Far From Olympics, Violence Rises In Rio's Poorest Neighborhoods, The Favelas : The Torch Gunfire and armed conflicts are a near-daily occurrence in some low-income neighborhoods. Residents in those favelas rely on the WhatsApp messaging service for guidance on where it's safe to travel.

Far From Olympics, Violence Rises In Rio's Poorest Neighborhoods

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When Ryan Lochte and three other U.S. Olympic swimmers were robbed at gunpoint in Rio yesterday, it was all over the news. Less attention has been paid to a surge of violence happening across town in Rio's favelas, or shantytowns. NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro has documented the past three days in one of Rio's biggest favelas through the text messages of one woman who lives there.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: Every morning, Lucia Cabral wakes up and, like people everywhere, she checks her phone. But when I met her last week, she explained that in the complex of favelas called Alemao it's a matter of life or death.

LUCIA CABRAL: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: She says the residents have a group on the messaging app WhatsApp where they post about what roads are closed off because of shooting or if they should keep their kids home from school because of a police operation. So I asked her to send me some of them from the last three days to see what's been happening in Alemao during the Olympics through the eyes of the residents there. This is from Friday morning.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "Good morning, residents," says one woman. "Be careful, those who are going out to work. Remain at home," she says. The reason - another resident posts what she was seeing through her window.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: She's saying, "can you see that, the smoke?"


GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Reading) It's a war without end, another messages back. The huge plume of smoke was from a car that exploded due to the fighting between police and drug traffickers that morning. Lucia Cabral messages back to the group.


CABRAL: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "Our population is in distress."

On Saturday morning, residents awake to yet another gun battle. Different members from the community ask about which roads exactly are seeing the fighting. One writes, (reading) I think it's on 2nd Street. Another says, (reading) no, it's in inferno verde (ph). Then this audio is posted.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: A single shot, then a woman crying, my God, this will destroy my house. Messages continue throughout the day. One reads, (reading) please God, deliver us. Another, (reading) that bullet almost hit my bed. People then post photos of bullet holes buried in the walls of houses. Sunday is Brazil's Father's Day, and some good news.


CABRAL: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "Good morning," Cabral says to the group. "It's a day of remembrance, and it is calm." According to the violence monitoring app Fogo Cruzado, injuries due to gunfire have almost doubled so far this August compared to July.

ROBERT MUGGAH: So we're seeing the breakout of shootings, and you're seeing the escalation in stray bullets, in civilian casualties.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Robert Muggah is with the Igarape Institute in Rio, which studies violence. We spoke to him via Skype. He says the jump in violence is linked to the games. Police have been conducting more operations inside the favelas to prevent gangs from impacting the Olympics. But the police are also weaker because so many security forces have been re-deployed to protect Olympic infrastructure, so the gangs now feel emboldened and are pushing back. He says overall, the Olympics are leaving a troubling legacy for the 25 percent of the city that live in favelas.

MUGGAH: I think there was a false promise by the mayor and the governor and the federal government when the Olympics were won that this would address many of the social and economic challenges facing the city. And what I think people feel today is that largely the elite have benefitted at the expense of the poor segments of society.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And today, in the favela of Canta Galo, one man was killed after police were attacked while on patrol. He is the 15th person to be killed in the city since the Olympics began. Lulu Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro.

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