Rio re­thinks slum tourism amid vi­o­lence

San Francisco Chronicle - - WORLD - By Re­nata Brito Re­nata Brito is an As­so­ci­ated Press writer.

RIO DE JANEIRO — As au­thor­i­ties in Brazil tack­led crime ear­lier this decade, open­ing Rio de Janeiro’s hill­side fave­las to tourists seemed like a win­ning idea. The views are breath­tak­ing, the slum res­i­dents could cash in, and for­eign vis­i­tors would see an­other part of the city — not just Copaca­bana beach.

Now soar­ing vi­o­lence in the hill­side com­mu­ni­ties is rekin­dling a con­cern: Are fave­las safe to visit?

Most fa­mously de­picted in the Os­car-nom­i­nated movie “City of God,” Rio’s fave­las have long been known for drugs and crime. But the clus­ters of makeshift hous­ing that run up Rio’s hill­sides are also the birth­place of the city’s Car­ni­val pa­rade, samba mu­sic and street art.

As part of prepa­ra­tions that be­gan in 2008 for host­ing the Olympic Games, au­thor­i­ties pushed to make these once no-go ar­eas safer by tar­get­ing rul­ing drug gangs. The cur­rent na­tional eco­nomic cri­sis has ex­ac­er­bated deep in­equal­ity and re­sulted in fund­ing cuts for se­cu­rity forces, how­ever, and au­thor­i­ties ad­mit they have again lost con­trol of most slums they once de­clared “paci­fied.”

“The ques­tion is very com­plex to sim­ply say if it is safe or not,” said Marcelo Arm­strong, who has been tak­ing tourists to fave­las for 25 years. “De­pends where, de­pends what day, de­pends what cir­cum­stance. That’s the re­al­ity of Rio now.”

This year, Rio has seen an es­ti­mated av­er­age of 15 shoot­ings a day in­volv­ing po­lice and heav­ily armed gangs. Hun­dreds of civil­ians, many of whom are res­i­dents of the fave­las, have been killed or wounded in the cross­fire.

A study con­ducted by the coun­try’s Na­tional Con­fed­er­a­tion of Com­merce and Tourism said the in­crease in crime was re­spon­si­ble for a loss of $200 mil­lion to Rio’s tourism sec­tor be­tween Jan­uary and Au­gust of this year. In 2015, Rio made $5 bil­lion from tourism.

Though tourists have oc­ca­sion­ally been shot af­ter ac­ci­den­tally veer­ing into fave­las, the re­cent death of a Span­ish tourist at the hands of po­lice put a spot­light on in­se­cu­rity in Rio and its slums.

In Oc­to­ber, po­lice opened fire on a car car­ry­ing Maria Esper­anza Jimenez Ruiz and her rel­a­tives as they left a walk­ing tour of the city’s most pop­u­lous slum, Rocinha, which has been at the cen­ter of a bloody bat­tle be­tween ri­val gangs and au­thor­i­ties.

For many favela res­i­dents, tourism is a life­line in neigh­bor­hoods where for­mal jobs are scarce.

Sil­via Izquierdo / As­so­ci­ated Press

Sol­diers stand guard in the Rocinha slum of Rio de Janeiro. Soar­ing vi­o­lence in the city’s hill­side com­mu­ni­ties is rekin­dling a con­cern: Are Rio shan­ty­towns safe to visit?

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