Tuesday, November 1, 2011 at 4:54 AM
Rio de Janeiro, which is hosting soccer's World Cup in 2014 and the 2016 Olympics, is trying to remake its favelas, or hillside slums. New services and companies looking for opportunities are arriving — along with some middle-class Brazilians.
New services and infrastructure for Rio de Janeiro's favelas include cable cars, such as this one in the Complexo de Alemao slum.
Silvia Izquierdo | AP
On a recent day in Rio de Janeiro, police radios crackle in Providencia, a warren of cinder-block homes and narrow walkways where drugs and violence were once common.
But these days, it's just routine chatter. All is safe in this favela, one of the hundreds of slums built chock-a-block on the city's steep hills. A Rio advertising company is leading a tour for its employees and representatives of other companies.
Among those who have come is Raoni Lotar, a 30-year-old Carioca — resident of Rio.
"In the past, we hear how unsafe this place was, and now we're walking around," says Lotar who is visiting for the first time. "Now, we feel that the favelas [are] really being integrated into our city."
Rio de Janeiro is hosting soccer's World Cup in 2014 as well as the 2016 Olympics. The Brazilian city is remaking itself — not just the tourist hot spots, but also the favelas, long wracked by violence and despair.
The city's new focus has companies looking for opportunities in the favelas and middle-class Brazilians like Lotar wandering in, for the very first time.
Battling The Drug Traffickers
Just two years ago, Rio's favelas were in the grip of drug traffickers. Gang members shot down a police helicopter. Homicides reached nearly 7,000 a year in greater Rio.
Then the police employed a new strategy, says Capt. Glauco Schorcht, commander in Providencia.
"We used to come in, do an operation, then leave," he says.
Now, the captain says, the police for the first time set up stations in the favelas.
Community-policing units build ties to the community. With better security came a range of city services for the first time. The city is planning a cable car to connect to Providencia, located high on a hill next to the city center, repairing roads and improving the water-delivery system.
It's not just the government showing interest: Milene Costa takes welding classes from an oil company that trains favela residents.
"There were few opportunities for those who lived here," Costa says. "We were seen as people who couldn't be counted on."
Foreigners And Brazilians Visiting
Perhaps the greatest barrier to incorporating the favelas into the rest of Rio are the Cariocas themselves. In contrast, the music and art of the favelas attract Americans and Europeans.
Jason Scott, a 26-year-old from Colorado, is doing graduate research in a favela called Vidigal. Many of his Brazilian friends react with concern when they hear where he is.
"The first thing they say is, watch out, you know, be careful there. People have lived in Rio all their life looking at Vidigal and have never set foot in it. They've driven past it in their cars," Scott says. "It's still very much stigmatized."
But even that may be changing.
On a recent day, as music booms from speakers, Rejane Reis gives a tour of the biggest favela of them all, Rocinha. Motorcycles weave along its streets. Food stalls and vendors selling pirated movies take up all available free space.
The tourists this day are all Brazilians, and they are clearly fascinated, and perhaps a little wary.
Reis, though, says Rocinha shouldn't be feared — that it could also be admired.
"Here, they live as a big family. The way of life is completely different from our life outside," she says. "In our life, sometimes we don't know our neighbor." [Copyright 2011 National Public Radio]
This article is filed in: World News, Home Page Top Stories, News
Khaled El-Masri says he was mistakenly flown to a secret prison in Afghanistan by the CIA.
Civilians Flee, Soldiers Dig In On Sudanese Frontier
The U.N. is threatening both Sudans with sanctions if they can't reverse their escalating feud.
How To Address France's New, Unmarried First Lady
France's new president was inaugurated Tuesday, and he's moving into the presidential palace with his longtime "companion." Host Michel Martin and the Beauty Shop ladies weigh in on political protocol when it comes to heads of state, politicians and their unmarried significant others.
At Trial, Serb Gen. Mladic Taunts Survivors With Throat-Cutting Gesture
Charged with 11 counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, he remains defiant.
Atlanta Opens New International Terminal
Officials hope the facility means more international businesses will choose to locate in Georgia.
News updates from WGBH