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Rio, Brazil: Rocinha Sings for Peace

 Rio, Brazil: Rocinha Sings for 
  Peace

Hoping to bring a semblance
of normality back to the Rocinha
shantytown, in Rio, some Brazilian music big shots joined
forces to promote Rocinha Is More. The event brought
together members of the favela’s community with outsiders
with one aim: to ask for peace in the embattled community.
by: Tom Phillips

Brazzil
Picture

Weeks after being turned temporarily into a battlefield, the crowded slopes
of Rocinha shantytown were transformed into a giant amphitheatre on Friday
(May 21).

From a concrete rooftop
at the foot of the favela, names from across the spectrum of Brazilian
Popular Music, put on a free show calling for peace in the troubled community.
Hundreds of residents took to their roofs to watch the concert.

"I know that life
should be better and will be," sang crooner Fafá de Belém,
facing out onto the cascading terraces of redbrick houses, reminiscence of
theatre stalls. "But this doesn’t stop me from repeating it’s beautiful,
it’s beautiful, it’s beautiful."

Alongside the popular
singer, rapper Gabriel, O Pensador and other local groups reinforced the message. "We’re
here to show the authorities that we demand respect and that what we want
is to pass on good things: peace, culture, the joy of life. Like Fafá
sung, life is difficult but it’s beautiful," he said. 

Not everybody shared this
optimism. "Is the war over? No, by the contrary, it’s only just
started," sung one local rapper.  "And Rio de Janeiro
the stage on which it is set." 

The event, Rocinha É
Mais (Rocinha is More), was organized by Viva Rio—an NGO dealing with
violence—in partnership with amongst others the local rapper Weelf da
Rocinha.  

Weelf’s forthcoming album
To win or to lose—from which he performed tracks—provides
a snapshot of favela life in Rio de Janeiro. One track, "Fábrica
de Marginal" (Criminal Factory) describes how Rio’s favelas provide
a constant recruiting ground for the city’s drug gangs.  

It is a reality Weelf—raised
in the community since the age of two when his family arrived in Rio from
Bahia—knows better than most. 

Weelf, or Carlos Weelf
Teixeira Brito, was in the street near his aunt’s house deep in Rocinha when
the invasion began on Good Friday.  

"This woman came
around the corner on a motor-taxi screaming that the guys were invading. At
first nobody believed it. I thought, `Shit she must be joking’. But then everybody
started running for cover in their houses. 

Rocinha, widely known
as South America’s largest slum, had been expecting the invasion for months.
In February its former drug lord, Dudu, escaped from prison and began recruiting
an army to reclaim his patch.  

But the advance warning
did not make the attack any less terrifying when it finally came. Automatic
weapon fire lit up the night sky as a group of 60 heavily armed bandits stormed
into the community. 

"I stayed indoors
listening to the shots down below and then closer by," remembers the
26-year-old rapper. "I thought about how many innocent people have
already died, if anyone I knew had been killed. I thought about how easily
bullets pass through the walls around here." 

Weelf says part of the
blame lies with the media.  "The press were stupid. They put
in the papers that the drug trade here is worth R$40 million, which of course
it isn’t, and the others rival drug traffickers got jealous… These guys
just think about money." 

Six weeks on from what
is known as the "Holy Week War", the uncertainty in his voice captures
perfectly the mood in Rocinha. "I think it’ll be difficult for him
[Dudu] to come back. I don’t think the police will allow it. But nothing is
impossible."  

Though police arrested
the brother in law of Dudu last week, the scent for Rio’s most wanted man
seems to have gone dead. Some believe corrupt police are keeping him in a
safe house. 

Rubem César Fernandes,
coordinator of civil rights group Viva Rio, shares Weelf’s frustration.  "This
is going on too long," he said looking out from a concrete rooftop in
the centre of Rocinha. "People have been dying here since January."

Joining Hands

Hoping to bring some semblance
of normality back to the community, Fernandes and Weelf, joined forces last
week to promote Rocinha É Mais. The event brought together members
of Rocinha’s community with outsiders with one aim: to ask for peace in the
embattled community.  

"The expectative
is that today will be a marking point in overcoming this phase of the conflict,"
said Fernandes. "I think there is a general consensus about the
need to have police here to prevent another invasion." 

However, the Viva Rio
coordinator raised serious questions about the policing of the community. "The
situation is madness, a kind of Babel. There are 25 different battalions working
here. Some of the officers take 7 hours to arrive here, coming from the Baixada
Fluminense, Magé, Alcântara, the East Zone." 

"There is no central
command. You don’t have adequate control and this leaves the system open to
all kinds of abuses."  He praised the recent moves to bring
social projects to the area, but said alone that would not be enough. 
"This is all important but without first solving the problem of violence,
you won’t be able to solve anything." 

Rapper Gabriel, O Pensador,
criticized Rio’s governors for the current security crisis. "Unfortunately
I’ve never had the chance to speak well of [Security Minister Anthony] Garotinho,"
he said. 

"Like Fafá
sung, life is difficult but it is also beautiful," he added, breaking
into an impromptu chorus of Gonzaguinha’s "O que é, o que é"
with Fafá de Belém. 

Weelf painted a more pessimistic
image of the community, currently dominated by one bloc within the Comando
Vermelho drug faction.  "The solutions that the authorities
give to us are traffickers or thieves," he rapped to a crowded Valão
(the road by which sewage runs out of the community), one of the more dangerous
parts of Rocinha, which becomes an open-air cocaine market after dark. 

His words were underlined
moments later when, with hundreds of locals looking down on the spectacle
from all over the community, one of the organizers offered a chilling tribute
over the PA system.

"Distance allows
us to feel saudade (longing) but not to forget."  It was
the same homage left at the grave of Rocinha’s former drug lord, Luciano Barbosa
da Silva, killed by police last month. Perhaps a coincidence, or perhaps not.


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
tominrio@yahoo.co.uk.

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