The Brazil that President Barack Obama will visit in the coming days is one that is being torn asunder by drug trafficking and violence. Akin to the violence that places like Los Angeles experienced in the 1980s around the crack epidemic, this situation is worst in the famous ‘favelas,’ or shantytowns in places like Rio de Janeiro.
The video below, from a TV series that aired in February, gives you a glimpse inside one of those favelas, the Complexo do Alemao. It is courtesy of Roberto “Beto” Chaves, a civil police officer, who also works with the local NGO Afroreggae, an effort to get former traffickers to leave criminal gangs behind for good.
It was done in the days following the government’s effort to “retake” the Complexo do Alemao, which is known as being one of northern Rio’s most prominent headquarters for the organized criminal group, Comando Vermelho (Red Command), who traffic drugs and weapons into the city and through it to Europe and other destinations.
The seven-episode series (see the clips here, in Portuguese) looks at the community now two months since the mega-operation, as hundreds of Brazilian soldiers patrol the favela daily and public services increase.
In the episode shown below and linked to here, Chaves speaks with a group of gay youth about their attitudes toward police, prejudice, and changes in the Complexo since the November operation.
The following is the English transcription:
BETO CHAVES: (narration) Returning from home I crossed paths with a group of homosexuals. I was super interested in knowing a little more about their reality in the favela and I called them for a chat.
CHAVES: Is there more prejudice in the hill [slang for low-income hillside slums], in the favela, in Alemão, than on the asphalt [slang for higher-income neighborhoods on the ground], on the street? Or is it the same thing?
MAICON DE ALMEIDA: Look, on the hill I never suffered prejudice from anyone. It’s on the asphalt where they talk more about me.
CHAVES: Look, November of 2010 there was a mega-operation, what they called the re-taking of the Complexo. What has changed since the operation?
MARIANNE MACEDO: Light [the public electricity company] didn’t come inside, nor did Comlurb [the public waste company] come inside. So –
FRIEND: (interjects) [They did come in but] with fear, no?
MACEDO: Of course. The Complexo changed. Wanting it or not it changed. The motorcycles, the drugs left, but the arms continue. That’s what is disturbing.
CHAVES: But look, I’ve been here for three days. I haven’t seen an arm. [voices] I’ve seen, I’ve seen in the hands of soldiers…
CHAVES: We talked about blacks, we talked about homosexuals, about police, we spoke of favela residents. In which of this categories do you think I fit?
OTHER YOUTH: He is a playboy [scornful term for a wealthy man] from the pista [the asphalt].
CHAVES: If I told you I was a policeman?
MACEDO: ‘Vamos meter o pé!’ [slang – Let’s run from the cop!]
OTHER YOUTH: To me you look normal.
MACEDO: You know how to communicate, you look normal. You’ve already put on a costume. If they [policemen] were all like that…
CHAVES: I’m going to tell you guys something else then. I was here for all these operations, all these in the Complexo.
YOUTH: You’re lying…
CHAVES: So then we’re assuming that every policemen in your heads is violent and I should go away. So.
MACEDO: We don’t know every [policemen]. We just know those ones.
CHAVES: So then we’re going to continue in this vicious cycle [of stereotyping]. Every homosexual … is promiscuous, I don’t know what.
KELLY CRISTINA: But that’s what 90 percent [of people] think.
CHAVES: But look if you guys suffer prejudice how is it that you are able to put that prejudice on others?
MACEDO: We’ve already gotten a lot. … Neither of the two is going to go down.
YOUTH: Tell, seriously, are you a policeman?
CHAVES: I am a policeman.
YOUTH: Tell the truth.
OTHER YOUTH: No, seriously.
MACEDO: Look at his face…He’s a policeman. [Laughter]
CHAVES: I want to congratulate you guys for what I’m living here in the Complexo. [Clapping]
CHAVES: (narration) Coming back home I came across a sofa of a neighbor in the middle of the road. [Lifting couch] CHAVES narration If gave me morale and now it’s official, I’m part of the community.
*Taylor Barnes is a freelance journalist based in Rio de Janeiro, as this year’s recipient of the Inter American Press Association scholarship.