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Rio Favela

A night in Rocinha


Matteo Gennari

On one of the hills that borders the South of Rio sprawls the favela of Rocinha.  It is one of the 800 favelas in Rio de Janeiro; the steep hill is dirty and full of people living almost one on top of another.  Nearly 200,000 people live in this four squared kilometre space.  It is also the place where most of the drugs in Rio are bought and sold.

I work in this favela as a volunteer for an Italian NGO, where we attend to the education of about 85 children, some with terrible family problems.

This is a page from my diary.

I spend the night observing a few of the bandits.  Some arrive on foot whilst others arrive by car; in the boot of the car a hugely powerful sound system plays ‘funky’ music, full of lyrics with sexual innuendos and double meanings.  Then comes the “Oh, uh uh, que saudade do Lulu” – what nostalgia of Lulu, the old drug chief who was killed in March 2004.

His story: Lulu was the drug lord in command of Rocinha for some years, his faction being called Comando Vermelho.  He was a ‘good’ boss, helping out in the community by giving food to those who could not afford to buy any and giving parents of handicapped children a hand with their financial situations.  It was due to him that the favela became accessible to foreigners and tourism and a cult place to hang out for many in the city of Rio.  In March 2004 some members of the Comando Vermelho decided to get rid of Lulu, and thought immediately of Dudu.  He was also a member of the CV and for many years had been close to one of the bosses of Rocinha, as well as being pursued by the police.  He had always had the intention of becoming the boss of Rocinha, one of the biggest favelas in South America.  The plan was this: Dudu would invade with the help of his men from the nearby favela of Vidigal, eliminate Lulu and the command would be split between him and the men who would help him take over Rocinha.

In the week leading up to Easter of 2004 the invasion began and Rocinha went through probably the worst and most dangerous period it had ever known.  Nightly shoot-outs and a dreadful sense of insecurity during the day haunted the residents, as well as the police helicopters constantly circling the favela with machine guns pointing down at this small area in the South of Rio, a place so dirty and putrid yet so full of life.

The community was not happy with the change of command.  Lulu was probably killed by the police, who was most likely paid by Dudu, but Dudu was not widely accepted.  This was possibly due to the lives lost, and also his fame for rape and having a short temper.  Some of the bandits, along with the rest of the community, also did not take well to the change and so a quick modification from one faction to another came about.  A lot of the bandits went from being in the Comando Vermelho to the Amigo dos Amigos.  And so they began to get even; bosses were killed and fights not only between the CV and the ADA, but between the factions and the police, both corrupt and normal, were a common occurrence.  Most of the favelas in Rio became under the command of the Comando Vermelho, and they did not miss the opportunity to try and get hold of the command of Rocinha, the biggest selling point for drugs.  Until, on the New Years Eve of 2004, the police arrested Dudu.  Instead of celebrating New Year, the whole of Rocinha celebrated the perhaps indefinite and temporary freedom from a nightmare.  Even Christmas Day had been lived under the terror of the clashes between the CV and the ADA.

And so here in the evening a few of the bandits, with no worries at all and no fear of a possible invasion, begin to celebrate the start of the weekend practically at the entrance to the favela.  They listen to funky music that sings about their old boss, they drink beers and every now and again a stolen watch circulates amongst them.  Every so often one of them leaves but then returns with a different look on his face and bursting with energy.  They always have three or four women circling around them, some of them are extremely beautiful.  One of the taller girls, with a perfect body and pert breasts is the chosen one of the night for the bandit who seems to be in charge.  He shows her where to sit, and so she sits and begins drinking the beer from his glass, totally silent.  Meanwhile, another much younger blond girl doesn’t dare move from in front of the car door, from which the music is surely deafening anyone who goes near it, with the words and the music of “oh, uh uh, que saudade do Lulu”.

Matteo Gennari

Trasleted by Sofia Lisowski

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