Published on : Tuesday, November 14, 2017
Brazilian authorities opened Rio de Janeiro’s hillside favelas to tourists and it 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, and not just Copacabana beach.
However, now with soaring violence in the hillside communities, it is giving rise to concerns over whether the 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 makeshift housing running up Rio’s hillsides are also the native land of the city’s Carnival parade, samba music and street art.
“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 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 recent tourism study said that 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 earned $5 billion from tourism.
Tourists have occasionally been shot after accidentally veering into the favelas, and the recent death of a Spanish tourist at the hands of police put a spotlight on insecurity in Rio and its slums.
“I understand the tourists’ curiosity and I understand the desire of a community to be part of the city,” said Valeria Aragao, who heads Rio’s tourism police and is investigating the case. “What I don’t understand is the irresponsible attitude of a tourism agency and a guide to choose and encourage a visit to this place — when even residents feel unsafe.”
For many favela residents, tourism is a lifeline in neighbourhoods where formal jobs are very limited.