Like most of Rio, headmaster Peter Cooper watched in horror as a weekend of
violence unraveled in Rocinhaone of the city's largest slums. A dispute
between rival drug factions finally erupted in the early hours of Good Friday,
when a small army led by Eduíno Eustáquio de Araújoor
`Dudu'attempted to storm the favela. By Sunday night, seven people
had been killed, amongst them police officers, traffickers and four members
of the public. By Monday the figure had risen to 10.
Cooperhead of Rio's
American School (EARJ, Escola Americana do Rio de Janeiro) - www.earj.com.br
- which borders on Rocinhawas worried. "We have decided to cancel
classes on Monday," he wrote in an emergency statement to parents.
Just a week earlier, police
foiled plans to invade Rocinha, using Rua Marquês de São Vincentethe
road that passes in front of the school and one of the main points of access
to the favela.
"While these confrontations
have taken place mainly on the São Conrado side of the hill and while
there have been no threats or actions against the school, we believe that
we should examine whether any additional measures need to be taken to ensure
the safety of our students and staff," read Cooper's statement.
On Wednesday, it was reported
that the schoolwhich with its high barbed wire exterior resembles a
fortress more than a place of learningwould stay closed until the weekend.
If Rocinha is, as some
say, living one of its worst moments in 20 years, the Escola Americanafounded
in 1937has also hit hard times. Last year it was forced to up security,
bulletproofing windows, after a series of nearby shootouts between police
and drug traffickers.
Brazzil has learned
that the school also plans to relocate within the next three years to Barra
da Tijuca, a wealthy beachside district, far removed from the favela.
Officially the move is unrelated to security. Yet with fees of R$ 2,500 (US$
800) a month, the school's proximity to the conflict in Rocinha is at best
According to O Globo
newspaper, some parents are even demanding the school relocate immediately
to an empty college in Leblon.
A short walk up the road
is Rocinha's Vila Olímpica. The Vila, located in the Umuarama Club,
is home to a sports project for Rocinha's younger generations. Here too the
paint-stripped gates are padlocked shut. Though the Rumo Certo (Right Direction)
project here was open on Monday, it has since closed again. Teachers who live
in Rocinha reported being unable to leave their houses, even to buy bread.
Unlike its neighbours
at the EARJ, Rumo Certo will not be relocating to Leblon any time soon. Most
of the 700 children enrolledand many of the teachersare from the
impoverished community of Rocinha and the nearby favela Parque da Cidade
The Umuarama Club has
housed Rumo Certo since 1999. It sits on the border of two very different
neighbourhoodsRocinha and Gáveawhich illustrate well the
huge gap between rich and poor in Brazil. In Rocinha you can rent a kitchenette
for as little as R$50 (US$ 16) per month, whilst a house in Gávea will
set you back around R$ 500,000 (US$ 160,000).
Formerly a sports club
for the Zona Sul's high earners, the dilapidated Umuarama complex boasts a
25-metre swimming pool, which now hosts swimming lessons for Rocinha's youngsters.
Visitors to the Rumo Certo
- www.rumocerto.org.br - website
are greeted with a quote from the poet Isabel Borja. "It is he who is
able to dribble around bad luck
that wins the game."
Despite the favela
currently being occupied by some 1,300 police, one volunteer, who also works
at Rocinha's Health Post near Street 1 (Rua 1), said the situation was improving.
"What is happening
in Rocinha is perhaps more shocking for people who don't live here or don't
have any experience of this violent reality," he said. "But it will
Community leader Paulo
César Martins Vieiraone of the project's coordinatorsdescribed
the situation in Rocinha yesterday as "calm but tense".
It is not yet known when
either the American School or Vila Olímpica will reopen. Since the
violence began last week, most local schools have closed, leaving some 10,000
children without lessons.
Tom Phillips is a British journalist living in Rio de Janeiro. He writes
for a variety of publications on politics and current affairs, as well as
various aspects of the cultura brasileira. Tom can be reached on