In September 2017, Brazil’s military was deployed to manage the chaos between rival drug gangs in the Rocinha favela in Rio de Janeiro. The violence escalated to the point where the airspace over the favela was shut down. Schools, businesses, and streets were on lockdown with residents hiding in their homes using social media to communicate the events outside. The 950 soldiers deployed to the community suspect the infamous ruling drug lord Antonio Bonfim Lopes aka Nem to be behind the violence from inside prison.
Favelas have long been known as the impoverished neighborhoods surrounding the cities of Brazil. Rio de Janeiro, the second largest city, is home to one of the oldest favelas, Providência, founded in 18971. The original favelas normally consisted of informal housing like shacks, usually made from scrap metal, woods, or other materials. They originated due to a lack of affordable housing, thus pushing poorer citizens to the outskirts of the cities.
This October, the Brazilian Forum of Public Security (BFPS) reported that in Brazil, one person is killed every nine minutes, for an average of 160 violent deaths a day, in what is considered one of the world’s most violent countries.
In Rio de Janeiro, a growing crime rate still plagues much of the city and the sound of gunshots and back-alley drug deals are not uncommon occurrences. The torture and murder of a bricklayer from the neighborhood of Rocinha has sparked protests against the corrupt police forces responsible. Despite these ongoing issues, tourists are finding themselves seeking lodging within these neighborhoods. Hotels in Rio are in very short supply and even the most basic hotels have increased their prices to $450 per night during the World Cup1.
As Brazil continues to grow and develop at an exponential rate, their famed favelas will soon be on the map thanks to Microsoft and Bing.
Having only been in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for one week, I cannot tell you very much about life here except for what I’ve observed in my short amount of time. If there’s one thing that is clear, it’s that the people of Rio want you to know that favelas aren’t dangerous. Favelas, which can only best be described as shantytowns built on the hills and mountains of the city, are also known as “comunidades,” or communities, among the more politically correct.