Violence rattles Rio slums as World Cup looms

Tue Jan 21, 2014 11:19am EST
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By Paulo Prada

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Daily shootouts and recent police slayings of two alleged drug traffickers are rattling two of Rio de Janeiro's most prominent slums, communities that until recently showcased attempts to pacify historically violent shantytowns.

Just five months before Rio welcomes visitors for the soccer World Cup, and two years before it hosts the Olympics, the communities of Pavão-Pavãozinho and Cantagalo are bracing for what residents and richer neighbors fear is the return of a decades-old turf war between armed drug gangs and police.

The communities, sprawls of bare brick on hills over the prosperous beachside districts of Ipanema and Copacabana, are among the most emblematic of Rio's favelas, as the slums are known. The two favelas were hailed by authorities as triumphs in a campaign to expel criminals using a strong police presence.

Lately, though, violence in both favelas is rekindling, casting doubt on the sustainability of the so-called "pacifications." It also renews fears about security and public authority during big events that political leaders, now grappling with an economic slump, hoped would showcase a modern, transformed Brazil.

"We really thought things had gotten better here," said Alzira Amaral, president of the neighborhood association of Pavão-Pavãozinho, a dense wall of jerry-built homes that climb up a steep outcropping near the Atlantic shoreline.

"Now," she added, lamenting the return of regular gunfire, "we don't know what to think."

The pacifications were supposed to pave the way for development of long-neglected areas of Rio, Brazil's second-biggest city and a metropolitan area home to 11 million people. Local authorities, cocksure during a decade-long boom that fizzled just as the pacifications took root, promised to free the favelas from criminals and reverse decades of neglect.


Police Peacekeeping Unit (UPP) officers patrol an alley in Pavao-Pavaozinho slum in Rio de Janeiro January 21, 2014. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes