Monday, 12 September 2011

Tales from Rio

This is the stories I have been told by various cariocas, and it is so interesting to understand the favelas and how it all happened that I decided to write it down! I may be wrong so feel free to correct!
In the 60s & 70s, during the Generals dictatorship, those guys had the brilliant idea of putting common criminals mixed with political prisoners, in Ilha Grande, which used to be a big jail. They hoped that the political prisoners would be killed by the criminals…. Well, as usual the law of unintended consequences applied! What really happened was that these political criminals mixed with the local thieves and murderers and started spreading their communist/socialist ideas within the favela people.
When the dictatorship eventually came to an end, the political prisoners were released. Those guys then took refuge in the favelas where thieves and criminals were usually coming from, and  they started setting them as “socialist” states within the state. Then came the discovery that drug money would be a great source of funding.   As a result nowadays there are 2 big Traficant groups: one called the Comando Vermelho (red commando). I cannot remember the name of the other faction.  In any case favelas are controlled by one or the other.
If you live in a favela you will never be victim of crime. Petty crime, theft etc  is dealt by the drug lords… it usually involves a bullet on someone’s head… hence  a big incentive, you don’t rob your neighbour! Also the commando controlling a favela would provide lots of freebies for the locals: cable TV,  if you need money for medical treatment you would go to your local drug lord who would give you the money for treatment, etc… 
During the pacification of the Complexo El Alemao (circa 400,000 people live there) the police found about 4000 stolen motorcycles, left in streets of the complex (which include various favelas) for the locals to use.
The other side of the coin is that if one of the Traficant asks you to do something for them, you comply, you don’t argue with a guy who carries a gun!  This puts people, who live in favelas and have honest jobs, into an odd situation.  
Many cops live in favelas too, because their salary is so poor that they cannot afford to live elsewhere. This is very dangerous for them as if the local drug lords find out, they would be killed. As a result they would not even dare to wash and dry they uniform at home. Obviously, outside family members no one knows what job they do. It’s insane!
One of our teachers told us this story which happened few years ago.  She lives near to a favela, in the north of the city. Actually the favela starts at the end of her street. One Friday night, one Traficant faction invaded the favela which was controlled by the opposite group. They wanted to take control of the favela and the income from drug traffic that comes with it. The war started at midnight and continued until 8am. My friend was staying well away from windows as she could see bullets throughout the night. People from the favela, who had been going out on  Friday evening, just slept on her street and waited, as they could not enter the favela and go home!  The police was just waiting, very happy that the drug lords were killing each other. Eventually at 8am the BOPE arrived. These are the Special Forces. Within 2 minutes the war was over. Mainly because the BOPE just shoot to kill and ask questions after!  That is the reputation anyway.
Now this is just stories I hear and I find interesting.  However nowadays I don’t think that Rio is more dangerous than many other big towns. The big shoot outs occurs between drug Traficants  as it does in London and many other big towns. Unless you get involved with that sort of crowd,  this is just the sort of thing you read in the newspapers.
My friend, the one who live next to a favela, tells me that it is actually very safe for her to walk around even at night, because crime is not tolerated within and next to the favela! I know of one French girl who takes Capoeira lessons in a favela which apparently is not pacified yet. She goes there in the evening and tells me it’s very quiet.   
Locals have mixed feeling about the pacification because they lose all the help that the traficants provided and this is not replaced by the government social programs. Also the pacification itself can be very heavy handed. Apparently the BOPE was shooting at traficants from helicopters or even from the streets during the pacification of the Complexo de Alemao. Mind you the traficants have so much weaponry that even the police don’t have the sophisticated stuff that the drug lords can afford, including rocket launchers!  I was told that many mothers in Complexo Alemao, were so worried during the pacification that they took their teenage sons (involved with the drug lords I presume) to the police to be arrested because they were so afraid that the boys would be shot down instead!
On a slightly lighter note, when Amy Winehouse came to Rio, she stayed in a Hotel in the favela Santa Teresa. Apparently, just in front of that hotel is another favela where you can buy the best cocaine in town! You can draw your own conclusions… I said nothing!
That’s all for now! My Portuguese lessons and the puppy are keeping me rather busy! I leave you with few pictures:
Churrasco (=BBQ)at Thiago's house in Niteroi with his wonderful family!

BBQs in Brazil are AMAZING!

And of course more pictures of Scruffy:

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