Here and there in the barrios and the favelas, among those who have least, beat hearts of hope, fly sparks of Overcoming.- Mumia Abu-Jamal
Rio de Janeiro is the postcard city of Brazil. Itis one of the most visited cities in the Southern Hemisphere and is known for its Carnival, samba, and beaches such as Leblon. In reality, the government has tried to keep a part of this city a secret, and that too a huge chunk of it. 23-24% of Rio’s population lives in favelas and most of the dwellers are financially unstable. The buildings in favelas are made out of cheap materials, like plastic, wood, glass, and scrap. The people usually construct their houses themselves or invite their friends to help them. The residents are dependent on illegal activities for their survival. The favelas themselves are also considered illegal because the residents do not pay taxes. The residents don’t even have access to basic necessities so they come up with creative ways to meet their demands.
These regions are predominantly controlled by militias and drug cartels as people live without any oversight of public authority. Rio’s police are trained to kill this was clearly proved when in the months between January and June of 2019 the law enforcers in the state of Rio de Janeiro killed 881 people or about five per day. The majority of those who were killed belonged to favelas the death toll included gangsters but in some cases, it even included innocent civilians. The Brazilian authorities established a pacifying police unit in 2008 for the state of Rio de Janeiro which aimed to reclaim areas controlled by drug cartels they called the process of driving out cartels pacification. Pacification worked primarily in smaller favelas like Santa Marta but in larger favelas like Alemao, it didn’t work. The pacification program has failed and rather than improving the situation it has made it even worse.
The 2016 Rio Olympic Games were a disaster for those living in favelas. The Brazilian government pumped 13.2 Billion Dollars in Rio for infrastructure and by 2016 the authorities had evicted more than 75,000 civilians from favelas and bus routes from favelas to the regions where the games were being organized were abolished just to hide these favelas and their residents from visitors. The government largely ignores the needs of the favelas and the infrastructure development projects are never applied to favelas. Due to this most of the favelas function like a city within a city.
The fact these communities survive and some cases even thrive with creative means is fascinating. The people of favelas or the people of the hills as they are called in Rio have continued to survive in this battle between drug cartels and the government. The harsh favelas have been the building blocks for superstars like R9 Ronaldo (El fenomeno) who in the future became one of the best footballers ever to grace the pitch.
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