Monday, November 14, 2011

Rio and Rocinha

No one was less surprised than me (except maybe this gal, and this gal) to learn that Rio's police executed a swift takeover of Rocinha last weekend. It had been coming for a while now, and with previous raids on other favelas in the lead-up to the World Cup and the Olympics, it was only a matter of time before they went into Rocinha. In fact, I'm surprised it took them this long, considering the favela's position smack up against one of Rio's most affluent and touristy neighbourhoods.

Although I found the articles on the subject to be well-written overall, I thought it interesting that the tone of the media should indicate such surprise at the fact that the police were met with very little resistance. Yes, there were the drug lords, but what other resistance were they expecting, really? Whole families coming out of their homes with guns blazing? Anyone who's ever been inside Latin America's so-called biggest slum knows that many people who live there get up every morning and go to work to earn a living as cleaners, maids, security guards, and street vendors among others. Jobs like these pay precious little, and it's not for lack of hard work that many families can only afford to live in a favela. Indeed Rocinha is expensive by most favela standards, with electricity, running water and TV.

Having lived in almost a year in Rio de Janeiro, and been to Rocinha on more than one occasion, I know very well that the favela has its share of problems. And these problems aren't likely to disappear anytime soon, even with police presence. You can chic the favela up all you like, you can talk about favela de luiz, favela culture, favela fashion, favela funk. You can send tourists up the sprawling maze of precarious structures to see for themselves, so they can say they've seen the 'real Rio'. But until the government improves its infrastructure, builds schools, sets up community support, provides health centres, and teaches proper sex education, the problem is only going to get worse. What happens when, after the Olympics, the police withdraw from Rio's favelas? I can guarantee you, within twenty four hours, the drug lords will have taken it back, and business will be booming.

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