Day 51: Rio de Janeiro
They call the new policy 'pacification'. It was first rolled out in 2008. It involves a concerted operation between civilian and military police moving in, ejecting the drug gangs and replacing them with a legitimate local organization bolstered by increased investment in housing, schools and services. A priority is the establishment of initiatives for those most vulnerable to the gang culture, the young men and boys. In Cantagalo, for instance, a surf school was set up to give all the younger people access to a sport previously confined to wealthy white boys. It was so successful that a popular Globo TV show made it their nominated charity and put in 10,000 reais. Surfing is an expensive sport that would have been beyond the means of almost everyone in the favela, but they make their own boards for half the price they cost in the shops, wetsuits are provided and, with the best waves on Ipanema Beach only a short walk down the hill, they can be for a while the equals of any other surfer from any other background. I walk along to watch them. There are boys and girls from up in Cantagalo ducking, diving, riding and tumbling with best of them. Jefferson, one of their top teachers, is only twenty-three and wise beyond his years.
'Surfing is a training for life,' he reckons. 'It's about knowing when to take your opportunity. It's about not being afraid.'
The removal of the drug gangs is one thing, but what matters most is keeping them from returning. This involves nothing less than reversing the long-term effects of a community that has become used to being controlled, and at the same time protected, by organized crime. There are many barriers to be broken down, much mistrust to be overcome, before the favela can be seen as a part of, not apart from, the rest of the city.
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