The human cost of the next summer Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro.
The first time I visited Rio de Janeiro in 2006, while driving from the airport to the city center, I felt crushed by hundreds of thousands of shacks along the main highway. It had recently been reported that the mayor wanted to build a wall so that tourists would not be exposed to the favelas as they traveled along this route. I found this approach so hypocritical that I decided to start working on Gangland. While the government wanted to hide the lives of the estimated three million people who live on Rio’s thousand-plus favelas, I wanted to bring them to the forefront through my photography.
For the last seven years Rio de Janeiro has been undergoing a dramatic transformation in preparation for hosting the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, yet many of its major problems remain, such as endemic violence, drug trafficking, corruption, and a lack of public services. Since my first trip nine years ago, I have spent months documenting an ongoing conflict between the gangs fighting for control over the drug trade in the favelas as well as frequent raids by abusive police forces. The combination of criminal and state violence exposes the favelados to the utmost human rights violations. According to the Brazilian health ministry, 73,436 people were murdered in the state of Rio de Janeiro between 2000 and 2010.
While state presence inside the favelas is otherwise minimal, often-corrupt police officers raid houses on a regular basis. In 2008, the local government started a “pacification” program that involved newly-formed police units and the Brazilian armed forces taking over slums near Olympic event sites and the routes to the airport. The police now kill an average of two people in the city each day—citizens like the ten-year-old Eduardo de Jesus, shot dead in April 2015 and later falsely accused of being a drug trafficker. I will use the access I have already gained to return to the so-called “pacified” favelas and document how the government crackdown perpetrates rather than halts the violent cycle.
While poor people in the Rio favelas live under permanent siege from drug traffickers, police, and brutal economic forces, the middle and upper classes in beachside residential neighborhoods feel safer than before. Real estate speculation is at its peak, and rents have sometimes tripled in the past four years, forcing people from the slums to relocate dozens of kilometers away. These developments have exacerbated the social disconnect between rich and poor. I want not only to photograph people in the course of being relocated from one of the world’s most expensive cities, but also to compare their hardship with the picture-perfect way richer residents live.