News / Americas

Violence Rattles Rio Slums as World Cup Nears

An aerial view of the Mane Garrincha National Stadium (R) and the Convention Center Ulysses Guimaraes in Brasilia, Brazil, Jan. 20, 2014.
An aerial view of the Mane Garrincha National Stadium (R) and the Convention Center Ulysses Guimaraes in Brasilia, Brazil, Jan. 20, 2014.
Reuters
Daily shootouts are unsettling two of Rio de Janeiro's slums, communities that until recently showcased attempts to pacify the historically violent shantytowns.

Just five months before Rio welcomes visitors for the soccer World Cup, and two years before it hosts the Olympics, the communities of PavIao-PavIaozinho and Cantagalo are bracing for what residents fear is the return of a decades-old turf war involving armed drug gangs, cops and robbers.

The communities, sprawls of bare brick on hills near the prosperous beachside districts of Ipanema and Copacabana, are among the most emblematic of Rio's favelas, as the slums are known. The two favelas were hailed by authorities as triumphs in a campaign to expel crooks using a strong police presence.

Lately, though, violence in both favelas is rekindling.

“We really thought things had gotten better here,” said Alzira Amaral, president of the neighborhood association of PavIao-PavIaozinho, a dense wall of jerry-built homes that climb up a steep outcropping near the Atlantic shoreline.

“Now,” she added, lamenting the return of regular gunfire, “we don't know what to think.”

The pacifications were supposed to pave the way for development of long-neglected areas of Rio, Brazil's second-biggest city and a metropolitan area home to 11 million people. Local authorities, cocksure during a decade-long boom that fizzled just as the pacifications took root, promised to free the favelas from criminals and reverse decades of neglect.

Culture of violence

To date, 36 areas have been “pacified.” Over 9,000 police patrol favelas home to 1.5 million. Initial success in evicting the gangs was applauded but the pacifications have also been criticized for merely displacing crime to other neighborhoods.

And recently, the crime, along with growing unease, is creeping back into pacified zones. Residents who once welcomed the cops are increasingly disappointed by what they see as a lack of crucial public investment that was supposed to follow.

Meanwhile, police face a backlash in occupied favelas because of oppression, violence and other alleged human rights abuses. Corrupt officers in Rocinha, another well-known slum, were arrested last year for the torture and disappearance of a local bricklayer they claimed had ties to drug rings.

Sensing the growing discontent, drug traffickers have ordered gangs to reconquer territory.

“The criminals believe now is the time to strike back,”  said Alba Zaluar, an anthropologist at the State University of Rio de Janeiro. “With tension and anger in these communities it's easier for gangs to go back and impose themselves through a tried and true culture of violence.”

PavIao-PavIaozinho and Cantagalo, home to more than 10,000 residents between them, were “pacified” in 2009. Residents awoke one morning to the arrival of hundreds of armed police who set up a base in the area and have patrolled it ever since.

For three years, their presence raised hopes that the communities were indeed ripe for transformation - despite the open sewers and intermittent water and power supplies.

Last October, an armed gang confronted police on patrol in VietnIa, a restive cluster of shacks among trees near the PavIao-PavIaozinho hilltop. In a shootout, police killed one suspect  and injured another, the alleged leader of the resurgent drug faction. The leader, known locally as “Pit Bull,” is believed to be recovering there but police don't know for sure.

Sporadic firefights followed the October shootout until earlier this month, when gang members and police began clashing daily. In addition to gunfire, the neighborhoods now ring regularly with blasts from homemade pipe bombs and grenades.

On Friday police killed a suspect they said was a Cantagalo drug kingpin. Gang members, using a routine tactic from the bad old days, the next morning descended upon Ipanema and ordered shops to shut in tribute to their fallen comrade.

Lt. Fabio Azevedo, subcommander of the pacification unit in the two communities, said the flare-up is a function of supply and demand. With few hideouts remaining near tourist haunts, gangs are re-establishing footholds from which to sell drugs.

“They are trying to come back, but we are not going to let them,” he told Reuters.

You May Like

Conflicts Engulf Christians in Mideast

Research finds an increase in faith-based hostilities, and Christians are facing persecution in a growing number of countries in the region More

Chinese Americans: Don’t Call Us 'Model Minority'

Label points to collective achievement, but some say it triggers resentment, unrealistic expectations More

Iran Bolsters Surveillance of Phones, Internet

Does increased monitoring suggest the government is nervous? More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
X
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Polish Ghetto

When the Nazi army moved into the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

AppleAndroid

More Americas News

Shortage-weary Venezuelans Scoff at Fingerprinting Plan

Proposal on food sales sparks backlash ranging from violent street protests to social media campaigns ridiculing the idea
More

Rescuers Contact 20 Miners Trapped in Nicaragua Gold Mine

Two miners have been rescued, others are believed to be alive
More

Brazil Enters Recession in Pre-election Blow to Rousseff

Experts say left-leaning policies have dented consumer and business confidence and caused heavy losses for financial investors
More

Peru Drug Bust Seizes Record 6.5 Tons of Cocaine

Police arrest 7 Peruvians, 2 Mexicans suspected of trying to smuggle load to Europe as coal
More

New Brazil Poll Shows Silva Beating Rousseff in Runoff

Outcome seemed unimaginable just a few weeks ago; would put an end to 12 years of Workers' Party rule
More

Argentina Desires Deal Grouping All Holdout Investors Together

A deal is now not seen likely before next year's October presidential election, in which Fernandez cannot run
More