Letter to the Editor

I read the article “Favela Living: A Vidigal Viewpoint” with some apprehension.

It made me feel a bit uncomfortable… If a foreigner comes here as a tourist or business executive (the typical “gringo”) and thinks that it is safe in the favelas. Say he goes to live and play in a favela, and, God forbid, gets killed by the drug dealers and the criminals in these areas, how would you justify an article like this?

I know some gringos think it is “charming” inside the favelas. There are “favela tours” that are acceptable to do during the day time (these guides know very well what to do and what not to do), and there are favelas that have UPP’s. But favelas are favelas, and there are still favelas that have not yet been “pacified” by the new police who are working to enhance the safety of the areas.

Many of these areas are really not safe as they have a police presence but are still controlled by a criminal element. This is acceptable in this transition for the normal Brazilian favela-resident that is secure, but middle-class gringos that go to live there without understanding that their life can depend on the mood of the drug dealers?

This is another, more concerning story. Do you think a girl can say “no” to a drug dealers when he wants her to be his “girlfriend” for example? The culture of the favela is still the same with or without a police presence.

I know many stories, even for someone to find an unfortunate gringos body can be very hard when it is thrown off the cliffs in the top of the hill down in the trash. I know people that have needed to go to look for their friends body in this trash at Vidigal (this was not a gringo so it didn’t even make the Rio’s evening news).

I know of a guy who lived in Rocinha, he is wealthy and owns properties and lived in the favela. He went back to his home with a lot of legitimate cash money in his pocket. The police, of course, were suspicious of this behavior, and thought that he has something to do with drugs.

Given normal life in the favelas, why else would a guy be there with a large sum of money in his pocket? He lost the money, got beaten up by the police. They turn his room upside down looking for drugs. Well, he does not live in a favela anymore… And still I would like to say that he was lucky!

Some months ago one of my staff was robbed and tried to run after the robbers into a favela to get his documents back. The drug dealers took him to the top of the hill to kill him to solve this particular problem. He had the good fortune to know a respected person that lived in the favela.

The drug dealers sent a guy to check this and brought this old man with them to see if it was his old friend. Thank heavens it was good, and probably what saved his life was that this old man was home and went there to ask to let him go. Would this likely happen to a foreigner?

This would help no one. We want to assist people to understand that peace and safety will come with time and a great deal of concerted effort by us all…gringos and local alike.  We do not need to have uninformed tourists threatened here.

This can only create problems with gringos and this could be on the world news telling about how brutal this gringo was killed in Rio (not what they want to show now with World Cup and Olympics soon coming). There are examples of local firms being sued for negligence and this could rise as the State/Government see us doing ignorant and callous things because of a simple mistake or a lack of understanding.

My advice is to be careful and include all the facts. Of course people that works with charity projects is safer and they have locals helping them to be safe, I do not want the effect that nobody tries to improve the life in this favela areas (neither visit them with organized tours), I just want us to be very careful of telling it is safe to live in a favela in general.

Best Regards
Hakan Olsson


  1. in general favelas are dangereous, in particular they can be way safer then copacabana….. i am living for 1,5 years in Vidigal.


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