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Rio's Favelas

A favela (the Portuguese word for slum) is a term the generally used for shanty towns in Brazil. The first settlements were called African neighbourhoods, since they were the place where former slaves with no land ownership neither work lived in the late 19th century. As years went by, many freed black slaves moved in. As the city grew, the poor blacks were pushed away from downtown into the suburbs. Most modern favelas date from the 1970s when many people left the countryside in search of a better life in the major cities. Most of these migrants ended up in favelas.

The first favela, without that name at the time, was created in November 1897 when 20,000 veteran soldiers were brought to Rio de Janeiro and left there with no place to live. Some of the older settlements which would develop into favelas originally started up as "quilombos" (independent settlements of fugitive African slaves) in the then unpopulated surroundings of Rio, which later grew when in 1888 the Abolition of slavery left a large part of the black population with no place to live. Therefore, the settlements that ended up as favelas were formed prior to the dense occupation of cities and the urban development. In the 1940s, a housing crisis in Brazil resulted in the urban poor erecting hundreds of shantytowns in the suburbs. Favelas had replaced tenements as the main type of residence for humble Carioca people.

The growth of the favelas

Brazilian President Getúlio Vargas´s industrialization project in 1940s drove hundreds of thousands of migrants into the then Federal District of Rio de Janeiro, until 1970, when shantytowns started expanding beyond urban Rio into the metropolitan periphery. In fact, most of the current favelas originated in the 1970s: a construction boom in the richer neighbourhoods of Rio de Janeiro caused an exodus of rural workers from poorer the Northern states of Brazil. Adding to that, some heavy flooding in the low-lying slum areas of Rio forced a large population into hillside favelas.

Nowadays, in modern Brazil, the term favela has become generally a synonym of any impoverished urban area. Since favelas are built around the edge of the main city, they are actually expanding the city.

In 2007, President Lula (himself once a poor Northern migrant) announced a four-year investment plan, which includes the urban development of the favelas.

Local governments have also had public policies aimed at the favelas. In Rio, the "favela-bairro" (shanty town-neighbourhood) and "Rio cidade" (Rio city) programs have attempted ease favela dwellers life conditions.
The people who live in favelas are known as "Moradores da favela", or, in a pejorative way, favelados. Brazil´s favelas are the result of the unequal distribution of wealth in the country although Brazil current policies are addressing the issue with more determination than in previous years.

The most famous favelas in Brazil are those in and around Rio de Janeiro, because of Rio´s urban geography has placed them up the hills that face the city´s prosperous seaside and tourist spots, making favelas a reality that is impossible to hide. Rio provides a dramatic illustration of the gap between poverty and wealth, facing the luxurious apartment buildings and mansions of Rio´s social elite. Several hills in Rio are densely populated by favelas.
Some of the most famous of Rio´s favelas are Rocinha, Pavão-Pavãozinho, Parada de Lucas, Turano and Maré.
Worldwide famous due to the film City of God by Fernando Meirelles, Cidade de Deus (City of God) is technically not a real favela, since it started as a government-sponsored housing community meant to replace a favela, which subsequently decayed economically.

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