Copyright ©2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro is remaking itself for the 2016 Olympics, but not just the tourist hot spots. It's also the hillside slums, called favelas, that have been long wracked by want and despair. The city's new focus has changed the look and feel of Rio's poorest neighborhoods. NPR's Juan Forero begins his report in one of them.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

(SOUNDBITE OF POLICE RADIO CALL)

JUAN FORERO, BYLINE: Police radios crackle in Providencia, a warren of cinderblock homes and narrow walkways where drugs and violence were common. But these days, it's just routine chatter - all's safe on a bright, sunny day. And a Rio advertising company is leading a tour for its employees and representatives of other companies.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONVERSATION AND LAUGHTER)

FORERO: Among those who've come to a favela is Raoni Lotar. He's 30 and is there for the first time.

RAONI LOTAR: In the past, we hear how unsafe was this place and now we are walking around. Now we feel that the favelas is being really integrated to our city.

FORERO: Just two years ago, Rio's favelas - hundreds of irregular communities built chock-a-block on the city's steep hills - were in the grip of drug traffickers. Then the police employed a new strategy, says Captain Glauco Schorcht, commander here in Providencia.

CAPTAIN GLAUCO SCHORCHT: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: We used to come in, do an operation, then leave, says Schorcht.

Now, the captain says the police for the first time set up stations in the favelas. With better security, came a range of city services for the first time.

(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINERY)

FORERO: And workers are repairing roads and improving the water delivery system. But it's not just the government showing interest. Milene Costa is taking welding classes from an oil company that's come in to train favela residents.

MILENE COSTA: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: There were few opportunities for those who lived here, Costa says. We were seen as people who couldn't be counted on.

Perhaps the greatest barrier to incorporating the favelas into the rest of Rio are the people of Rio themselves, the Cariocas. Americans and Europeans, in contrast, are often drawn to the favelas by the music and art life.

(SOUNDBITE OF A SONG)

FORERO: Jason Scott, a 26-year-old from Colorado, is doing his graduate research in a favela called Vidigal. Many of his Brazilian friends react with concern when they hear where he is.

JASON SCOTT: The first thing they say is, watch out, you know, be careful there. People have lived in Rio all their life looking at Vidigal and have never set foot in it.

FORERO: But even that may be changing.

(SOUNDBITE OF A SONG)

FORERO: On a recent day, as music boomed from speakers, Rejane Reis gave a tour of the biggest favela of them all, Rocinha.

(SOUNDBITE OF A CROWD)

FORERO: Motorcycles weave along its streets of food stalls and vendors selling pirated movies take up all available free space. But the tourists this day were all Brazilians - and they were clearly fascinated, and perhaps a little wary.

Reis, though, said Rocinha shouldn't be feared, that it could also be admired.

REJANE REIS: Here, they live as a big family. The way of life is completely different from our life outside. In our life, sometimes we don't know our neighbor.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FORERO: And with that, Reis rounded a corner, and continued with her tour.

Juan Forero, NPR News

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: