“Riding High” Above The Slums of Rio

“Riding High” Above The Slums of Rio

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Our July 20, 2012 story, “Slum Tourism – Is It For You?” reviewed the rising tide of “poverty tourism” that came on the heels of the immensely popular and Academy Award “Best Picture” movie, Slumdog Millionaire.

Travelers were “slumming it,” at least for the day, not only in the story’s “featured location,” Jakarta, Indonesia, but in other locations around the world, including Mumbai and Brazil.

Recently, NPR’s Melissa Block, along with the network’s South America correspondent Lourdes , rode a shiny red cable car over the favelas, Rio de Janeiro’s hillside slums.

Block likened the cable cars to ones tourists might ride at U.S. ski reports. But Garcia-Navarro said that:

“A lot of the favelas here, right, are known for really horrific levels of violent crime, they’re ruled by drug traffickers and gangs. So explain what the idea is now with this new cable car system.

“This was built a few years ago after a process called pacification happened. Basically, the state government decided, before the mega events that Rio is hosting – the World Cup, the Olympics – that they needed to tackle what was happening inside the favelas, like this one just here. So they decided that in certain favelas they would send it certain pacification police units, who would reside full-time in the area. Before they used to send in a sort of shock troops to battle the gangs and then they’d pull out.”

The NPR duo weren’t tourists on a “joy ride.” They were reporting on an important aspect of life in Rio. And despite the “bad rap” that favelas have gotten, Garcia-Navarro pointed out that:

“…the favelas are alive in popular culture. They live in the imagination of Brazilians. We recently had our first telenovela, or soap opera, set right here in Alemao. But beyond this, this is a place where music and dance infuses the Brazilian culture. Take Passinho, which is a sort of cross between break-dancing and Caipuera(ph). It’s really physical and it’s flourished after the pacification units have come in.

“You used to have sort of dancing here, Baile Funke, that was much more sexualized. And Passinho, the kids dance it. It’s just much more athletic. And it’s really taken off not only from here but around the country.”

So will tourists ride cable cars half way to the stars above these shantytown heights in order to “take in” the lesser-known and visited parts of town? Maybe so.

Press the play button to listen to NPR’s report on Rio’s favelas. Or visit the NPR Website to read a transcript of the story or download it to your computer. You can also listen to the story on your iPhone or iPad with the free NPR News app.


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