I found out yesterday that the drug lord of Rocinha, Rio de Janeiro’s most prominent and largest hillside favela was killed last week, following a week of bloodshed between rival gangs and police within the shanty town. Luciano Barbosa da Silva, or Lulu, who ran a criminal system moving cocaine and other drugs from Columbia to all of Brazil and beyond, was shot to death at 26, an age and cause not untypical for males within the favelas of Rio to find their life ended.
I was in Rio last summer and visited Rocinha with a tour group that specialised in showing outsiders the reality of favela life. It was a highlight of my time in Brazil, in which I saw the enterprise and will that these people had to have to build their homes from scratch up a hillside, maintaining their utilities andsolving their own crises, be they blackouts, fire or whatever, using systems they cobbled together and the limited expertise they shared between them. The houses were good and solid – generally put together by manual labourer and builders using the left-over materials from jobs that were allocated to workers as a rewards – but the town, unplanned, had only a single winding road through its centre, with warrens of alleys providing the only movement. It wasn’t scary to be there, although I saw how it could be, and we visited schools and art-and-craft initiatives designed to keep kids learning and away from the lure of easy money as look-outs, and later runners for the drug gangs. We also heard a story of corrupt cops launching a robbery on the town post office, only to be repelled by the gangs rejecting this presumption onto their territory. There was some limited hope within that place, where people were poor but not starving and begging like I had presumed, where there were local doctors and commerce and determination, even if it was overcast by the awesome influence of the drugs and the gangs.
Now Lulu is dead, an event sparked by the invasion by the former Rocinha boss Dudu (Eduino Araujo), and a power vacuum is open for exploitation. Dudu is considered a particularly cruel gang boss with sadistic methods, and the residents see this as only a negative development: “The people here have been living in fear of Dudu returning”. While he is the catalyst for the current situation, the favela problem has not been adequately dealt with by successive administrations, while the school system fails over and over again, with underfunding leading to strike leading to erosion in any confidence in schooling the poor youth may have had.
I’m sorry that an ever-precarious situation just slid twenty feet closer to the edge.