Visiting Rocinha favela
One can not think of Brazil without giving a thought to the social problems and even insecurity in the country. On one side, Brazil has been a rapidly developing economy and the cities have fabulous modern areas with wealthy inhabitants living completely up to (or even better compared to) Western standards. However, major Brazilian cities are also well-known for their favelas, that is slums governed by competing drug lords, which are an unfortunate evidence of the dark sides related to population growth and urbanization. The huge differences in income distribution have resulted in various social problems which culminate in relatively high crime rates.
We decided to gain a deeper understanding of this aspect of Brazil by enrolling into an escorted trip into likely the largest and most famous favela in the world, Rio de Janeiro’s Rochinha. Although one could expect that tourists would be escorted into favelas by loads of gunmen and armored vehicles, all we had was a Brazilian guy acting as our guide. The trip began by sending all of us individually on the back-seat of a motor cycle run by a local resident and transporting us on top of the hill where Rochinha is located. At first, one wished to have his insurances properly arranged. It turned out that our guide, Marcos, had good contacts to the local people and was well-aware of the conditions and rules governing favelas. He explained that it was relatively safe for gringos, i.e. foreigners, to enter favelas without any additional protection as long as they play by the local rules. As he said jokingly, “No small crimes in favelas, only big crimes”. Although the neighborhood is in the total control of drug lords with the police having absolutely no entrance, the local community lives in a fairly organized way. The drug lords enforce the local rules and punish hardly those who break them. Robbing someone, even a tourist, means bad for the business as it scares away potential drug buyers – therefore often resulting in a harsh punishment for the bandit.
Although the favelas are somewhat organized, the problems faced by locals are striking. Violence and exchanges of fire are parts of people’s everyday life as either the police and the governing drug gang, or rival gangs, fight over each other. The infrastructure of the favela is worse than terrible. All the trashes are lying in the streets and hygiene shines mainly with its absence. People live in packed houses in awful conditions. All in all, the favelas are a great evidence how a properly-functioning government benefits the people. When no one has the final responsibility for producing common goods and services, the free-rider problem prevails and the infrastructure falls completely apart.
While the trip was definitely not a pleasurable sight for the eye, it was the most shocking and influential tourist tour ever for most us. We were skeptical when Marcos said at the beginning of the trip that different studies have shown the people in the favelas being more satisfies with their life than the people outside them. However, as amazing as it sounds, we truly saw more smiling people in Rochinha than anywhere else in Rio, or even Finland. From time to time, one should stop and seriously think what are his concerns really made of.
Finally, it should be noted that despite all the warnings we made out of Rio alive without any trouble. And as the locals said, there are definitely problems in the city, but one should not dedicate too much effort in worrying but instead to just use common sense and enjoy. Rio is awesome!