Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Favelas, Guns, and Drugs. It's not what Brazil is about, but it is here.

This past weekend, while TimeIrado was walking the beaches of Rio, there were other events occurring in Rio just West of the beach city in a local Favela. Favela is basically a low-low-low-income area, a ghetto, in Rio de Janeiro. They have over 200,000 people living in these favelas in Rio. And these favelas are sometimes located next to sky-scrapers and mansions, which makes the whole contrast of the situation very noticeable. The most notorious and famous one, Rocinha,  (shown in a photo below) has some of the better developed infrastructure including banks, pharmacies, bus lines, cable television. It has appeared in many movies including "City of God" and was recently portrayed in "Fast Five" (The Fast and the Furious 5, which was actually filmed in Puerto Rico but "based" in Rio).
Rocinha's Favela, located in Rio de Janeiro
Favelas have become popular tourist attractions in recent years as it has become relatively safe to visit, after paying an "entrance fee" to the territory boss. At the suggestion of many, visiting a Favela was on our list of things to do but given our timing of only 2.5 days in Rio, it was not feasible to fit into our schedule. At lunch today I learned about the events which occurred yesterday and it is most likely a good thing we did not visit the Favelas yesterday. It also provides insight into why the Police were carrying machine guns while escorting a professional soccer team out of town. You can read about the events on CNN's coverage of "Brazilian cameraman killed in drug raid gun battle" or in the text below.

(CNN) -- A Brazilian cameraman died in a Rio de Janeiro slum while covering a police raid targeting organized drug militias, police said Sunday. Gelson Domingos da Silva, 46, worked for Band TV, a CNN affiliate. He was filming a large-scale incursion by a Brazilian Special Operations Unit (BOPE) into a "favela," the Portuguese word for shantytown, or slum, when he was shot in the chest, Rio de Janeiro police said in a statement. "The Military Police deeply regrets the death of cameraman, Gelson Domingos da Silva, while expressing the most sincere sympathy to the family and all media professionals," police said.

According to a Band TV press release, da Silva was covering the operation in the Antares favela, west of Rio, as an "embedded" photographer with Rio police. Da Silva was wearing a bullet-proof vest certified by the Brazilian Armed Forces, often used by Band employees during these types of assignments, Band TV said. He was taken to a local emergency hospital but did not survive the gunshot wounds, Band TV reported. Rio de Janeiro police said the operation began early Sunday morning after intelligence reports indicated that drug lords and heavily armed groups were gathering at that site. Police said four alleged drug dealers were killed in the operation, and weapons and drugs were seized.

Dramatic images of da Silva's last moments are being shown in Brazilian media, reminding Brazilians of how dangerous it has become for journalists to cover the drug war. The Committee to Protect Journalists has "documented an alarming rise in lethal violence (against journalists) in Brazil in 2011," the group said on its website. "Four other Brazilian journalists have been killed this year, and a blogger shot and wounded," CPJ reported. "While Brazilian authorities have had success in prosecuting journalist murders, winning several convictions in recent years, the country still sees persistent anti-press violence. The October 2010 murder of a muckraking radio reporter became the country's fifth unsolved case in the past decade," CPJ reported.
Another recent article states that in a raid early in the weekend recovered 90 rounds of anti aircraft artilery, and 31 stolen motorcycles, along with 21,000 pirate CDs and DVDs, hundreds of toys, shoes and counterfeit clothing. Favelas, Guns, and Drugs. These things are not what Brazil is about, but, just like many large cities in the world they can be found here here. I want to note that there are dangers in every city you visit, especially in countries you do not speak the language. But at no time during the weekend (or the previous 5+ weeks for that matter) did I feel I was in harms way. I think when I come back to Rio I will visit the Favelas, but I also think I will call ahead first and let them know I am coming!

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