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Favela Santa Marta. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

sunny 27 °C


A favela, in Brazil means slum, or shanty town. It is the neighborhood that populated mostly by low income residents and well known for gang control, drug trafficking and violence including killings. All favelas controlled by group of gang members, depends what gang they belong to. In order to go to favela you would need to have local guy who lives inside to get you in, the one who knows gang and could protect you. In my case I was with Jose, who is favela's local artist, born and raised there, and guides people around. If you go alone to the favela you are risking your life.

The first favela, now known as Providência in the center of Rio de Janeiro, appeared in the late 19th century, built by soldiers who had nowhere to live. Long time ago when local people of Brazil wanted to try new life, they moved to big cities like Rio, but unable to find job and housing to rent as it was expensive they moved to the mountains and built there their own town, which is now favelas. Instead of leaving Rio, they settled in Rio with the most magnificent view of Rio anyone could dream of. Favelas are poor slums but they have the most amazing view of Rio from the top of the mountain as you can see in photos. Even millionaires in Rio do not have such an incredible view of the city.

As locals stated "Following the end of slavery and increased urbanization into Latin America cities, a lot of people from the Brazilian country-side moved to the big city of Rio. These poor and new migrants sought work in the city but with little to no money, they could not afford urban housing.[8] In the 1920s the favelas grew to such an extent that they were perceived as a problem for the whole society."

The government has to send police officers into the favela to capture drug dealers and gang members. Police in Brazil does not enter favela unless they are fully armed. Gang members of favela hate police officers and would do whatever they can to kill them or fight them. Gangs of favelas have a lot of guns then anyone in Rio combined. They control their clan, they control who can and who can not enter favela. Even to take photos in favela, I had to make sure there were no people present as some might be gangs and they could shoot with no questions asked. Photos allowed when nobody is present in front of the camera. But I was managed to zoom my camera and take some photos of local residents. Red alert.

There are so many favelas in Rio that 30% of Rio population lives in favelas, those who are poor and less advantaged. People who live in favela do not pay for housing, electricity, gas,etc. But they get money from the local government which is less then $100 per household if their kids attend schools every day. Most of the kids come to the school just to eat as food there is free. Some of them would study and some not. Most kids think that it would be waste of their time to study and have low income job to work 8 or 10 hours a day when they could simply join gang clan and become drug dealers and make more money to buy or build nice house for their parents then to study and work for less money.

Favelas became so dangerous that Brazilian government did not have enough police officers to send there as no police officer wanter to risk his/her life to be killed by gangs of favelas. During Olympic game in Rio, the Brazilian Government had no choice but pacified favela in order to avoid mass murder of tourists who would enter favelas during their visit to Rio during Olympic games. For this reason, UPP as you see on this photo, Pacifying Police Unit was established. UPP is a law enforcement and social services program pioneered in the state of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which aims to reclaim territories, more commonly favelas, controlled by gangs of drug dealers.

Santa Marta favela was the first one that was pacified as it is located closer to tourist area. Other favelas that far away from tourist areas are not pacified and very dangerous to get in. Santa Marta became knows after Michael Jackson decided to use this favela to film his music video "They don't care about us" in 1996. At that time Santa Marta was not pacified and was fully controlled by gangs. Michael Jackson had to ask gang and drug dealers permission to use that favela for his music video. Gangs provided security for Michael Jackson during filming, and they got paid. After the video, Santa Marta became popular and everyone who came to Rio wanted to visit this favela but it was dangerous until UPP was established. Today Santa Marta is partially controlled by gang members, and most famous one, CV or Comando Vermelho (dangerous Brazilian criminal organization engaged primarily in arms and drug trafficking) that tried to get full control of city from police officers, also tried to get into Santa Marta to claim their territory.

Some tour operators in Rio established local contacts with residents of favelas so they could take tourists there for tour and keep them safe but unfortunately, three month ago, one Spanish tourists (woman) was shot by police and killed in one of the favela. The rule of the favelas is when you enter your car windows need to be open so they could see who is inside. The car the woman was in had windows closed and tinted, so when UPP tried to stop the car for inspection, the driver just drove by without stopping and for security reason, UPP open the fire and unfortunately, the tourist was shot to death and died.

Favelas are interesting places. Its like your own small village, small community with its own restaurants, shops, schools, kindergartens, and music schools. People live there and go by with their daily life. But unfortunately they can be in the wrong place at the wrong time.


Posted by MikeSebastian 08:07 Archived in Brazil

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