment together in an architectural reality and cultural metaphor.’ (Low 2001:48) One of the common attributes they have is privacy. Their privacy is secured through different methods: professional CCTV, alarms, security guards, armed security guards, big gates and fences, gate codes and any non-resident of the area is asked to show an identification document.  This indicates that amongst other reasons for living in gated communities, a salient one is the personal security. Large cities are frequently known for the great number of violent acts that they host and this in turn becomes the most significant reason why people chose to live in a better secured place, such as a gated community.  The gated communities have become worldwide phenomena, as they have expanded significantly over the last decade all around the world. (Levy 2010:99)

‘Condominios fechados’ in Brazil

Gated communities in Brazil referred to as ‘condominios fechados’, are being expanded more than ever. The process of urbanization in Brazil, known for its speed, intensity, profundity and quick industrialization led to an imminent modification of the space i.e. the land area. (Arante 2009:2)  Caldeira (1996), who completed valuable research on the topic, shows us how the gated communities emerged in Brazil, particularly in Sao Paolo. According to her, almost a century ago Sao Paolo used to be a centralized city, and the only difference between the rich and the poor is that the former used to live in bigger and more luxurious houses while the second used to live in a small place, shared with many family members. However, the city still functioned on the principles that an urban congregation consists of, such as common use of public space. During the 1940s and the 1980s , Sao Paolo began the process of division; the middle and upper classes used to live in the centre of the city while the poor moved to the periphery. It’s only since the 1980s and 90s that the condominios fechados emerged as a result of the fear of the violence. In the last decades, the number of crimes grew considerably. In Salvador, the first condominios fechados horizontais appeared between the 1970s and the 1980s.  According to Arantes (2009:8), these first gated communities were built for the working class, usually people who worked for the same company moved into these residential areas (owned by the companies, in most cases). The residents of that period of time said that they preferred living in these new gated communities to get away from the city rush, to live in a more relaxed environment and be closer to the nature. Also, most of them were families with small children. It was in the 1990s when the purpose of living in these condominios fechados was the need of a safer place.

In Rio de Janeiro, as well as in the other large cities, the industrialization and the migration from the countryside to the city modified the geography of the city. The suburbs emerged in the 1920s-30s. The favelas were the first suburbs that were developed in Rio de Janeiro ( Hermam :4).  Starting in 1970s, the demand of lodging for middle and upper classes grew quickly and so people turned to the private companies. In this way, the first condominios fechados appeared in Rio de Janeiro. As Levy (2010:97) observes, the space is altered and frontiers are being burnt as a consequence of the globalization of the urban. However, in the past decades, the incidents of moving into a condominio fechado were the consequence of a sense of insecurity. As Rio de Janeiro developed quickly, so did the criminality; it became unsafe to use the public spaces and people started to regain their safety and freedom by moving into these isolated communities.

Living in a gated community forces the public men to reproduce in a private space. (Levy 2010:103) There is a feeling of false community given by these walled spaces. ‘Gates, instead of creating communities are attracting people who prefer privacy and retreat from society’ ( Low 1997: 68) The social segregation is one of the main issues of these gated communities. Living aside this topic for the moment, Caldeira (1996:59) observes how the common characteristics of the condominios fechados involve this concept of segregation. All of these condominios fechados have armed guards and security systems so that they decide admission or exclusion of non-residents; they are designed in a introvert fashion and not towards the roads, they are isolated by big gates or surrounded by empty spaces; and nonetheless, they are private properties for collective use. We also learn from Caldeira(1996) that the condominios fechados suggest a certain status.

 Residents are creating a social distance from the others and separate themselves both consciously and unconsciously from the rest of the inhabitants of the city. ‘Os condominios negam os principios de uma vida urbana democratica.’1 (Levy 2010:105) ‘Residential segregation created by prejudice and social economic disparities is reinforced by planning practices and policing, implemented by businessmen and banks’ (Low 2001:46). What is even more striking is that mainstream media are also encouraging this new life style. There are many commercials and advertising in Brazilian media who aim to attract people in the condominios fechados and they often use ‘security’ and ‘safety’ as tools to sell the product. Some examples of this are the following condominios that are advertised through the utopia of safety : Lago : tranquilidade e vida moderna (tranquility and modern life) ; Freguesia : para voce vicer Feliz da Vida (so that you live a happy life) ; Estancia Ville : voce pode, sua familia merece (you can, your family deserves it) ; Fasol da Ilha: sua vida tambem pode ser perfeita (your life aswell can be perfect) ; Casa Propria : um final feliz para essa novela  (…) com mais seguranca e qualidade de vida (a happy end for that story…with more safety and a better quality of life) ; Alphaville : viver tranquilo ( to live tranquilly). People feel an immense pressure from this both real and manufactured fear and an anxiety for their own safety that they move into these isolated places. Media rumours and true life experiences all contribute to the creation of a culture of fear in these Brazilian cities.

Most of the people I have interviewed have positive opinions about the condominios fechados, even though not all agreed with the idea that it protects you from violence. When asked if they think that living in a gated community is a good solution for the personal safety, most of them said yes. Diego, who used to live in a condominio fechado , agrees that there are more advantages : ‘Não sei se é  realmente uma solução para a segurança pessoal, mas com certeza é uma maneira de se manter mas tranquilo quando se chega à noite, e tem a sensação de que seus familiares e pertences estão a salvo de qualquer mal. Ser vigilado hoje em dia se turnou uma maneira de se sentir seguro, pois há câmeras, pessoas passando o tempo todo e vendo tudo que está acontecedo a sua volta, o que te libera desse ‘fardo’ de sempre estar atento ao entorno.’2  Another interviewee, Tiago , said that even though he didn’t live in a ‘condominio fechado’ he tried to secure his house as much as possible : ‘Some people try other solutions, for example, I used to live in a house with electric fence, electric gate, cameras and two big dogs.’ Bianca, a girl who lives is one of these condominios answered : ‘No, porque si a los atacadores les dieran las ganas de atacar un condominio fechado lo harán como ya lo hicieron miles de veces en Rio y São Paolo. (..) Pienso que los condominios fechados, si son seguros, pero ademas de la seguridad, ofrecen sercivios como transporte, gimnasio, canchas de deporte, piscina, etc’.3 

Even though not everybody agrees that gated communities are the safest option, they all agree that is one way of keeping safe. When asked to mark their fear of violence from 0 to 10 , the results came up like this: Bianca : 10 ; Thiago : 9 ; Diego : 7; Paolo : 3; Mateus : 7 . These are a clear indicator that fear exists among Brazilians at very high rates. But how much of this fear is real and how much is based on contrived ideas or views? Is Brazil’s case of violence based on rumour and media propaganda? Or is it simply the reality they live?

Violence in Brazil

According to the Human Rights Watch 2011 report ‘There are more than 40.000 intentional homicides in Brazil every year. In Rio de Janeiro hundreds of low-income communities are occupied and controlled by drung gangs, who routinely engasge in violent crime and extortion.’ Violence is a vivid culture among Brazilians. They hear about it, they see it and they experience it. Newspapers and TV are showing everyday cases of crimes and violence , but this doesn’t seem to be just media propaganda, it is the sad reality of Brazil’s life. There are outrageous cases of violence in Brazil. Sckolhammer (39) reminds us of how a few years ago, when the Policia Militar entered a favela in Rio de Janeiro, they found a strong violent resistance from the criminals of that area but among them there was also a 14 years old girl who ‘orgulhosamente’4 was pointing the weapon at the police. This case was shocking and it is not singular. In Brazil, violence takes over all citizens. For some, especially the ones from favelas it’s a way of living , and for others, it becomes an obsessive fear. Nobody is privileged not to be a target of violence, regardless the form it takes. In 2011, the judge Patricia Acioli was shot dead and Congressman Marcelo Freixo declared that he will leave Brazil for a period of time due to many death threats he is receiving. (HRW report).

The 7 people I interviewed live in different cities : Rio de Janeiro, Slvador de Bahia, Campina , Barretos, Sorrocaba and Teresina. All of them have been witnesses or victims of violent acts or have been robbed. They shared their stories and one can conclude that violence has strong roots in Brazilian society.

Mateus: ‘Robbers have entered my old house once (that was not a condominio fechado) and have tried several times.’

Gustavo: ‘Eu já foi assaltadoumos 2 vezes na vida.’5

Deigo : ‘Nunca foi abordado por niguem mais ja fui furtado variaz vezes, um dos meus maiores medos é estar por perto quando esses furtos occurem,, pois não sei qual será a minha reação nem a reação do deliquente.’6

Thiago: ‘I don’t remember seeing actual violence in my 19 years of living in Brazil but I was myself a victim on my first day in Europe, in bright light.’

Paolo: ‘Já preseciei um asssalto. E já fui roubado.’7

Eduardo: ‘When I was 12 years old I was playing football on the beach with my friends. I was dark outside and 2 guys on a motorbike passed by and started to insult us. Then my friends shout back at them and the guys took out their guns and shot at us. A bullet passed by my head and only touched it a little bit; nothing happened to me, I was just bleeding a little.’

Bianca: ‘yo ya fui víctima de 2 atracos en 4 meses, uno muy violento tres atracadores con una pistola en mi cara mientras caminaba en la calle un domingo a las 19h30 200 metros de mi casa en un barrio noble de Rio, Barra da Tijuca, y otro en el coche con mi familia, el atracador no enseño la arma, pero hizo como si estuviera con una en los pantalones y nosotros, con miedo, no quisimos mirar a ver si había de hecho una arma o no. (…)Yo soy muy triste de vivir en una ciudad tan linda, tan rica, con tanta oportunidad y no poder caminar tranquila en la calle, tener un miedo constante y sentirme segura solamente en un sitio cerrado y con seguridad. Ni dentro de los autobuses o coches tengo tranquilidad. Pueden llamarme de paranoica, pero es la realidad que vivo, no puedo tener un bueno móvil porque me van atracarme y llevarlo antes que haya acabado de pagar los plazos, o unas gafas guapas, prefiero no tener un coche porque pienso que llama más la atención de los atracadores, no puedo caminar con buena ropa si voy a la universidad porque donde está, en el centro del Rio a lado de la Central do Brasil, es un sitio donde no quieres llamar la atención de nadie. Solo estoy tranquila  y segura 100% en casa y me molesta el miedo que tengo.’8

These testimonies, along with all the media and official reports show that the culture of fear in Brazil is widely spread. Therefore, the condominios fechados seem to be one of the best solutions people can find to escape from the terror, at least whilst they are at home. Pastana (2005: 183) name this gated communities as ‘aquitetura do medo’9. These arquitecturas do medo transform the cities in big walls. The terrorized population chooses to live in fortified housing, decorated with professional alarm systems, cameras, and security men who are armed. People are afraid to use the public spaces and avoid going out at night times. Pastana(2005:185) observes that people chose to do activities indoors even in the weekends. They would rather watch a movie, order a pizza, talk on the phone and spend time on the Internet or play videogames instead of having a social active life in the public sphere of the cities.

Safety, false sentiment of safety and segregation

But how safe are these condominios fechados ?  In reportage of TV Aratu, we are told that according to the Secretaria de Segurança Pública there have been registered a number of 494 assaults in the gated communities in 2010 in Salvador de Bahia. Criminals seem to find ways to enter even these well secured residential areas. They enter the communities under false identities, claiming that they are workers, electricians and so on. Once they are in, they usually succeed in robbing the houses. Many crimes also occur around the gates of this residential areas, when people go home. The condominios fechados are in fact good targets for the thieves as they know that only wealthy people can afford to live in such areas. This is another reason for people to fail to feel secured even at homes. As a consequence, people update their security systems all the time, and if until recently the security man was not necessarily a professional guard, now people hire professional security men, armed and trained to deal with all kind of possible unwanted situations. In the programme Reporter Justiça there was a reportage called Normas de condominios , where people are told how to protect themselves better in the gated communities and we also find that there actually exists a faculty in Brazil that created a module that aims to teach people how to secure the gated communities and how become good managements of them. The condiminios fechados are a popular topic in Brazil’s media.

Another issue with the security of these residential areas is that even if the gated communities can restrain criminals to break in, people are still exposed to possible assaults when they leave their homes. As much as they try to avoid public spaces, they have to go to work or school and cannot build a whole gated world for themselves. The gated communities do not have a social diversity. The residents are living in a homogenised social group, with same socio-economic profile and the same phobia: violence.

Fernandez (2005:2) concludes that this segregation of citizens in a city leads to the destruction of the city. If people don’t participate actively in the social urban life, this can alter significantly the meaning of being a citizen. Pastana (2005:188) argues that : ‘seja como for, esses enclaves representam um espaço  que contradiz direitamente os ideas de heterogenidade, acessibilidade e igualdade que ajutaram a organizar tanto o espaço público moderno quanto as modernas democracias.’10  The question of a social segregation if very important in Brazil’s context. On one hand, we had the favelas, filled with very poor people, criminals and drug dealers, and on the other side we have the condominios fechados , occupied by middle and upper class. The public spaces are being avoided more and more often and so the question of a division of the Brazilian cities in the future is imminent. It is probably a simplistic view, but big cities in Brazil have created salient extremes and these are important factors of the segregation of the society.

People often disagree with this Brazilian urban paradox, and blame the ones who contribute to it. But there is no doubt that citizens are victims of the violence and they can’t seem to find any other option than moving in walled areas. There is a famous song called Minha Alma , song of the Brazilian band ‘O Rappa’, that sings about the situation of the condominios fechados, blame them for contributing to the segregation, but also raises a very important question : how can one , in search of the protection and freedom, isolate himself in a prison ?

As grandes do condominio/ São prá trazer proteção/ Mas também trazem a dúvida/ Se é vocé que tá nessa prisão.’11

When the victim becomes victimizer

The problem of segregation is not the only negative effect of the condominios fechados. Damaging the environment, creating discrimination, illegally occupation of public spaces in order to build new gated communities- hence violation of federal law , violation of human rights and the right of free movement and corruption are all negative consequences of the condominios fechados.

The illegal gated communities also referred to as falsos condominios fechados are not a problem of the current period of time. They have been constructed decades ago. Higashi (2011: 111) explains how the illegal occupation of public properties emerged in São Paolo. According to him, they have appeared in the 80s, when the city became overcrowded and there was no more space to host so many people. Therefore, new districts have been constructed , and some of them have been legalized. However, not all of them. Even though people blame the poor who have illegally occupied some public areas, the reality is that the condominios fechados are no exception. What makes the favelas different from the condominios fechados is that the last ones isolate the area and transform the public space into a private land. Dr Cristina Moles tells us in a documentary called Prejudice and Greed: Gated Communities- Brazil’, that the Constitution of Brazil prohibits the ownership of any public land. However, the condominios fechados , once they are built, they also set up security measurements against crimes. One of them is the installation of checkpoints and security guards who don’t allow any ‘suspect’ to walk in. Thus, these condominios fechados, apart from being built informal or illegally, also generate more violation of laws. People are not given permission to walk on a land that is public , thus, is for everybody’s use. Dr Cristina Moles also explains to us how this is possible. Once a developer buys an ‘empty land’ he asks the prefecture to provide with infrastructure and street lights. Consequently, he also asks for permission to put checkpoints at the main entrance, under the pretext of security. From then on, the residents take over the land and make their own rules. The State doesn’t intervene because it’s convenient to have less responsibility. And moreover, since corruption is still a great problem in Brazil’s society, the rich can usually make their way. As Lima (2009:6) says : ‘A ilegalidade não é privilegio das clases baixas, também os ricos a produzem’.12

In the documentary mentioned above, we find how people are being discriminated and forbidden to use the public beach. One of the victims, a fish men, tells how affected his life has been since the condominios from his area were built. Since he is a fishmen, he makes a living from fishing and so he is able to provide for him and his family. But the security guards of those condominios don’t allow him to pass through to get to the beach. The problem here is clear: the victims become victimizers and violate the law of free movement and human rights.

Environment is another victim of the condominios fechados. An illustration of this would be another example given in the documentary ‘Prejudice and Greed:Gated Communities-Brazil’. In one of the condominios, the president of the neighbourhood association of housing subdivision interdicts the garbage truck to enter the area. Therefore, the solution they found was creating a new collecting point, outside the condominio. As a consequence, the pollution of the garbage accumulated there from 65 families, damages the surrounding area.

All these violations are the result of the self-segregation that these condominios fechados produce. If at first the inhabitants of the condominios fechados were victims of the violent Brazilian society, one can observe how in some cases the roles are changing and they are the ones who generate social, economic and environmental issues. It is a vicious circle that only causes more alteration to the society of Brazil, and one can even argue that there is a civil war between the rich and the poor.


The culture of fear exist in all big cities and one of its consequences are the construction of the isolated residential areas , that are the gated communities. Middle and upper class people move to the periphery of the cities in search of a safer place. The gated communities are very well secured through different way. In the case of Brazil , the gated communities are more and more popular. Being a country with one of the highest rates of crimes, society is infected with the fear of violence. Thus, those who can afford, move in the condominios fechados and try to protect themselves as much as possible from the crimes. Since violence is a reality in the Brazilian society, we cannot say that the terror of fear is generated from imaginary situations or paranoia. However, we have seen that the condominios fechados are not as safe and nevertheless they are not a solution for the violence. Instead, it creates more violence through self-segregation, violation of laws, discrimination and damaging the environment. Big cities in Brazil have become, as Caldeira (1996) names them , ‘Cidade de Muros’.13


  1. The gated communities deny the principles of a democratic urban life
  1. I don’t know if it’s a solution for the personal safety but it is certainly a way of feeling safer when you come home at night, you have the sensation that your family are protected from any bad things. Vigilance became nowadays a way of feeling safe since there are CCTV , people watching all the time what is happening on their surroundings, which makes you liberate yourself from that worry of always being aware.
  1. No, because if the robbers want to they will find a way, just how they did it millions of times in Rio and Sao Paolo,(…) I think that the gated communities are safe , but apart from that they also provide services such as transport, gym, swimming pools.
  1. 4.Proudly
  1. I have already been attacked twice in my life
  1. I have never been approached by anyone but I have been robbed a few times. One of my biggest fears is to be around an attack, I don’t know how I’d react or how the criminals would react.
  1. I have already been a victim of an attack. I was robbed.
  1. I was victim of 2 attacks in 4 months, one of them very violent with 3 attackers having a gun pointed to my head, while I was walking on the street on a Sunday at 19:30 , 200 meters away from my house which is in a nice district of Rio, Barr da Tjuca. The other attack happened when I ws in the car with my family and even though the attackers didn’t show their weapon they were acting as if they had one, and we were so terrified that we didn’t even want to see if he had one or not.(…) I am very upset because I live in such a beautiful city, so rich and with so many opportunities and I am not even able to walk on the streets without having a constant fear and only feeling safe in a closed place with security systems. I don’t even feel safe in buses or cars. You can call me paranoid but is the reality I live in. I can’t have a nice mobile phone because they’ll attack me and take , or I can’t have some nice sun glasses, I prefer not to have a car because I think it will draw the attention of the attackers, I can’t wear good clothes if I go to college because my college s situated in the centre of Rio, next to the Central do Brasil, a place where you don’t want to draw the attention to anybody. I am only 100% safe if I am at home and it really bothers me being so afraid.
  1. Architectures of fear
  1. No matter how you put it, these gated communities represent a space that contradicts directly the ideas of heterogeneous-ness, accessibility and equality that help organizing both the public spaces and the modern democracies.
  1. The iron grating around the condominios serve to bring protection , but it also bring a question : is it not you who is in a prison?
  1. Illegalities are not only the privilege of the poor but also the rich are abusing of them.

13. City of Walls



  • Arantes, Rafael de Aguiar 2009 Qualidade de Vida ou Fortificações: o significado dos condomínios fechados em Salvador. Revista VeraCidade – Ano IV – Nº 4  pg 1-12
  • Bogus , Lucia Maria Machado ; Pasternak , Suzana 2004 A cidaded do extremos, XIV Encontro Nacional de Estudos Populacionais, pg 2-29
  • Caldeira, Teresa Pires do Rio

1996 Enclaves Fortificados : a Nova Segregação Urbana. Public Culture, 8(2), 1996: 303-328

  • Dornelles. João Ricardo 2006 O desafio da violência, a questão democráticae os direitos humanos no Brasil. Direito, Estado e Sociedade 9 (29) : 213 a 221
  • Fernandez, Fernando Lannes 2005  Os discursos sobre as favelas e os limites ao direito à cidade.  Published in Cidades (Presidente Prudente: Grupo de Estudos Urbanos, 2(3): 37-62
  • Falzon, Mark Anthony  2004 Paragons of Lifestyle:gated communities and the politics of space in Bombay. City & Society,16( 2) :145–167
  • Grant, Jill 2005 The Function of the Gates: The Social Construction of Security in Gated Developments. The Town Planning Review,  76 (3): 291-313
  • Hermann, Carla Guimarães ‘Breve discussão acerca do uso do espaço urbano: a dicotomização público x privado e a problemática da autosegregação nas metrópoles brasileiras através dos condomínios exclusivos e dos shopping centers.’ The text was elaborated in the “Desenvolvimento Urbano e Planejamento Urbano Crítico”, ministrated by Programa de Pós-Graduação em Geografia da UFRJ by Prof. Dr. Marcelo Lopes de Souza
  • Higashi , Marcio Santiago 2011 Occupação Irregular e Criminalidade na Região da Serra da Cantareira . Revista do Laboratório deEstudos da Violência da UNESP/Marília, Edition 8 , pg 107-15.
  • Kuppinger, Petra 2010 Os condomínios residenciais fechados e a reconceitualização do exercício da cidadania nos espaços urbanos. 7: 95-108
  • Levy, Dan Rodriguez 2010 Os condomínios residenciais fechados e a reconceitualização do exercício da cidadania nos espaços urbanos. 7: 95-108
  • Lima, Daniela Batista 2009 Do Medo a Violéncia á ‘Condominirização’ das Cidades Brasileiras. XIII Encontro da Asociação Nacional de Pos-Graduação e Pesquisa em Planejamento Urbano e Regional, Brasilia. Pp 1-21
  • Low, M. Setha 2001 The Edge and the Center: Gated Communities and the Discourse of Urban Fear. American Anthropologist, 103( 1): 45-58
  • Low, M. Setha 2010 Claiming Space for an Engaged Anthropology: Spatial Inequality and Social Exclusion. American Anthropologist, 113( 30): 389–407
  • Low, M. Setha 2009 Maintaining Whiteness : The Fear of Others and Niceness. Transforming Anthropology,  17( 2)  79–92
  • Pastana, Debora Regina 2005 Cultura do medo e democracia: um pradoxo brasileiro. Revista Medições Londrina, 10(2): 183-198
  • Schollhammer, Karl Erik 2007 “Breve mapeamento das relações entre violência e cultura no Brasil contemporâneo”.  Estudos de Literatura Brasileira Contemporânea, nº. 29. pp. 27-53.

Online Resources

•           Fronteira Urbana – Condomínios Horizontais

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uBYFN7LU3eQ, Accessed on 14.01.2013

•     Human Right Watch, World Report 2011 : Brazil

http://www.hrw.org/world-report-2011/brazil , Accessed on 18.01.2013

•           Insegurança nos condomínios fechados

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8xDNcrQ0pik , Accessed on 14.01.2013

•           Moradores de condomínios trocam porteiros por vigilantes

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w56GCz7psGc    Accessed on 14.01.2013

•  Por que morar em condomínio fechado?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GQEcX614YWo, Accessed on 14.01.2013

•           Prejudice and Greed: Gated Communities – Brazil.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TXqP_iR3gkc , Accessed on 14.01.2013

•           Repórter Justiça – Normas de condomínio (14/04/12)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lExUWyrtcg0, Accessed on 14.01.2013

By Larisa Sioneriu