Panorama View of Rocinha
I went on a tour of Rocinha in Rio de Janeiro. Rocinha is the biggest â€śfavelaâ€ť in all of Latin America. Favela is the Brazilian term for a shanty town or ghetto. The reported population of the neighborhood is in between 200,000 to 300,000. This is not the favela from the movie City of God, however part of it is used for the documentary entitled News from a Personal War. First I felt strange going on the tourâ€¦generally tourists should not be viewing a poor neighborhood as a third world epcott center. However, a few facts turned me onto the tour:
- We would not be in a safariesque bus observing the wild; we would actually walk through the favela for 3 hours.
- Part of the money goes to a day care center (even though it was originally advertised as a school).
- I am a history teacher, and I do specifically teach about the favelas in terms of urbanization and government corruption.
So after my moral contemplations were through, I paid the $60 reals ($30 USD), jumped on the back of a mototaxi, and was off to the top of Rocinha. The favela is ethnically diverse and sits between mountains with a middle class neighborhood resting at itâ€™s base. Throughout the years, people have built shacks up the side of the mountain, and due to the terrain, there are very few streets. Gangways stretch for miles and serve as pedestrian streets. We took the mototaxis up to the top through one of the few streets, and walked down through the endless gangways.
We had an excellent guide named Luis. Believe it or not, we were able to bring our cameras and take pictures. As we prepared to enter the labyrinth of the gangways, Luis told us to put our cameras away. One of the heads of the Amigos dos Amigos (A.D.A.) gang was standing guard atop one of the main pedestrian streets. After we passed him we saw the gun hanging from the back of his shorts. Luis has permission from the ADA to run his tours in Rocinha. The leaders know him and actually view the tour as a positive for the community, as it brings money into the neighborhood and allows the regulars to view tourists. As we walked down, we encountered lots of kids and families living their daily lives; people hanging out on stairs/stoops, kids joking around, some playing the drums on buckets, other would sell trinkets. We passed artists shops, restaurants, bars, bakeries, video game houses all set up in this strange environment. It makes you remember that despite the gangs and ultra violence, regular people live here whom just scrape by to live. Overcrowding, illegal electric and water lines ran everywhere, occasionally garbage piles, gave it a feeling of a teenagers messy bedroom.
Just way too much shit and people piled on top of each other. Sometimes I would encounter broken concrete with some sort of vile sewage laced water flowing down. Brazil allegedly did not put in water lines or electricity until the early 1990â€™s. Luis told me that most that kids occasionally die from falling off the roof tops (they serve as backyards and gardens, as they are the only free space with consistent sunlight).
Rocinha, one of the biggest favelas in Brazil
On certain days Luis can not run his tours. When the special forces SWAT team attacks the favelas, the look outs light fireworks, and the signal is for the gangs to prepare for war. Brazil has its own special police force for the favela called the BOPE. Remember, very few cars can get in or out of the favela, and the gangways stretch for miles. It really is urban warfare.
The author of City of God asks, why does Brazil accept this? If you look at the murder rates of Rio de Janeiro, it is often more than what was called in the last South American War ďż˝ďż˝" for the Falklands, yet it does not receive the needed solutions.
What does the Brazilian government do in order to assist the poor.
R$ 400 a month = average favela dweller salary = 200 USD
R$ 350 a month = Brazilian minimum wage = 175 USD
R$ 500 a month = average Rio de Janeiro street sweeper salary = 250 USD
R$ 800 a month = average copacabana dweller salary (good neighborhood) = 400 USD
In terms of social security, Brazil has a form of unemployment and I believe something for the elderly, but that is it. Now let me list of services entitled to the poor of the USA: Housing (section 8), food stamps (link card in Illinois), state welfare check, and sometimes medical care (I coach in the city, and have a number of kids that receive free health care). Despite all of this, why do we have some neighborhoods here in the USA, that are comparable to Rio in terms of violence, drugs, and gangs. We receive much more government assistance, but the problem is still not fixed. We do lack the homeless street kids (rent the movie Bus 174).
Rio has three main factions of gangs, the Amigos do Amigos (A.D.A., or friends of friends), Comando Vermilho (C.M., or red command), or Terceiro Comando Puro (T.C.P., or pure third command). In Chicago, think of the Peoples and Folks. The gangs will control certain favelas and all of the drug trade that enters and exits it. The actually do provide a large amount of money to the community, as you can see, the government is lacking in it. Large amount of murders will occur when one of the gangs attempts to take over another favela. It was very interesting and sad to see. Rio supposedly cleaned up their streets for the Pan American Games, and it did seem safer from my previous experience five years ago. I bet you now that the Pan Am games are over, all of the street kids are back on Copacabana.