The first time I visited Rio de Janeiro in 2006, while driving from the airport to the city center, I felt crushed by hundreds of thousands of shacks along the main highway. It had recently been reported that the mayor wanted to build a wall so that tourists would not be “exposed” to the favelas as they traveled along this route. I found this approach so hypocritical that I decided to start working on Gangland. While the government wanted to hide the lives of the estimated three million people who live on Rio’s thousand-plus favelas, I wanted to bring them to the forefront through my photography.
For the last decade, the city has been undergoing a dramatic transformation in preparation for hosting the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, yet many of its major problems remain, such as endemic violence, drug trafficking, corruption, and a lack of public services. I have spent months documenting an ongoing conflict between the gangs fighting for control over the drug trade in the favelas as well as frequent raids by abusive police forces. The combination of criminal and state violence exposes the favelados to the utmost human rights violations. According to the Brazilian health ministry, 73,436 people were murdered in the state of Rio de Janeiro between 2000 and 2010.
While state presence inside the favelas is otherwise minimal, often-corrupt police officers raid houses on a regular basis. In 2008, the local government started a “pacification” program that involved newly-formed police units and the Brazilian armed forces taking over slums near Olympic event sites and the routes to the airport. The police now kill an average of two people in the city each day—citizens like the ten-year-old Eduardo de Jesus, shot dead in April 2015 and later falsely accused of being a drug trafficker.
While poor people in the Rio favelas live under permanent siege from drug traffickers, police, and brutal economic forces, the middle and upper classes in beachside residential neighborhoods feel safer than before. Real estate speculation is at its peak, and rents have sometimes tripled in the past four years, forcing people from the slums to relocate dozens of kilometers away. These developments have exacerbated the social disconnect between rich and poor.
- Two suspected drug traffickers (the center one having 15 years old) are arrested during a police operation in the Acari slum in northern Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. February 2008.
- Porto da Pedra samba school final rehearsal before the Carnival parade in Rio de Janeiro. The Carnival in Rio de Janeiro is one of the most important carnival celebrations in the world. This final rehearsal was done in Sao Gonçalo a large slum area in Niteroi were the school is based. February 2007.
- A crime scene where 3 people were shot dead inside of a car in a slum in Santa Cruz, on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro.
Rio de Janeiro is considered one of the most violent cities in the world, having an average of 18 people assassinated on a daily basis. July 2008.
- Favela do Alemao in Alemao complex a major complex of slums were an estimated 200.000 people live. Between 1.5 and 3 million people live in Rio de Janeiro slum’s most of them under the de facto control of drug traffickers laws. May 2009.
- Young boys wait in line to receive popcorn on the Dende slum in Rio de Janeiro. Since there is so little state support for the poor and marginalized communities of Rio de Janeiro, some drug trafficking lords are the ones paying for such basic items has medicines or even popcorn for the people living in “their” slums. July 2008.
- Civilian police operation in Mangueira slum to seize drugs and try to arrest the main traffickers. 1.5 tons of Marijuana was seized along with minor quantities of crack and cocaine. May 2009.
- Santa Marta slum in Rio de Janeiro, where due to a local problem half of its population couldn’t have any water in their house for several days. April 2009.
- Weslei de Oliveira Batista’s funeral in Sulacap cemetery in Rio de Janeiro. Mr. Batista was a 30-year-old military policeman who was killed after receiving 5 gunshots while off duty.
Rio de Janeiro is the place in the world where the most policemen are killed, most of them executed while off duty when identified as police officers during robberies. April 2009.
- Evangelical priest Marcos Pereira da Silva prays with the detainees from Rio de Janeiro’s 19DP (police station jail). About 160 people live in this jail that is designed to transitory for detainees. November 2009.
- The view of the demolition site of a highway in Rio de Janeiro. This highway used to run parallel to the water, near the city’s port, and this works are part of the “Porto Maravilha” real estate project where the port area of the city is going to be turned into a massive number of changes, including the building of skyscrapers, as part of the real estate boom in the city. July 2014.
- Young boys fly kites in the providencia favela. During the FIFA World Cup 2014, there is no school, so youngsters have most of the day to themselves. June 2014.
- The ruins of a house from the Villa Autodromo favela that was torn down due to the Olympic games venue that was built meters away from it, evicting most of the residents of this poor community. February 2016.
- A young girl watches a Telenovela (soap opera) on the TV from inside her tent. She is part of a group of 120 families that were evicted from the Telerj squat and are now living in the premises of a church in ilha do governador, Rio de Janeiro. June 2014.
- A young drug trafficker plays fuss ball with another young man in Morro do Dende (dende slum) in northern Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. July 2008.
- Residents of the Mangueira Favela watch from their community the fireworks during the opening ceremony of the 2016 Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro. August 2016.
© João Pina – Text and images