A century of poverty in Rio's 'favelas'
Campaign under way to upgrade notorious slums
August 7, 1997
Web posted at: 10:48 p.m. EDT (0248 GMT)
From Reporter Frida Ghitis
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (CNN) -- It was 100 years ago that the first favela, or hillside shantytown, appeared on the outskirts of Rio De Janeiro.
Despite numerous official attempts to eradicate these handbuilt renegade suburbs, housing the poorest of the poor, they have multiplied over the past century. Today there are more than 600 favelas, where one in five Rio residents lives.
Among their number is Dulciene de Souza, who lives in a 20-by-20 foot (6.1 meter-by-6.1 meter) shack with her husband and six children.
"There are streets where shacks are crumbling," she says. "There is no place for the children to play."
Until just a few years ago, the city had a policy of trying to get rid of the slums. Every so often, residents would be violently removed, only to move on to another favela.
But this approach to city planning is now history. Mayor Luis Paolo Conde was recently elected with many votes from these slums, and he has promised to continue a program to rehabilitate the favelas and help them become a legitimate part of the city.
"We are giving people back their citizenship -- the chance to live on a street and a house with a name and an address," says the mayor.
But urban renewal in Rio faces one very real and intractable problem -- drug traffickers.
Violent drug gangs make it almost impossible to even enter some of Rio's favelas, let alone upgrade the housing. The government has to resort to war-like maneuvers just to get into the neighborhoods.
However, Mayor Conde downplays the connection between the favelas and drug trafficking, noting that cities without the former still have the latter.
And despite the obstacles, his new campaign to improve the favelas has sparked hope in people like Noemia Farias, who has raised nine children and 32 grandchildren in a tiny home with no running water where she's lived for decades.
She says things will get better, with the help of God and the mayor.
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