Rio, Brazil: Rocinha Sings for Peace

     Rio, Brazil: Rocinha Sings for 
Peace

    Hoping to bring a semblance
    of normality back to the Rocinha
    shantytown, in Rio, some Brazilian music big shots joined
    forces to promote Rocinha Is More. The event brought
    together members of the favela’s community with outsiders
    with one aim: to ask for peace in the embattled community.
    by: Tom Phillips

    Brazzil
Picture

    Weeks after being turned temporarily into a battlefield, the crowded slopes
    of Rocinha shantytown were transformed into a giant amphitheatre on Friday
    (May 21).

    From a concrete rooftop
    at the foot of the favela, names from across the spectrum of Brazilian
    Popular Music, put on a free show calling for peace in the troubled community.
    Hundreds of residents took to their roofs to watch the concert.

    "I know that life
    should be better and will be," sang crooner Fafá de Belém,
    facing out onto the cascading terraces of redbrick houses, reminiscence of
    theatre stalls. "But this doesn’t stop me from repeating it’s beautiful,
    it’s beautiful, it’s beautiful."

    Alongside the popular
    singer, rapper Gabriel, O Pensador and other local groups reinforced the message. "We’re
    here to show the authorities that we demand respect and that what we want
    is to pass on good things: peace, culture, the joy of life. Like Fafá
    sung, life is difficult but it’s beautiful," he said. 

    Not everybody shared this
    optimism. "Is the war over? No, by the contrary, it’s only just
    started," sung one local rapper.  "And Rio de Janeiro
    the stage on which it is set." 

    The event, Rocinha É
    Mais (Rocinha is More), was organized by Viva Rio—an NGO dealing with
    violence—in partnership with amongst others the local rapper Weelf da
    Rocinha.  

    Weelf’s forthcoming album
    To win or to lose—from which he performed tracks—provides
    a snapshot of favela life in Rio de Janeiro. One track, "Fábrica
    de Marginal" (Criminal Factory) describes how Rio’s favelas provide
    a constant recruiting ground for the city’s drug gangs.  

    It is a reality Weelf—raised
    in the community since the age of two when his family arrived in Rio from
    Bahia—knows better than most. 

    Weelf, or Carlos Weelf
    Teixeira Brito, was in the street near his aunt’s house deep in Rocinha when
    the invasion began on Good Friday.  

    "This woman came
    around the corner on a motor-taxi screaming that the guys were invading. At
    first nobody believed it. I thought, `Shit she must be joking’. But then everybody
    started running for cover in their houses. 

    Rocinha, widely known
    as South America’s largest slum, had been expecting the invasion for months.
    In February its former drug lord, Dudu, escaped from prison and began recruiting
    an army to reclaim his patch.  

    But the advance warning
    did not make the attack any less terrifying when it finally came. Automatic
    weapon fire lit up the night sky as a group of 60 heavily armed bandits stormed
    into the community. 

    "I stayed indoors
    listening to the shots down below and then closer by," remembers the
    26-year-old rapper. "I thought about how many innocent people have
    already died, if anyone I knew had been killed. I thought about how easily
    bullets pass through the walls around here." 

    Weelf says part of the
    blame lies with the media.  "The press were stupid. They put
    in the papers that the drug trade here is worth R$40 million, which of course
    it isn’t, and the others rival drug traffickers got jealous… These guys
    just think about money." 

    Six weeks on from what
    is known as the "Holy Week War", the uncertainty in his voice captures
    perfectly the mood in Rocinha. "I think it’ll be difficult for him
    [Dudu] to come back. I don’t think the police will allow it. But nothing is
    impossible."  

    Though police arrested
    the brother in law of Dudu last week, the scent for Rio’s most wanted man
    seems to have gone dead. Some believe corrupt police are keeping him in a
    safe house. 

    Rubem César Fernandes,
    coordinator of civil rights group Viva Rio, shares Weelf’s frustration.  "This
    is going on too long," he said looking out from a concrete rooftop in
    the centre of Rocinha. "People have been dying here since January."

    Joining Hands

    Hoping to bring some semblance
    of normality back to the community, Fernandes and Weelf, joined forces last
    week to promote Rocinha É Mais. The event brought together members
    of Rocinha’s community with outsiders with one aim: to ask for peace in the
    embattled community.  

    "The expectative
    is that today will be a marking point in overcoming this phase of the conflict,"
    said Fernandes. "I think there is a general consensus about the
    need to have police here to prevent another invasion." 

    However, the Viva Rio
    coordinator raised serious questions about the policing of the community. "The
    situation is madness, a kind of Babel. There are 25 different battalions working
    here. Some of the officers take 7 hours to arrive here, coming from the Baixada
    Fluminense, Magé, Alcântara, the East Zone." 

    "There is no central
    command. You don’t have adequate control and this leaves the system open to
    all kinds of abuses."  He praised the recent moves to bring
    social projects to the area, but said alone that would not be enough. 
    "This is all important but without first solving the problem of violence,
    you won’t be able to solve anything." 

    Rapper Gabriel, O Pensador,
    criticized Rio’s governors for the current security crisis. "Unfortunately
    I’ve never had the chance to speak well of [Security Minister Anthony] Garotinho,"
    he said. 

    "Like Fafá
    sung, life is difficult but it is also beautiful," he added, breaking
    into an impromptu chorus of Gonzaguinha’s "O que é, o que é"
    with Fafá de Belém. 

    Weelf painted a more pessimistic
    image of the community, currently dominated by one bloc within the Comando
    Vermelho drug faction.  "The solutions that the authorities
    give to us are traffickers or thieves," he rapped to a crowded Valão
    (the road by which sewage runs out of the community), one of the more dangerous
    parts of Rocinha, which becomes an open-air cocaine market after dark. 

    His words were underlined
    moments later when, with hundreds of locals looking down on the spectacle
    from all over the community, one of the organizers offered a chilling tribute
    over the PA system.

    "Distance allows
    us to feel saudade (longing) but not to forget."  It was
    the same homage left at the grave of Rocinha’s former drug lord, Luciano Barbosa
    da Silva, killed by police last month. Perhaps a coincidence, or perhaps not.


    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
    tominrio@yahoo.co.uk.

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