‘My favela was safer when it was ruled by gangs’
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Violence is part of the daily lives of the residents of Rocinha, one of Rio de Janeiro’s largest favelas, or slums. Our Observer says that the government’s widely touted ‘peacekeeping’ operation is far from a success three years after its launch in 2011, adding that the neighbourhood is plagued by shootings and robberies. She goes so far as to say that the favela was safer when it was ruled by gangs.
Rocinha is a favela with 120,000 residents in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. All of the following photos were published on the Facebook page Rocinha em Foco.
Violence is part of the daily lives of the residents of Rocinha, one of Rio de Janeiro’s largest favelas, or slums. Our Observer says that the government’s widely touted ‘peacekeeping’ operation is far from a success three years after its 2011 launch, adding that the neighbourhood is plagued by shootings and robberies. She goes so far as to say that the favela was safer when it was ruled by gangs.
On November 13, 2011, hundreds of police officers and soldiers stormed Rocinha. Backed by tanks and helicopters, the security forces aimed to rid the favela of local drug trafficking gangs. After the initial operation, the government set up a police unit dedicated to maintaining the peace (called the UPP) to help ensure the safety of the favela’s 120,000 residents and to keep the traffickers from returning.
Rio de Janeiro launched the first UPP or peace-keeping forces in 2008 with the goal of ‘pacifying’ the favelas and bringing back the rule of law and public services to these neighbourhoods. Above all, the programme was aimed at reinforcing the city’s security before the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. Roughly 40 police peacekeeping units are currently operating in Rio’s favelas.
“Three years ago, a child could walk alone in the street without fear. Today, that’s impossible”Fabiana Rodrigues, 31, has lived her entire life in Rocinha. She is the administrator for the Facebook page Rocinha em Foco.
Before the ‘peacekeeping’ operation on November 13, 2011, there were fewer thefts and we heard less gunfire and screaming. Curiously, we felt safer then, maybe because we were subject to the laws of the drug gangs: drug traffickers controlled the neighbourhoods and people were scared of them, so it was calmer.
Now, every day, people contact us through our Facebook page to say that they don’t feel safe or that they witnessed exchanges of gunfire, thefts or other crimes in the streets. There is much more violence here than before. Moreover, there is still drug dealing going on in Rocinha, and that’s why we hear gunshots. Before, a child could walk alone in the street without fear. Today, that’s impossible. We just don’t understand how this situation is possible considering that, since the ‘pacification’ of the favela, there are now policemen everywhere.
A helicopter flies over the favela.
The police don’t give us any information. Recently, we tried to speak to the commander in charge of security in Rocinha about this situation, but he never responded. People don’t feel like they can count on the police, even if it is just to report a crime.
“They had promised us they would develop public services "
What we really hoped is that this peacekeeping operation would bring more access to public services and a wider development of social projects to our Rocinha. In the beginning, a few initiatives were launched, but that didn’t last long. We are still lacking essential services – especially those for children. Our lives have seen very little improvement.
“We hear gunshots every day, but you get used to it”
Stéphanie François-Endelmond arrived in Rocinha on November 5 for a month-long humanitarian trip. The young Frenchwoman is writing a blog about her daily life in the favela, which she calls a “city within a city.”
Since my arrival in Rocinha, I have heard the sound of gunfire and grenades break out every day, at all different times of day. Even as I am speaking to you, I can hear some going off in the distance. Often, we look out the window to see where it is coming from and to see if it is getting any closer… But the gunfire often comes from the same places, and you get used to it.
Despite this, I feel like I live in rather a safe place, in the higher parts of the hilly favela. I’m not worried about being attacked. I actually feel safer here than in the more touristy neighbourhoods in Rio. When I talk to Rocinha residents, they talk about their telephone bills or the next barbeque just as much as they talk about the gunfire. I find them incredibly brave.
I first came to this favela last year as part of a tour. Our guide was a local resident who told us that he wouldn’t leave Rocinha for anything despite the violence [Editor’s note: Local tourist agencies have been running guided visits to Rocinha for the past three years.]
Six years after the UPP units were created, the government announced that the murder rate had dropped by 65% in the ‘pacified’ favelas and by 48% in all of Rio de Janeiro. However, the peacekeeping operations are still highly criticised, especially in Rocinha. UPP officers have been accused of corruption and torture. In January 2014, a team of FRANCE 24 Observers journalists went to Rio to film a special feature report, and interviewed Rocinha residents.