Rio Gives Its Favelas a Pre-Olympics Makeover Essay
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There have been a lot of unusual sightings recently in Chapéu Mangueira, a small favela, or shantytown, on a hillside overlooking the iconic white sands of Rio de Janeiro's Copacabana Beach. Technicians from a local cell company, once utter strangers to Chapéu Mangueira, are showing up. So are vans delivering home appliances and officials from the government housing agency. Even electricians from the local power utility, Light, have been spotted poking at the heavy cables atop lamp posts.
While those sorts of visits might seem normal to most people, they were until only recently rare to the 3,500 residents of this favela, one of hundreds once controlled by Rio's violent drug gangs. Now, as the government slowly ousts the traffickers and regains the upper hand — part of an organized cleanup ahead of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro — companies are starting to understand that there is cash in what was once chaos. Taking products, services and jobs back into the pacified favelas is the latest challenge facing a city hoping to reverse decades of neglect as it prepares to host not just the Olympics but also the soccer World Cup final in 2014. "Now we feel valued," says Chapéu Mangueira resident-association president Valdinei Medina. "Life has clearly got better."
(See how Rio is making headway against its drug gangs.)
Since October 2009, when it won its bid to hold the Olympics, Rio has unveiled a host of projects that will build modern arenas and museums, as well as metro and bus lines, improved housing and a revitalized port area in the geographically spectacular but socially troubled city. The most unexpected changes, however, are taking place in its favelas, the almost 1,000 hillside slums that for decades were plagued by the stray bullets and bloody turf wars that often spilled out into the city below. Over the past few years, authorities, spurred on