Rio de Janeiro's Favelas in the News Again

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An article appeared in the Sunday 11/25/12 LA Times about the Brazilian government taking over Rio de Janeiro’s biggest slum, Rocinha.

It’s been said that only in Rio do the poor people live on the hill.  Michael Jackson wrote a song and did a video in a favela, “They Don’t Care About Us”.  Jobim wrote a song “Favela” too, also sometimes called “O Morro Não Tem Vez”.

The film Black Orpheus painted a happy picture of Rio’s favelas, with kids flying kites, people enjoying music and with a little personal drama linked to the classic myth of Orpheus and Eurydice.  But violent gangs and brutality weren’t a part of Marcel Camus’ classic 1959 film, which won the big prize at Canne that year.  Walter Salles film City of Men painted a more realistic portrait of today’s favelas.

The Brazilian government is working on improving Rio’s hillside slums because the world’s attention will be pointed there in 2014 for the World Cup of Soccer, as well as the 2016 Olympic Games.

I remember once going up the hill from the Rio’s Jardim Botânico up to the aboriginal forest at the top.   It had all the trees and plants that the Portuguese found there after arriving in 1500.  One of those trees gave Brazil its name:  pau brasil, or brazil wood.  Tourists buy small toucano keychains made of the reddish-color hardwood.  While up there admiring the primeval forest and enjoying the view, I peered down and saw a man with a ski mask and an assault rifle, guarding the entrance to the favela below.  It was a glimpse of Rio de Janeiro, past and present.

Here is a short history of the famous hardwood that gave Brazil its name.

…..let’s revisit Michael Jackson’s 1991 video…..which may have been filmed in Salvador, Bahia….what’s for sure is that he’s joined by the great Bahian drum ensemble and community organizer Olodum…..the location may have changed, but the feeling’s the same……..they don’t care about us….to wit, the recent incident where a poor carioca was out on his bike buying a birthday cake for his wife, and was run over and killed by a rich industrialist’s 21 year old son driving a $150,000 McClaren Mercedes Benz……we’ve yet to see how that plays out in court………

and, finally, Jobim’s song “Favela”