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All Eyes gallery: Stark photos reveal the brutality of life in Rio's favelas

A  young, masked drug trafficker poses for photos holding his guns at a slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on July 11. Teenagers openly tote guns while they work as guards, lookouts and distributors for drug lords operating just a few miles from where hundreds of thousands and tourists and athletes will be for the Summer Olympic Games.[Felipe Dana | Associated Press]
A young, masked drug trafficker poses for photos holding his guns at a slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on July 11. Teenagers openly tote guns while they work as guards, lookouts and distributors for drug lords operating just a few miles from where hundreds of thousands and tourists and athletes will be for the Summer Olympic Games.[Felipe Dana | Associated Press]
Published Aug. 3, 2016

RIO DE JANEIRO — Not far from Rio's posh Ipanema and Copacabana districts, narrow pathways lead to grim slums where poverty, drug gangs and young men with assault rifles dominate life for hundreds of thousands of residents.

Bullet-riddled bodies lie in pools of blood, and gun-toting teens in flip-flops navigate the maze of alleys working as guards, lookouts and distributors for drug lords operating just a few miles from where hundreds of thousands and tourists and athletes are for the Olympic Games, which begin Friday and continue through Aug. 21.

"In these communities you can see what real life is like. This is our reality," said a drug trafficker who spoke to the Associated Press on the condition that his identity and location not be revealed.

Holding an AK-47, the masked drug boss said dealers win the hearts and minds of locals by paying for food and medicine, providing a lifeline for many living in crushing poverty.

Gruesome scenes of death and impunity play out daily in Rio's hundreds of shantytowns, known as favelas.

On the roof of a cable car station, a half dozen policers officers with assault weapons hunkered down behind low concrete walls to shoot it out with suspected drug traffickers in broad daylight in a sprawling cluster of slums known as Complexo do Alemao. When the gunfire stopped, schoolchildren casually walked by as officers frisked drivers.

Elsewhere, a man was dragged from his house and shot dead, his bloody body left at the front door. A teenage boy was executed with his hands bound on a street that divides the territories of two rival gangs. A woman who was a candidate for a local council seat was shot to death at a bar near her house.

Some residents do what they can to show a different way. Pastor Nilton, a preacher who was once a former drug trafficker, holds prayer services in gang-ruled slums.

Nilton tries to persuade teenage boys to give up the gang life. Youths sometimes put their weapons down — but usually it's only long enough to receive his blessing.

Editor's note: Some images in this gallery may be disturbing because of their violent or graphic nature.

Felipe Dana | Associated Press

Residents watch as police work the crime scene on July 15 where a man was murdered in Mage, greater Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Scenes of impunity and violence play out daily in many of Rio's hundreds of slums, known here as favelas, and other outlying areas. The vast majority of killings are the result of heavily armed gangs who frequently shoot it out in turf wars.

Felipe Dana | Associated Press

Residents watch as police work the crime scene on July 15 where a man was murdered in Mage, greater Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Scenes of impunity and violence play out daily in many of Rio's hundreds of slums, known here as favelas, and other outlying areas. The vast majority of killings are the result of heavily armed gangs who frequently shoot it out in turf wars.

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Felipe Dana | Associated Press

Police exchange gunfire with drug traffickers at the "pacified" Alemao slum complex in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on July 7. Half a dozen officers had entrenched themselves behind a cable car station while they shot it out with suspected drug traffickers in the sprawling cluster of slums in north Rio. Shootouts erupt daily, even in slums where community policing programs had successfully rewritten the narrative in recent years.

Felipe Dana | Associated Press

Police exchange gunfire with drug traffickers at the "pacified" Alemao slum complex in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on July 7. Half a dozen officers had entrenched themselves behind a cable car station while they shot it out with suspected drug traffickers in the sprawling cluster of slums in north Rio. Shootouts erupt daily, even in slums where community policing programs had successfully rewritten the narrative in recent years.

Felipe Dana | Associated Press

Pastor Nilton, back right in blue, rejoices with members of his church after learning that residents will allow him to hold a prayer service in their courtyard, in a gang-ruled slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on July 16. Pastor Nilton, a former drug trafficker, spends his energy looking to convert the teenage boys who serve as security guards, lookouts and distributors for the drug lords operating in the slums.

Felipe Dana | Associated Press

Pastor Nilton, back right in blue, rejoices with members of his church after learning that residents will allow him to hold a prayer service in their courtyard, in a gang-ruled slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on July 16. Pastor Nilton, a former drug trafficker, spends his energy looking to convert the teenage boys who serve as security guards, lookouts and distributors for the drug lords operating in the slums.

Felipe Dana | Associated Press

Police responding to a call find the body of a young black man in the middle of a residential street in Caxias, greater Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on July 16. Rio's ambitious security push to bring crime down and seize control of certain slums ahead of the 2016 Summer Games is crumbling. Overall slayings are on the rise in 2016, the victims overwhelmingly young, black men.

Felipe Dana | Associated Press

Police responding to a call find the body of a young black man in the middle of a residential street in Caxias, greater Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on July 16. Rio's ambitious security push to bring crime down and seize control of certain slums ahead of the 2016 Summer Games is crumbling. Overall slayings are on the rise in 2016, the victims overwhelmingly young, black men.

Felipe Dana | Associated Press

Young drug traffickers pose holding their guns at a slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on July 11. Teenage boys openly tote guns as they run in flip-flops through a maze of alleys. When Associated Press journalists visit areas with authorization from the gangs, the ones who agree to be photographed cover their faces so they can't be identified.

Felipe Dana | Associated Press

Young drug traffickers pose holding their guns at a slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on July 11. Teenage boys openly tote guns as they run in flip-flops through a maze of alleys. When Associated Press journalists visit areas with authorization from the gangs, the ones who agree to be photographed cover their faces so they can't be identified.

Felipe Dana | Associated Press

This July 13 photo shows a crime scene at the entrance of a home in Nova Iguacu, greater Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The man who lived there with his family was removed by gunmen and killed on the spot. Police believe the killing was a gang hit related to a change of leadership in the area. On the eve of hosting the world's largest sporting event, Rio's decade-long push to curb violence in hundreds of slums appears to be crumbling. Overall murders are on the rise in the first half of 2016.

Felipe Dana | Associated Press

This July 13 photo shows a crime scene at the entrance of a home in Nova Iguacu, greater Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The man who lived there with his family was removed by gunmen and killed on the spot. Police believe the killing was a gang hit related to a change of leadership in the area. On the eve of hosting the world's largest sporting event, Rio's decade-long push to curb violence in hundreds of slums appears to be crumbling. Overall murders are on the rise in the first half of 2016.

Felipe Dana | Associated Press

A young drug trafficker poses for a photo holding his weapon at a slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on July 11. Teenagers openly tote guns while they work as guards, lookouts and distributors for drug lords operating just a few miles from where hundreds of thousands and tourists and athletes will be for this week for the Olympic Games.

Felipe Dana | Associated Press

A young drug trafficker poses for a photo holding his weapon at a slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on July 11. Teenagers openly tote guns while they work as guards, lookouts and distributors for drug lords operating just a few miles from where hundreds of thousands and tourists and athletes will be for this week for the Olympic Games.

Felipe Dana | Associated Press

A police officer takes position during an operation in June against drug traffickers at the "pacified" Jacarezinho slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The number of people killed by police has spiked in the past two years after dropping significantly the previous six. Overall murders are also on the rise in the first half of 2016, just as officials wanted to use the Olympic Games to showcase the city as a tourist destination.

Felipe Dana | Associated Press

A police officer takes position during an operation in June against drug traffickers at the "pacified" Jacarezinho slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The number of people killed by police has spiked in the past two years after dropping significantly the previous six. Overall murders are also on the rise in the first half of 2016, just as officials wanted to use the Olympic Games to showcase the city as a tourist destination.

Felipe Dana | Associated Press

A drug gang leader poses for a photo in a slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on July 6. He told Associated Press journalists that drug dealers win the hearts and minds of locals by paying for food and medicine, providing a lifeline for many living in crushing poverty. Law enforcement experts say Brazil's worst recession since the 1930s is at the heart of the surge in violence with overall murders are on the rise.

Felipe Dana | Associated Press

A drug gang leader poses for a photo in a slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on July 6. He told Associated Press journalists that drug dealers win the hearts and minds of locals by paying for food and medicine, providing a lifeline for many living in crushing poverty. Law enforcement experts say Brazil's worst recession since the 1930s is at the heart of the surge in violence with overall murders are on the rise.

Felipe Dana | Associated Press

A police officer walks past residents during a clash with drug traffickers on July 7 in the "pacified" Alemao slum complex in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Tourists coming for the Olympic Games will likely be spared from the violence lived daily in slums in the west, north and outlying areas of the city. The 85,000 soldiers and police who will be dispatched represent a force double that of the 2012 Games in London.

Felipe Dana | Associated Press

A police officer walks past residents during a clash with drug traffickers on July 7 in the "pacified" Alemao slum complex in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Tourists coming for the Olympic Games will likely be spared from the violence lived daily in slums in the west, north and outlying areas of the city. The 85,000 soldiers and police who will be dispatched represent a force double that of the 2012 Games in London.

Felipe Dana | Associated Press

Pastor Nilton blesses two young drug traffickers on July 16 at a slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Many of the young drug traffickers have an immense respect for the pastor, a former drug trafficker. It's not uncommon to see young men set their weapons down, but only long enough to receive his blessing.

Felipe Dana | Associated Press

Pastor Nilton blesses two young drug traffickers on July 16 at a slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Many of the young drug traffickers have an immense respect for the pastor, a former drug trafficker. It's not uncommon to see young men set their weapons down, but only long enough to receive his blessing.

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