While a new initiative by Rio’s police hopes to clamp down on
the drugs trade by occupying many
of the city’s favelas, life in
the slums is drawing foreign students these days. At Rocinha,
South America’s largest slum, 23 per cent of the residents have
a credit card and 93 per cent have at
least one TV set at home.
A US anti-terrorism program will provide Rio de Janeiro’s American School with bulletproof windows and
increased security, after a series of shootouts between police and gangs in a nearby
favela. A school representative announced the
measures, available to American schools across the world, on Monday, following a weekend of violence in South America’s
largest slum, Rocinha.
On Friday Polícia Militar (PM) entered the area as part of an ongoing fight against Rio’s drug traffickers. Residents
reported hearing machine-gun fire throughout the weekend and parents of students at the American School said bullets passed
close to the building on Friday morning.
The police actions are part of a new initiative by Rio’s Public Security secretary, Anthony Garotinho, who hopes to
clamp down on the drugs trade by occupying many of the city’s
favelas. Authorities say they have captured 100 kilos of
marijuana and arrested dozens since the operation began.
"The situation is out of control and to try and deny this is to deny reality," admitted Garotinho earlier this year.
But according to some, Rio’s former governor is doing little to control the violence. "It never stops, no matter what
they do," said one Rocinha resident who was kept awake for much of the weekend by the sound of gunshots.
The Escola Americana (EARJ) has over 1,000 pupils, including 195 Americans and students from 19 other
countries. The school, founded in 1937, underlines the divide between Brazil’s rich and poor. Well-off
cariocas pay up to $17,000 a year for their children to study at the private school in the wealthy borough of Gávea. This is more than 20 times, what
many of Rocinha’s 200,000 inhabitants will earn in twelve months.
Yet despite the continuing violence, Rocinha’s image is changing. As well as being the continent’s largest slum, it is
also one of the most developed. It has two banks, two radio-stations, two bus-routes, two supermarkets, three nightclubs,
three of its own newspapers and a Website
The community is even starting to attract foreign students and young professionals. Doug Fischer, a 38-year-old
American student, has lived there on and off for the last two years.
"There is a tremendous sense of community that just doesn’t exist in somewhere like Copacabana. Young people are
moving in because they can live here fairly inexpensively," he says.
Fischer describes Rocinha as "a community of immigrants," and says British and Italian students also live in the area.
"When things are violent they are violent. But is it really that dangerous? I feel safe at any time of day or night,"
explains the American, who admits leaving his door unlocked for two weeks recently whilst on holiday.
"I even have to pick up my dog’s poop," adds Fischer. "There’s a great deal of community pressure."
At the same time a new study portrays inhabitants of the
favela as an increasingly powerful consumer group. Of the
2,500 Rocinha residents interviewed by local television, 56 per cent used the local shopping mall, 23 per cent had a credit card
and 93 per cent had at least one television at home.
But from the American School’s 12-acre campus, the view is very different. The sound of gunfire is common in the
area and pupils are encouraged to take the bus to school, not walk. Students say they avoid the school’s patio when fireworks
are set offa warning to Rocinha’s traficantes
that police are entering the favela.
Despite this, academic life goes on. One school representative said that whilst the extra-security measures were put
in place it would be business as usual. A Halloween party last week went ahead without problems.
Tom Phillips is a British journalist living in Rio de Janeiro. He writes for a variety of publications on politics
and current affairs, as well as various aspects of the
cultura brasileira. Tom can be reached on:
firstname.lastname@example.org and his articles can also be found at:
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