RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The attack on the foreign tourist couple that were riding in a passenger van in Rio over the weekend is a horrendous, terrible story that has shocked the world and outraged locals who use the vans to navigate the city. There are two elements that add context to the story for those unfamiliar with the Rio dynamics, and hopefully it will serve as a warning of sorts.

Stone Korshak, Editor and Publisher of The Rio Times.
Stone Korshak, Editor and Publisher of The Rio Times.

The first is how the public security situation in the city has improved in the last four years, mainly driven by the Police Pacification Unit (UPP) program occupying city favelas. These favelas – or illegal slum housing communities – had for decades been left to their own devices by the government, and drug trafficking gangs thrived.

The UPP program has had successes in some favela communities, but the pacification of some of the largest areas like Rocinha and Complexo do Alemão are an ongoing struggle. A by-product is that many criminals are being displaced from the city into the surrounding areas of the state.

The safer streets in the city of Rio, especially in upmarket areas like Zona Sul (South Zone) unfortunately can give a false sense of security to residents and travelers. An example is dealing with van drivers from outside of the city – areas like the ‘suburbs’ of Niterói – as this van was from.

The van system in Rio has like many things, grown out of the black market, as a sparsely regulated alternative to the city bus system. It is cheaper and often faster then the buses, and for locals an essential element of commuting.

Yet as they are, they are for locals, locals that know the difference of what neighborhoods they are coming and going from, and are familiar with how they should operate. For instance – I have a friend from Rocinha, and years ago she would never take vans that were from Vidigal, they were not locally known to her – and dangerous.

These particular van operators were clearly psychopaths and vile humans, no matter where they live or come from, and since being caught have also been charged with raping a Brazilian girl the week before. Fortunately they were caught before they could do anymore harm, and will likely meet a harsh end at the militia’s hands (the illegal organizations that run the vans).

It may be little consolation for the victims though, and all our sympathy and condolence goes out to them.

Rio vans are an important part of the city's transportation, yet are largely unregulated.
Rio vans are an important part of the city’s transportation, yet are largely unregulated.


  1. Stone, I really must object to your “illegal slum housing communities” definition of favelas.

    Favelas are legal. They don’t exist outside the law. In fact the favelas you cite – Rocinha, Complexo do Alemão and Vidigal – have all been official city neighborhoods since 1993. In other words, in the same official category as Ipanema and Copacabana.

    The word ‘slum’ is here and widely used elsewhere as a term for informal settlement. The word actually specifically refers to conditions of squalor, dirt, destitution and unpleasantness. Anyone who’s visited a favela, including your good self, can attest that they are vibrant, functioning communities that are full of life and activity. The word slum is inaccurate and misleading.

    I’m not sure what the word ‘housing’ is doing here. All communities have housing. Do you mean ‘slum housing’? As in shanties? The overwhelming majority of houses in Rio’s favelas are made of brick, cement and reinforced steel. They are well built because they are built by the people most interested in them being well built – the people that live in them.

    Favelas are favelas. You can refer to them without falling back on lazy, inaccurate stereotypes. The continued use of words like ‘slum’ as synonymous with ‘favela’ only reinforces the stigma that they are places of abject poverty and squalor. This is unfair both on the communities, who suffer enormously with this stigma, and Rio Times readers, who deserve to be more accurately informed.

  2. All good points Felicity, you are right of course. Yet as you know, they started as squatter communities and for most of favela history there was no taxes paid, etc. Only recently some of the larger, better organized favelas have become ‘regularized’ and thankfully being provided some government support and services. As far as the condition of the homes, of course that runs a wide range, but as you say, the ones I’ve been to are all brick. My short (lazy?) description fell far short of complete, and I am sorry for that. Thanks for reading and commenting, all the best.

  3. I see the PC Brigade are out in force again! So what if the Publisher/Rio times referred to illegal slum housing as favelas!

    Not the biggest issue here is it !

    Getting back to the point,2 foreign tourists were riding in a van in Rio and were subjected to a horrendous act(raping,kidnap,etc)a terrible story that has shocked Zona sul and outraged locals, and all some people can do is go around correcting peoples tearms for ”slums” & Faveles”

    Maybe if some people put there engery into shining a light on this issue and letting more people know that this sort of stuff happends, we as a human race could help prevent this from happing again!

  4. In my opinion, the lack of Police control and enforcement led to the attacks, and rape on the van in zona sul. The vans run un-regulated. They race and speed down the streets and the police do nothing. The drivers do this because they know they can get away with it, because they know the police are not working! Period. So, the solution is to do away with vans in zona sul? Now the people suffer more because there’s not enough buses to transport people around.


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