RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Five, or even three years ago, the favelas of Rio were seen as independent from Brazil in terms of social inclusion, services, and certainly security. Slowly, in front of our eyes, we see it changing, the ‘pacification’, the UPPs, the urban planning and investment – it is happening – and it is called progress.
Just two years ago I personally walked past at least thirty kids in Rocinha with assault riffles smoking and chatting nervously under a cover from the rain watching the main roadway into the favela. It was my third time there, and my last.
I’ve ventured into other favelas and always saw lots of guns, big guns, shiny guns, but there was never anyone threatening me. All-in-all it was my sense that it was not personally dangerous, just a different policing or security system.
But beyond adventure for a gringo, the fact is the people that live there spent many nights sleeping on the floor for fear of stray bullets. There is no doubt that drug-dealing (and using) machine-gun-touting-teenagers does not make for a stable modern society.
Of course the question is what can replace it that is better? I have also personally seen a police shake-down for R$400 in Rio, and have no doubt the fear and distrust of Rio’s finest is well earned. Not to mention the organized crime wave of militias.
As I read all the headlines in the local media yesterday I started to see a new future being sketched out. Massive clean-up, massive investment in infrastructure, and massive development… sounded like gentrification.
The term in the U.S. refers to when wealthier people (“gentry”) acquire or rent property in low income and working class communities… the result is people can’t afford to live in the ‘old neighborhood’ anymore. Still, I suppose it is better then urban decay.
For now, Rocinha and Vidigal – the most famous favelas in Rio (or the world) – have been occupied by military and police forces without a huge fire-fight and civilian death toll. The city will be watching nervously to see how the authorities conduct themselves, and if the UPP Social can deliver on the promise of progress.