Party's Over: Pacifying Rio's Biggest Favela

Rocinho, Rio's most populous favela
Rocinho, Rio's most populous favela
Monica Bergamo

RIO DE JANEIRO - Cleide Oliveira, a 45-year-old beauty salon owner specialized in straightening curly hair, says she'll soon be forced to find a new job. Since November 2011, when a Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora or Police Pacifying Unit (UPP) was created in Rocinha -- Brazil's biggest favela near Rio de Janeiro -- she has seen her number of customers dramatically reduced.

“UPP means the end of hair straighteners,” Oliveira told Folha.

Even on a recent Saturday afternoon, her salon was empty. "There are not as many parties as before,” Oliveira complains. Already past 5 p.m. and no customer has come in for a 20-reais ($10) simple straightening or the 100-reais ($50) longer version. She already had to dismiss four employees. In the old days, dryers and straighteners would work continually. “Until midnight,” Oliveira says.

Funk parties in Rio slums have become world-famous for their scantily-clad girls and songs with sexually explicit lyrics. “There used to be parties in Rocinha from Monday to Monday -- for free and with lots of drinks,” says Fabiana Escobar a.k.a. Dangerous Bibi, the owner of the now-bankrupt Danger Girl brand that used to make clothes for girls who liked to party hard on the dance floor.

With the UPP, "there are no parties anymore and girls have no money or reason to dress nice,” complains Bibi, who is also the former wife of drug dealer Saulo de Sá Silva, known as the “Baron of Cocaine” in Rocinha.

In January, she closed Danger Girl. Now she lives on renting out commercial spots in Rocinha. She has started a blog and is now famous—to the point of being the inspiration behind a character in the most popular telenovela currently on Brazilian TV.

Bibi rents two beauty salons. They are being used by an evangelical church and a bar. Folha also counted 16 beauty salons, 14 bars and nine churches that have opened in places previously used for funk parties.

Up and down the favela's steep hillside, police have put an end to an economy moved by cocaine. “The measure has hit all those who depended on money coming from the dealers. Before they could not leave Rocinha, and spent all their cash here,” says taxi driver Manuel Vale, 48.

The order was also a shock for party organizers. The funk parties in Rua 1 were closed by the Civil Defense because the place had no emergency exit. “I'm trying to meet the requirements,” says promoter Marcelo Tocão, who had about 3,000 people attending his parties and now has no more than 500.

UPP Commander, Edson Santos, is a kind of a manager in Rocinha. He is in charge of 700 men who keep the slum safe. "Citizenship is a two-way street. Parties ended because they weren't fitting the rules.”

“Now there are rules,” says Allan Barroso, 21, organizer of the Social dos Atores party. New at this game, he tries to be up-to-date with all the local ordinances from the police and fire department.

A few days ago, the party made it through two blackouts. The venue was full of people when rain started flooding the streets and made the "landslide alert" siren ring from 4 to 6 a.m.

“Down with the UPP,” shouted 14-year-old Verme upon seeing a police car driving by. The nephew of a former drug kingpin, he got into several fights until he was kicked out from the party at 3 a.m.

Winding streets of Rocinha (credit: chensiyuan)

“Before UPP, this was Sodom and Gomorrah”, says Bibi, refering to the Biblical towns destroyed by their immorality.

In October 2012, Bibi says she was taken to the police station because of loud sound at her birthday party. “Police's intolerance is partly due to the people who live here and call them all the time for no reason.”

Father Dito, from the Nossa Senhora da Boa Viagem church, says he can now feel that he is “no longer living in a lawless world.” He believes criminals have abandoned the mentality of doing whatever they want.

“The party's over, thank God,” adds Zilda Ameida, 44, a housekeeper and member of Brazil's Worldwide Church of God's Power

Major Edson says the “drug dealers' widows” are getting along in the new era. “They are trying to live honestly.”

Pacification has given risen to new kinds of businesses -- like the Hotel Boa Viagem, which opened last January. It covers four floors of a building with 106 apartments. Half of them were converted to rooms charging 98 reais ($49) a night.

After eight months of refurbishing, the fourth floor of the old building is now ready for guests. Folha reporters were the first to stay in rooms 418 and 420, with air-conditioning, flatscreen TVs, a sink to wash dishes and an en-suite bathroom.

Manager Marco Antônio da Conceição, 26, says there are no vacant rooms for the Catholic Church's World Youth Day in July. The first shipment of tourists are due to arrive this month. “A group of 29 French confirmed they were staying for one week. They want to see what a slum looks like.”

Values of propeties have risen. A two-room house is now being sold for 50,000 reais ($25,000). With a terrace, 120,000 ($60,000). Rents are rising as well: a little room costs 450 reais ($225) per month -- the price of a house before the UPP.

A sea of parabolic antennas are another symbol of pacification. “They used to be illegal,” says Luciano Viana, owner of Evolution Internet which -- lawfully -- provides cable TV and Internet access. “Bureaucracy and competition are tougher,” he says. Now he has 100 customers who pay 58 reais ($29) per month, as opposed to 700 paying 30 reais ($15) for illegal service.

But perhaps the most notable emblem of the changing times in Rocinha is on one of the shanty town's terraces: a sign advertising yoga classes.

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food / travel

The True Horrors Behind 7 Haunted Locations Around The World

With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.

Inside Poveglia Island's abandoned asylum

Laure Gautherin and Carl-Johan Karlsson

When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.

And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.

Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan

photo of  ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola,

The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan

Dai He/Xinhua via ZUMA Wire

According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.

In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.

The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.

Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.

photo of rocks and trees in Gettysburg

View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA


Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!

The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.

Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.

Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain

photo of sunset of old Belchite

Old Belchite, Spain

Belchite Town Council

Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…

That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.

Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.

If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.

Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan

photo of Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) i

Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Chris Bradley/Design Pics via ZUMA Wire

The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.

The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.

Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."

Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.

Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden

a photo of The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden


After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).

Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.

Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia

a photo of ort Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Flickr/Eli Duke

During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.

Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.

Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy

a photo of Poveglia Island, Italy

Poveglia Island, Italy

Mirco Toniolo/ROPI via ZUMA Press

Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).

During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.

In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.

Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.

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