Brazil’s Favelas: Colors, Chaos, And Crime

Published December 3, 2014
Updated October 28, 2019

Welcome to the favelas, slums so underserved that they maintain a state of cold war with Brazilian officials.

In every conurbation in Brazil, all across the country, there exists a separate state-within-a-state that houses over 11 million of the nation’s poor. Over 6 percent of the country’s population lives in this archipelago of slums, which puts them almost entirely out of the authority of the central government.

These are the favelas, and they are almost a foreign country that maintains a state of cold war with Brazilian officials.

Favelas Nova Friburgo
If your neighborhood is ever used as a Call of Duty map, you might want to consider moving. Welcome to Favela Nova Friburgo, where residents place rain-collecting tubs on the rooftops because water service is unreliable and expensive. Source: Wikipedia

Favelas Long
Rio de Janeiro alone is home to over 1.4 million favela dwellers. Some of the larger neighborhoods sprawl over whole mountainsides and spill down into the lowlands. Source: Be Local

Favelas Vidigal Mountain Beach
Source: The Guardian

Favelas Chatting
Source: The Guardian

Favelas Vila Kids Soccer
Soccer is absurdly popular in Brazil. The country hosted the 2014 World Cup, which was ironically the occasion for radical slum clearance in Brazil. Also, note that the fantasy depicted in the mural is of—another favela where kids are playing soccer, but with a slightly higher-quality ball. Source: Reuters

Favelas Rocinha Police Occupation
Brazilians lead a 21-nation survey in reporting fear of their own police. Nationally, more than 80 percent of Brazilians are afraid of being tortured if they get arrested. On the other hand, can you imagine how badass you'd feel riding to the police station inside one of those? Source: Riot Times Online

Favelas Lone Tree
A tree grows 4,814 miles from Brooklyn. Source: Durian Blender

Favelas Tangled Wires
You'd be surprised how few mafias keep qualified electricians on the payroll. Many electrical wires in favelas are strung and maintained by "casual" organizations. Source: YY In Brazil

Favelas Santa Marta Beach
Favela Santa Marta was laid out before slum tourism was imaginable. Like many Brazilian slums, it is separated from the white sand beaches and expensive tourist hotels by several city blocks, a sharp rise in elevation, and a thick screen of trees. Source: Wikipedia

Favelas Do Moinho Skyscrapers
Source: Wikipedia

Favelas Rochina Tourist
Wealthy people from first world countries frequently enjoy visiting favelas before returning home and telling everybody how moving the slum conditions were. Surprisingly few of them are ever kidnapped for ransom. Source: Favelissues

Favelas Garbage Chute
Driving a garbage truck through the largely unpaved and highly irregular streets of Favela da Mineira is all but impossible. The solution is this large chute, which empties into portable bins. Cutouts permit access to loosen obstructions, which is easily the third- or fourth-most-depressing job on Earth. Source: Rio Real Blog

Favelas Vertical Street
Source: Vice

Favelas Not Detroit
Pictured: surprisingly not Detroit. Source: Johnson Matel

Favelas Panoramic View
Source: The Guardian

Favelas Police Logo
Source: The Guardian

Favelas Soldier And Kids
"Citizens! Be calm! You are now safe from street violence! Prepare for an airstrike!" Source: Black Women Of Brazil

Favelas Via Mimosa Prostitute
A low-profile participant in the Brazilian tourist industry takes a break for lunch in Via Mimosa, Rio's oldest red light district. Source: Wordpress

Favelas Starship Troopers
These men of Brazil's special police force are doing their part to provide security for the World Cup and defeat the Bug Menace. Join up today. Service guarantees citizenship! Source: Reddit

The only contact most favela residents have with the government that theoretically represents them is the occasional "pacifying" police raid. Most are not provided with basic services, and violence is the only currency that passes between the mafia-ruled slums and the central authorities. The people of the favelas are on their own, in other words, and they've built up their communities as colorful, crowded and utterly unique city-states that have held their own against a hostile world for decades.

And then a more in-depth analysis of the violence in urban Brazilian slums:

Richard Stockton
Richard Stockton is a freelance science and technology writer from Sacramento, California.
Savannah Cox
Savannah Cox holds a Master's in International Affairs from The New School as well as a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and now serves as an Assistant Professor at the University of Sheffield. Her work as a writer has also appeared on DNAinfo.
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Stockton, Richard. "Brazil’s Favelas: Colors, Chaos, And Crime.", December 3, 2014, Accessed May 25, 2024.