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Brazil: Why Raiding Rio's Favelas Is Not as Good as It Looks PDF Print E-mail
2009 - August 2009
Written by Russell Slater   
Friday, 21 August 2009 17:49

Police at Rocinha, Rio, Brazil Every few days the roar of helicopters passes above. It is a sound that is never far away. Sometimes it will be followed by gunshots or the sound of fireworks. Later in the evening when we catch the news on TV we are told that there are now fewer guns and gangsters on the streets. Maybe we should feel relieved or safer, happy even, but we don't, we feel dejected.

On Wednesday the Police and Drae (Office for the Repression of Firearms and Explosives) entered Pavão-Pavãozinho in Copacabana. They were looking for a gun factory. They found one, although no actual guns were found, only parts.

On the same day, they had an operation in Morro do Juramento, in the North Zone of Rio. Their goal was to find people involved with a smuggling offence last week. Again, weapons were seized, and a number of people were arrested.

In theory, the shutting down of these arms factories as well as arrests of local criminals should be a good thing, yet the cost of these actions is far greater. The media do a good job of covering up the less successful side of each operation.

A wounded man is referred to as a 'wounded bandit', arrested men are referred to by their nicknames, ingraining a sense of gangster life into their profile, and when a woman or child is shot the Police were nowhere near.

The scariest element of any news reports regarding these kinds of operations is the age of the men involved. Very rarely do they exceed 25 years. On Wednesday a number of men were shot (we are told they went to hospital, but know nothing more than this), a woman and child were shot (the Police state they never entered their community) and two men were arrested. These last two were aged 22 and 23 years old. The first of which is nicknamed 'Gordo' (Fat Man) and we are told was the general manager of arms trafficking in the favela.

This is the element which is so scary. The manager of arms trafficking is only 22 years old. For any parent, this is horrific. By the time any child becomes a teenager, there is a good chance they will be involved in the gangs in some way. This is inevitable.

There are no other successful ways of earning money in the favela; there are no shopping malls, or tourist attractions, only sale of drugs and arms. When they see the gangsters in designer clothes, driving expensive cars and seemingly untouchable within the community, this becomes their aspiration.

Now, the next time the Police enter they are in the firing line, and into a horrible circle of consequence. If the Police didn't make so many excursions into the favelas then the gangsters would have less use for the arms factories in the first place.

Of course violence would still exist between rival gangs, especially in areas such as Pavão-Pavãozinho where its close proximity to Copacabana makes it a hugely desirable spot from which to sell drugs, but it would be to a lesser extent. Fewer enemies for the gangs would mean less guns and less recruits.

Alternatives need to be found, the children in the favela need to find an alternative way of life. At the moment, the only organisations that offer this are the few NGOs which have been set-up in the communities by local people and some outside organisations.

For the situation to improve more needs to be done by the Government and the Police need to take a different method of protection and prosecution.

It is clear to all that, as it exists, it is a failed system of escalating violence, where the youngsters of Rio are being thrown into a life of crime or simply just an extra few words at the end of a news story.

Russell Slater is a journalist currently based in South America, reporting on a variety of topics including travel, culture, food and football. He keeps a blog at http://ontheroadtofindout.com and writes for a number of freelance magazines and websites.



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Comments (5)Add Comment
A great topic to debate
written by Amanda, August 21, 2009
Dear Russell Slater-
Great article! It engaged me to write a huge response, so I hope you don't mind! I agree, the "pacification" operations in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro never turn out to be a good thing. But there is one comment of yours that I don't fully agree with:

"There are no other successful ways of earning money in the favela; there are no shopping malls, or tourist attractions, only sale of drugs and arms. When they see the gangsters in designer clothes, driving expensive cars and seemingly untouchable within the community, this becomes their aspiration."

This is a common statement, but a rather simplified one. It almost depicts the favelas as being full of "almost criminals" that will be seduced by the trafficker-life by simply seeing a great pair of shoes. Although people are seduced by the money of trafficking, there are also a lot of hard workers who are not involved with trafficking in the favelas. There are many people in these communities that have created tourist attractions in the favelas (See the book: Gringo na Laje by Bianca Freire-Medeiros). There are many innovative projects going on in these communities. One that comes to mind is the Morrinho, you can see it here: http://bit.ly/N9kzR (I also wrote a blog about it here: http://bit.ly/QafSi)

The whole idea that the police go in and shoot up the place is part of a bigger problem: the politics of security in Rio de Janeiro. It is rarely a problem of those police who are actually participating in these operations (many times the police come from similar backgrounds as those they are "operating against.") The #1 problem is that the people in power don't want to stop with the war. (See the film: As Notícias de uma guerra particular") Often times the traffickers are getting the arms from the police itself.

The thought (awful as it is) behind these politics is: "If these areas are being controlled by traffickers, at least it isn't our problem."

There is another interesting thing that it going on with the gun trade. A lot of the communities in Rio de Janeiro are becoming under the control of police or ex-police, "Milícias." These are groups that go in with the statement, "We are stopping drug trafficking in these poor communities," but in fact are also violently controlling the communities and making money of their control.

Thanks for writing this article! I think it is an important topic to talk about.

Amateurish article
written by jakob, August 28, 2009
This guy doesn't know what he is writing about, and appears to be fresh off the boat. The favela problem is much more complex than that.
Thanks for adding more fuel to the fire
written by Russell Slater, August 29, 2009
Hi Amanda, I just wanted to say thanks for your comment. It's obviously a huge issue and I possibly should have left more ambiguity in some of my statements, however I just wanted to highlight the actual price on the youths who live in these favelas, and how the reporting can be completely wide-of-the-mark. I know of some of the NGOs that work in the favelas, but not of Morrinho, I will definately look into that one when I have a spare minute. I hope that by bringing any story that sheds some further light on the situation in the favelas to the public domain is a good thing, and that it will mean the debate will continue.
Russ, you need to read more and watch fewer films
written by Thaddeus Gregory Blanchette, September 06, 2009
I'm sorry to reaffirm this, Russ, but as Jakob says, your article is pretty amateurish andd very superficial. There's an immense amount of material that's been written and published about favelas in the past 50 years and you need to engage with it if you want to produce anything other than hand-wringing pablum.

It seems to me that like alot of people in your generation, if it's not on the silver screen or Youtube, it's not of any interest to you. City of God and Elite Force, for all their evident worth, are works of FICTION. Maybe you should engage with the written journalistic and social-scientific works which informed them? Just a crazy, radical thought here...

As for your shock at finding 22 year olds running arms depots, I`m surprised at your surprise. After all, your nation has 22 year olds running arms depots in Iraq, does it not? War has always been a young man`s game. you`re only discovering this now? And you think it`s any different here than in your home country?

Let me suggest that you start with the Leeds and Licia Valadares and work your way out from there. You maay be "on the road to find out", son, but life's a bit more complicated than Cat Stevens lyrics might lead you to believe.

Btw, Amanda, tourism in the favelas? Do you have any example to show us other than Rocinha?
jakob and others plz clarify
written by Zezinho, October 07, 2009
Jakob you make a comment but I would like very much to hear what you have to say..If you are going to criticize then back it up with something. I would like to read what you have to say.

I live in a favela and this life I see every day. I am not a criminal not do I use drugs. Things are not easy, but I am doing ok. But my life is not so bad of hearing or seeing bad things every day. My life is simple and manageable. I am trying to make a diference in my comunity.

There is tourism in other favelas..I know people who make tours in Chapeu Mangueira, Vidigal, Cidade de Deus, Santa Marta and Tavares Bastos. CDD,SMandTB are under control of police.

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