From Inside a Government Occupied Favela in Rio

Rio de Janeiro is more than just beaches, warm weather, expansive views, and beautiful people.

One of our new guides, Stewart Alsop III, has an amazing story to share that shows the side of Rio that many people live their everyday lives in but travelers don’t necessarily get to see. He is currently starting an adventure paintball company and living in a favela that will be occupied by the government. He decided stay and develop a business, bringing travelers and adventure seekers to this world. He hopes that people on the outside can get a different point of view than that offered by mainstream media.

He’s chronicling his time there, and here’s a snippet from his blog:

For the past four months I have been living in an unpacified favela, known as Vidigal, located on a hill overlooking the richer parts of Rio de Janeiro. On Sunday, the government will invade this favela, as well as a neighboring one and attempt to establish control over the estimated 450,000 people living in these two areas. Around 2000 troops, with the support of armored vehicles and helicopters, will descend upon Vidigal on Sunday and I will be here.

For those of you that aren’t aware, favelas are informal lower-income neighborhoods that were set up by poor migrants looking for opportunities in the larger cities of Brazil. An unpacified favela is a community that is under direct political control by drug traffickers, not the central government. Almost everyday that I have lived here I see armed men without uniforms. Since Brazil received the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, the government has slowly and surely established its control over these areas in order to convince the world that it is ready to host these events.

Rio is generally seen as a dangerous city to the outside world, with some justification. My friends living in other parts of the city have been robbed on several occasions and live their lives accordingly; they don’t take out their cell phones in public and never display wealth. My experience in the favela has been completely different. I drive an expensive foreign motorcycle and have no fear of taking out my iPhone or expensive camera. This is because the dono, or leader, of the main drug gangs, enforces his law rigidly, with the help of his managers and street level enforcers. The punishments for theft or rape are harsh and swiftly administered. Unlike the police, who live on $500 a month in the 12th most expensive city in the world, these enforcers and managers are not corrupt. They too know the punishment for inappropriate behavior.

In writing this, I am trying to witness and describe the disappearance of a unique community that is full of contradictions. I have been lucky enough to experience this unique place and want to share what I know before it disappears forever. I am not trying to excuse the drug dealers or portray them in a positive light. They have chosen the life they lead. I only want to bring attention to the majority of the community who are in no way tied to the drug trade. I have lived, travelled and studied in over 45 countries and nowhere else have I encountered such a warm and charismatic people as the ones I have met here in Vidigal.

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One thought on “From Inside a Government Occupied Favela in Rio

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