New Carnival after gangs neutralized in Rio slums
By Stuart Grudgings
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - The glamour of Rio de Janeiro's Carnival seemed a distant dream at the final practice session of the Paraiso de Alvorada (Dawn Paradise) samba group on a wet Sunday night.
Several hundred residents of the Alemao slum, which until late last year was a dangerous no-go zone in Rio's drug wars, danced and belted out samba songs on a borrowed sports court whose floor was soaked with rain and spilled beer.
A huge sound system sputtered regularly as it provided deafening back-up to the group's drummers, adding to the chaotic vibe but failing to dim the partiers' spirits.
Rio's slums are the birthplace of samba and as the city gears up for its annual pre-Lenten festival of excess starting Friday, thousands of slum residents are preparing to celebrate their first Carnival in decades free of the rule of drug traffickers.
Alemao, a long-neglected "favela" that troops invaded in November, was the biggest conquest yet in a series of occupations of slums that is aimed at improving Rio's security ahead of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games.
Evandro Pereira de Souza, Dawn Paradise's 33-year-old president, said the occupation of the favela by more than 1,600 soldiers from Brazil's army had clearly improved the environment for samba lovers.
It wasn't that the gun-toting young traffickers used to interfere with the treasured traditions of Carnival and samba but the climate of conflict and the drug-fueled all-night Brazilian "funk" music parties they funded made life more difficult.
"Before, we had difficulty getting full practices because families were scared of getting caught in a confrontation or something. Now it's calmer," Souza said as several heavily armed soldiers from Brazil's parachute regiment looked on. Continued...