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

Lebanese Media Unite to Support Palestinians in Gaza

Joint newscast billed as Arab world’s first unified news bulletin in support of Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip More

Photogallery Australian PM Alleges ‘Coverup’ at MH17 Crash Site

Meanwhile, Russia's ambassador to Malaysia denies plane's black boxes were opened before they were handed over to Malaysian officials More

Despite Advances in AIDS Treatment, Stigma Lingers

Leading immunologist tells VOA that stigma is often what prevents those infected with disease from seeking treatment More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Formi
X
July 22, 2014 10:26 AM
Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.

AppleAndroid

More Americas News

China's Xi Praises Close Ties with Cuba

Head of China's Communist Party hails common socialist bond between his country and Cuba as he kicks off a state visit in Havana
More

US Judge Orders Argentina, Creditors to Reach Deal

Lawyers for investors who declined to restructure bonds after country defaulted on about $100 billion in 2002 are warned that time is running out to reach a deal, avert fresh default
More

Trial Imminent for Detained Venezuelan Protest Leader Lopez

Lopez's wife, Lilian Tintori, says outside pressure needed on Venezuelan president to move case forward
More

Sex Workers Seek HIV Prevention

The Lancet publishes new series on HIV
More

Texas Gov. Perry Orders State National Guard to Border

Governor says he took extraordinary measure to help secure the border, his critics say it is a political stunt
More

Cuba Hopes for More Investment as Chinese President Arrives

Chinese President Xi Jinping begins a two-day visit to Cuba on Monday evening
More