Saturday, September 22, 2007

Background on Rocinha

So I've mentioned it occasionally without every fully explaining it. Now that I'm living there, I wanted to give some background on Rocinha.

Rocinha is the mass nestled up in the hill near the upper left of this picture. The area on the beach is Sao Conrado, one of the nicest neighborhoods in Rio, which even has a golf course. Inequality it thrown at you hard in Rio.

Rocinha is a favela, or shantytown, in the heart of the nicest neighborhoods of Rio. If you've seen pictures of Ipanema/Leblon Beach, Rocinha is on the other side of the monolithic Two Brothers Rock (in the middle of the above pic). It sprawls from sea level by a highway all the way up and now over the hill, with simple concrete structures 2 to 6 stories tall.

It is the biggest favela in Brazil. Various population estimates put it at around 150,000 people. It's not nearly as bad same as some favelas - It has basic sanitation including electricity and running water, and has banks, pharmacies, and other basic stores.

Now the part that's going to scare my parents. Rocinha, like other favelas, is run by drug gangs. The drug gangs are more than just gangs - they are like the government of the place. This is good and bad. The police don't go into Rocinha except in large scale raids. I didn't go into detail when I wrote about it before, but my class was canceled one day in August because the police staged a massive raid (think like 300 to 500 officers in these raids) in retaliation for someone killing a police officer. The drug gangs and the police engage in this game of coexistence, which involves corruption as well.

Because of this relationship, the drug gangs want as little trouble as possible in the actual favela. In other words, they are the only ones allowed to commit crime. As a result, there is little burglary, theft, etc in the favela. There are lots of stories of someone reporting, say, a bike stolen and then it gets returned right away. The drug gangs also help the community, paving roads and throwing often lavish parties.

In any regard, here's the Wikipedia entry for more. I am safe. There are other volunteers living in the favela, as there always are, and none of them have ever had a problem. In reality you're more likely to be the victim of a crime in Copacabana or on a bus than in Rocinha. The one dangerous time is if there is a raid, but in that case there is an elaborate system of fireworks to warn you to go inside.

In the meantime, it's a heck of an experience. I'll keep writing more, including pictures, some of which my student Nildo gave me.


Blogger Jeff said...

Great background Ryan.

12:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oltimo cara espero q vc gosta d++ A Rocinha

3:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

what organization do you volunteer for and how did you find a place to stay inside rocinha?

11:02 PM  

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