Saturday, July 31, 2010

BOPE/UPP and the taking over of Favelas

As many of you know, because of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics arriving here., the city is trying to clean up the image of Rio being a dangerous place. Statistics say that about 5-6 people a day are killed in Rio, this with a population of about 6.5 million. Most, if not all, are usually people from the favelas involved in drugs or innocent bystanders in these communities.

The UPP are supposed to be the “new” police force, a branch of the Policia Militar, who are to installed in the favelas. The idea is to get rid of the guns and violence. They know that they cannot eliminate drugs totally but they want the guns gone. There are many problems that come with this. Most communities of corse want guns and violence gone, but the problem stems in trust of the police. Favela residents, me included have no liking for the police becase of what they represent. To us they are corrupt and abusive people.

We have experienced so many years of abuse from the police even back when Brazil had the military dictatorship. Its very difficult after years of mistrust to all of a sudden expect the people to embrace the “new” police forces coming to “pacify” our communities. The police have a lot of work to do to gain the trust of the people and it will not happen overnight.

The way the police overtake a favela is they first send in the Elite Forces (BOPE) with their big skull, an armoured vehicles that drives through the favelas intimidating the residents, children included, by threatening to shoot them if they are on the street. They usually come in shooting. I think of them like trigger happy mercenaries that just want to destroy any living thing. The police usually announce they are coming beforehand to give the drug traffickers the opportunity to leave without incident. With most of the recent take overs, it has been fairly simple for the BOPE to come in and then after the UPP’s (Police Pacifying Units) are installed in the community. I often wonder if this is a temporary thing and if after the Olympics, will they leave and open up opportunity for the traffickers to return?

Once the UPP’s are there, their job is to show a presence in the community. In Santa Marta in Botofogo which has been under UPP control for over a year, there have been problems. When I went there to visit a friend, I spoke to him about the installation of the police and he felt, not much had changed in regards to them being there. Yes, the guns were gone, but drugs still were there. The safety net and security of the community that the traffickers provided was gone. People now in the favela were experiencing petty crime in the favela like house break ins and bicycles being stolen. These things did not happen when the traffickers were in control. These things are happening becase there is no punishment becase the police to not POLICE the favela. When I was there, they sat at the bottom of the hill in their car or were sleeping. I saw NO police walking through the favela trying to create a sense of dialog with the residents. My friend told me that not only petty crime but police abusing residents for no reason is still common.

I think most people, including the rich have a dislike for the police because they don’t do anything other than try to hustle bribes from mostly honest people. When I lived in the USA, I never saw this kind of thing. The police tried to police, but here they rarely do anything unless there is a cash payoff for them. This is becase they get paid so little. The police military starting salary is $1200 reais a month. I wonder where these guys live on this salary? Favelas perhaps? No wonder they extort bribes from innocents.

I live here in the favela and I fear the police more than the drug traffickers. There is something wrong with that when a law abiding citizen takes more comfort in feeling safe with a traffickers versus a police officer. There is something very wrong here. But this is our reality in the favelas of Rio.

Right now the favela is tranquil and quiet. We still have the PAC projet going on here which is why I think nothing big will happen yet. But after the government sponsored slum upgrading projet (PAC) is finished, I expect the UPP’s to make their move here. They want to clean up any tourist areas especially in the South Zone here in Rio.

It will be very interesting to see how things “go down” here in Rocinha, the largest favela in Rio with the implantation of these UPP units and if it happens. Who knows maybe the traffickers will make some sort of deal with the police. Hard to say as we can only wait and see.

For me, I am happy the way it is now as “the devil you know is better than the devil you DON’T know”

Jeep Tours Cancelled

I have written before about tourism here in the favela in previous blogs. I know that the Jeep Tours have been making tours of this favela for at least 10 years now. I remember seeing them back in 2001 but had no idea they were tours. I thought it was researchers working on specific projets here. I never really took notice of them until I started working in tourism myself. Then I started to take notice of what they do. This was important for me to know so I could offer a better experience for guests coming here.

They are a company that also does other tours around Rio de Janeiro. They are owned by a person who does not live in the favela and never did. Every now and then I would see then hire a driver from the favela, but not once did I ever see one of the tour guides from here. This is common with all the tour companies that work here. I only know 3 guides from the favela that work with these large companies. I know has 10 guides working for them and only one is from here in Rocinha.

I know in the last three months many people in the favela started to speak up more against the Jeep Tours as they felt the tour operator presented Rocinha in a not very favorable way. First, people sitting in jeeps driving through a community, especially a poor one, made the visit out to be like a safari. The second was lack of connection or interaction with the residents. I know that I felt strange when walking in my community and somebody in a jeep would take my picture. I am not a (dangerous) animal in a zoo. I am sure that if I went to this persons community and did the same thing, I do not think they would like this. I know this sounds strange but imagine if I went to your community and took pictures of you, your house, your car, your child(ren), cat, dog etc., with little or no interaction with you… get the idea I am saying now? I can speak for most here in the favela when I say, that if you come on a tour here, please make a walking tour and try to find a guide who is from HERE IN THE FAVELA. When you walk through the community, you show that you embrace our community without fear. We appreciate this! And when you use a guide from here, you will get someone who knows everything about this place and will answer your questions honestly.

So, I cannot say the whole story but these tours stopped after the death of our Vereador (Councilman) Claudinho da Academia. All I can say is that our residents association decided that it best that these tours are not allowed here anymore. And I for one, are happy that they are gone. Who’s next?

Why English

Many people write and ask me why I write in English. The main reason is because in Brazil, people do not want to read about favela life. They have no interest. Actually most Brazilians have fear of favelas or they are ashamed about them. The majority of people who want to know about life here in the favela are people who are not from Brazil. Foreigners do not have the same kind of prejudice or judgement. Te media bombards people here in Rio especially about favelas and very rarely is anything nice said about them. This is why people grow up in Brazil, having these fears.

It is a shame becase a lot of good things come from places you would not expect, like favelas. My life is far from being a paradise or perfect, but I can say that my life is good and I am thankful. I have wonderful people in my life who I value. These same people are proud to live here and not ashamed to say they live in a favela.

I know many here in Rocinha that would not admit to living here to outsiders for fear of being judged. Unfortunately, there is this classist system here where poor people who live in favelas are made out to be criminals. The media does not help as all they show on tv about favelas are negative things. No wonder the middle and upper classes have fears of us. But these images need to change. The outside world needs to know that the favela is much more than the drugs and violence. There are many good and hard working people here.

I do not think people in Rio understand but take away, Carnaval, Samba, Capoeira, Feijoada, Pagode and Brazil, especially Rio would not have a identity. Those things I mentioned are ALL from the favelas.

Everyday life

Living in the largest slum in South America has its challenges. Life is very simple here. Water is one of those daily challenges. Here in Rocinha our water tanks on the roof are filled once a week. We have a pumping station at the top of Rua 1, which gets the water from the forest deep in the woods beyond Portao Vermelho, here in the favela. In the woods this water reserve is like a fresh spring and you can drink the water from there. Once the water is pumped through pipes, you cannot drink the water.

I watch how much water I use but I always have a back up. When it rains, I put buckets on the roof to collect the rainwater. I filter the water and put it in 2 litre bottles. I save this extra water for times when there is no water. I have saved about 30 bottles, about 60 litres. In the past, I have been without water, so conserving and saving is important.

When it rains its great as our resource builds up but for those who live high up the hill it can be dangerous. Some people who built shacks up under the tract of two brothers mountain did not think about erosion or building their houses into the rock. I read yesterday that 2 barracos (shacks) and a small bar were destroyed in the favela, becase of the recent rains. If it rains more than 3 days, there is always someone’s house damaged.
In April 3 lives were lost and 6 houses completely destroyed. This happens in many favela communities.

The streets here also flood and the water running down the hill could easily sweep a small child away to their death. Garbage is also taken down the hill. I once saw a refrigerator, a desk and a motorcycle helmet “swimming” downhill. The city clean up crews are used to this here in Rocinha as all the garbage meets at the bottom of the hill very close to the rich areas. So, of corse the city cleans it as soon as they can so the rich people do not complain.