The Blog

The Boy Shot in a Rio Favela - One Year On, What's Changed?

The process of pacification for Gabriel and his neighbours may be entering its second phase as the Olympics approaches, but the community is still a long way from peace.

Gabriel shows family and friends the bullets he retrieved on the day he was shot

This week, police are set to take over from the army in the favela of Mare, in Rio de Janeiro.

June 30, the date that 1,600 military police will occupy the community of 140,000 people, was also the date France played Nigeria in the World Cup last year.

The army has occupied the favela since April 2014, two months before the tournament, and they claim to have reduced deaths in the community - but residents have complained of aggressive behaviour, shootouts and even the deaths and injuries of innocent people.

Gabriel didn't see France beat Nigeria by two goals, or any other game in the tournament. Now 14, he has spent the past year recovering from a bullet wound in his arm which he received during one such confrontation, which he blames on the World Cup. He is still doing physiotherapy for it. "I didn't watch the World Cup," he said. "I didn't want to after what happened to me. My friends didn't either."

Gabriel was shot in what was apparently an accident as members of Brazil's armed forces clashed with teenagers on the street near his home, soon after the occupation. A bullet ricocheted off a nearby stream, and ripped through his arm. Gabriel was taken to hospital, but feared he would die or lose his arm.

His family believes the occupation and its timing was related to the World Cup, as Mare - which is actually a series of 15 favelas - lies on the tourist route between the Maracana stadium and Rio's international airport. The continuing process of "pacifying" favelas with security forces began in Rio de Janeiro in 2008, not long after Brazil was announced as the hosts of the FIFA World Cup 2014. The city will also hold the Olympics in 2016.

Mare had long been dominated by various drug gangs who fought for control of the territory, many of which are still in operation, according to General Sérgio da Costa Negraes. He nevertheless insisted to the Rio newspaper O Globo that the armed forces have succeeded in taking control of the territory from the gangs. Some roads which were closed off to the public before by gangs have since been opened, the army claims.

Families must go about their daily lives and go to and from work and school while shootouts between gangs and the army carry on around them. During the 14 month period, nine people have been killed, including one soldier, but the homicide rate has still gone down overall in Mare. That is little comfort to Gabriel, who tells his own story in the Children Win film The Bullet. "I still do exercises with my arm, but it doesn't hurt anymore," he said. He has since celebrated his 14th birthday with a small party at home, and the family have added a new dog to their number.

Life has continued since he took that bullet in his arm, but not without a sense of fear.

"It's calmer now they aren't in the street anymore. I am still afraid in case something happens again," Gabriel said. "I don't know if it will be better when the police come. People here don't like the police." While the army was originally supposed to leave Mare on July 31st 2014, just after the end of the World Cup, the decision was made instead to phase them out gradually and the police in.

Yet the military police in Rio have been implicated in brutal actions in other pacified favelas. They are suspected of being behind the torture and disappearance of Amarildo Dias de Souza in July 2013 in the Rocinha favela, a case which has become a kind of symbol of police violence for many Brazilians. When I visited Gabriel to catch up a year after The Bullet was made, the street where he lives was much more peaceful, with no sign of the army tanks I saw before. His family said it had improved since the early days of the pacification.

Then, last week, the night after an exchange of gunfire which injured three soldiers, another Mare resident was hit by a stray bullet and died. Vanderley Conceição was 34 years old, and his family said members of the armed forces they asked for help did nothing. The armed forces said the death and what followed it will be investigated by police.

The process of pacification for Gabriel and his neighbours may be entering its second phase as the Olympics approaches, but the community is still a long way from peace.

Terre des Hommes is investigating the effects of mega sporting events on children.

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