Return to Rio

Back on the streets of Rio de Janeiro. For the next couple of months I will be reporting for YLE Finland from Brazil. Nearly two years have passed since I left this great city, on the day that one of the presidential candidates Eduardo Campos dramatically died in a flight accident.

Drama hasn’t been missing from my first week here either. My first piece for television and radio dealt with the rampant increase in crime in the state that struggles economically. Rio de Janeiro, the home of Latin America’s biggest company Petrobras, has been hit by the fall in oil prices as well as a corruption scandal shaking the company’s, and the country’s, credibility. The recession is tangible. Public servants weren’t paid their salaries for months until the federal government offered a over 800 million dollar loan for the state in end of June. Meanwhile, the state hasn’t seen as many muggings as this year for the past 11 years.

Inspired by these statistics, I went to meet a blogger who films and post muggings happening in front of his office building in the center. He has over 6000 such videos shot only in the past 6 months. He has over 400 000 followers on Facebook. He told me he had started the hobby as he feels increasingly unsafe in the city. He first thought he would keep his video camera on standby only on Saturdays but soon realized muggings were happening at the same rate every day. At most he had seen 5 muggings per day – and he does not spend whole days at the window.

Security, or rather the lack thereof, seems to bother most of the cariocas I meet here. From the morning coffee at a typical barraca to conversations in the subway, security pops up as the most discussed topic. Yesterday one friend who had promised to go out with us cancelled as she had been mugged the night before and lost her cellphone. Also yesterday my trusted taxi driver showed me a video his colleague had shared with him. A young, probably 7-year-old girl, dressed in a t-shirt full of blood was frantically screaming. The taxi driver had picked the girl and her mother from the street where the mom had been stabbed in the neck as she had told a mugger she was not carrying cash. The taxi driver had driven the women with the child to the closest hospital but the woman did not survive.

As the Olympics are approaching the city is trying to everything it can to make this crazy city feel more secure. It will bring in 26 000 federal security forces, including solders form the armed forces, to patrol the streets. In Copacabana you can already spot them in camouflaged uniforms carrying huge arms. Truly, it does create quite a contrast to the string-bikini clad beauties.

The militarization of the city creates other types of security problems. Yesterday I went to Complexo the Alemão, a cluster of notorious favelas in Rio. Local NGOs organized a demonstration against increasing violence in poor neighborhoods, which according to them is linked to the introduction of the Pacifying Police Units that initially were introduced the solve the security problems there. The war between the police and the drug gangs has led to deaths of many civilians. The favela inhabitants also live in fear as the police extra judicially executes and tortures. A boy told us how his friend had been killed after an exchange of bullets between the drug gangs and the police. The latter had then placed a gun next to his body in order to stage him as one of the criminals.

One fruit seller in the local market suggested that the security situation would only increase in case the Pacifying Police Units were removed. A woman from a local NGO mentioned that even domestic violence has increased as the drug lords who were in control of the favelas have lost power. There is less order, more chaos.

The demonstrators were carrying a coffin with names of many youngsters who had been killed in the favelas. Olympic torches smeared with blood in their hands they walked to the entrance of Complexo Alemão. Unfortunately, many people were not present as the community’s cable car had been stopped. The demonstrators present told me the cable car works as their security clock. Whenever it is not working, something bad has happened in the region. Like yesterday morning – a shooting had woken up the residents early in the morning.

Our taxi driver who had been standing on the side watching the preparations for the protests told me a young guy had come to him and pointed at the coffin. He had then asked whether they could open the coffin so that he could see whether he knew the latest victim. Obviously, he had not realized the coffin was fake this time.

So, I certainly have realized a change in the atmosphere in this city of wonder (cidade maravilha). When I was here during the World Cup Brazil had still not been hit by a recession. Now besides security that is a topic no one misses to mention.

coffin

The coffin filled with names of youngsters who have lost their lives due to violence. Complexo de Alemão.