Stories of favela resistance


Carlos dos Santos Jesus was president of the Ilha das Dragas Residents Association, a small favela located next to the Clube Caiçaras, in the Zona Sul. On February 6, 1969, a Thursday, he was on his doorstep wearing shorts and sandals when he was confronted by two armed men around midday. They forced Carlos to get into a truck and took him to an unknown destination. These and other cases are remembered in the Maré Museum’s course Living History – The history of Rio de Janeiro’s favela resistance, which takes place every Saturday of November 2016.

The initiative’s goal is to show the initial growth of these communities in the city and their later appearance in other parts of the country. The registration period is over, but a new edition is forecast for January 2017. The classes are ministered by researchers and favela residents for a group of 40 people. Having started on the 5th, the course is reserving the last two Saturdays  to discuss what happened in Rocinha, Borel and other areas during the dictatorship period. “We want to study and to try to understand who our missing political disappearances from the favelas are, and where they lived”, explains journalist Gizele Martins, a resident of Maré who created the course.

Carlos dos Santos de Jesus can’t even be considered himself among the “disappeared”, since the outcome of his kidnapping is unknown. His name is cited in the State Truth Commission (CEV) report (pdf), which dedicates an entire chapter to the actions of the military regime in the favelas. According to one document, more than 100 thousand people were affected by the forced removals of communities between 1964 and 1973 (see below for removals by governor). It wasn’t rare for these actions to involve political violence, such as what happened in the case of Carlos. Beyond this, those who lost their shacks were normally taken to a far-away place, without infrastructure or the offer of employment.


“Removals were a strategy to dismantle associations that emerged and were seen as ‘communist cells'”, explains Fransergio Goulart, historian and resident of Manguinhos. In response to this, institutions such as the Federation of Favela Associations in the State of Guanabara (Fafeg) began to mobilize themselves (see below). But the response didn’t take long to arrive. On May 3, 1968, the Federal Government’s decree 62.654, created the Metropolitan Area Social Interest Housing Coordination (Chisam). The entity, responsible for carrying out “a continuing program of favela removal in short, medium and long-term”, existed until 1973. “Chisam had the goal of ending all favelas in Rio by 1975”, affirms Mauro Amoroso, PhD in History at the Getúlio Vargas Foundation and author of the article Golpe militar e remoções das favelas cariocas (Military coup and Rio favela removals).

“While the law is equal for everyone, the strongest always win, and removals to far-away places occur, bringing various inconveniences to the salaried man. What will be of the working man when the city reaches Vila Aliança, Vila Kennedy and Cidade de Deus? Where will you go?”

(Extract from the invitation of Fafeg’s II Favela Resident Congress, published on 11/03/1968 by JB).

Opposing the removals always carried consequences. The most famous case is that of the Praia do Pinto residents, a favela that turned into one of Vinicius de Morães chronicles and was the target of a fire attributed to “unknown causes” on May 10, 1969. Before its tragic end, three of the community leaders were arrested on March 12 by agents from the Department of Social Political Order (Dops) for incentivizing residents to resist the forced move. Praia do Pinto and the Ilha das Dragas found themselves near the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon. “The Lagoon was next in line for real estate speculation at the end of the 60s. And having a favela nearby devalued any undertaking”, affirms Mauro.


Meeting with the Governor

Diva da Costa Campos was the wife of Carlos dos Santos de Jesus. On February 11, 1969, she and another three wives of community leaders from Ilha das Dragas, kidnapped five days before, had a meeting with Negrão de Lima, governor of the then-State of Guanabara. The politician argued that the removal of the community was necessary for the widening of Epitácio Pessoa and Borges de Medeiros Avenues and asked the women if their husbands were “agitators”. “No, they are workers, governor, we can guarantee it”, affirmed the four women – as was reported in Correio da Manhã. He promised to take action in relation to the case.

Removal politics weren’t the only arbitrary acts committed in relation to the favelas during the dictatorship. Created in 1967 by Negrão de Lima, the “E” decree number 3330 foresaw that resident associations “were subject to interventions by the Secretary of Social Services”. This came to happen in 1973, when the leadership of the Resident Association of  the Morro do Juramento was accused of harboring “leftist elements” and was placed under control of a provisional government junta nominated by the State. Additionally, the CEV report shows occurrences in communities of assassins motivated by political reasons. This is the case with Joel dos Santos, arrested while he handed out pamphlets in Borel on March 15, 1971. Black and a PCdoB militant, he was tortured and killed on Army installations. His body was found by the CEV in the Ricardo de Albuquerque cemetery.

“The favela resident didn’t manage to reach the category of political prisoner”

The so-called “eradication” of the Ilha das Dragas favela happened on Februray 24 and 25, 1969. After the kidnapping of the community leaders, the local population didn’t oppose resistance. Close to 300 families were taken to the Baixada Fluminense, Cidade de Deus, and other locations in the metropolitan region. The information was published by the newspapers of the time, which didn’t publish new information about Carlos Santos de Jesus. In Mauro’s opinion, he could have been released the following week after the kidnapping or he could have been killed by the dictatorship. “The favela resident didn’t manage to reach the category of political prisoner. When they disappeared, there wasn’t a militancy to demand the location afterwards”, explains the historian.

“At the turn of the decade, from 1970 to 1980, favelas stopped being seen as a problem for social services and became a question of public safety”, affirms Mauro. He remembers that the removals never stopped happening, even though they became less frequent in the 80s and 90s. In recent years, cases such as that of Vila Autódromo rekindled past memories and put the subject up for discussion again. For those interviewed, the victories with the end of the dictatorship in 1985 didn’t reach the communities. “There isn’t democracy without the right to come and go with the police controlling people’s routines”, says Fransergio. “In that era, the enemy of the State in the favela was communism. Today, it’s drug trafficking. The discourse shifted, but the practices were maintained”, he concludes.

Source (PT)


The Cavalo from Cantagalo

Sometimes, one comes across the strangest of stories. A prime example being this one below from Careta magazine’s November 1957 edition.

In this apparently true story (I looked up the police commissioner’s name, and he a was real person), a horse falls off the Cantagalo hill at night and lands in a third story apartment of a residential building. The rest of the story is mostly people trying to understand what the hell is going on. The poor horse survives, by the way.

Careta 11-30-57

Note: The article says it took place in Copacabana, but the address is Barão da Torre, 33, which is clearly Ipanema. There’s nothing I can find of the era that would hint at a change in delineation of neighborhoods. Of course, if one goes back far enough, the entire area used to be known as Fazenda de Copacabana but that’s not really relevent here. The 2nd district police station being telephoned was actually located in Copacabana, so maybe that’s what’s being referred to.

Pasmado Hill – Making room for the rich


The Pasmado Tunnel connects Botafogo with Copacabana and Urca, passing through Pasmado hill. Construction started in 1947 and ended in 1952. The city, at the time, had horrible transit problems due to a surge in car ownership, which resulted in traffic congestion and accidents. The Lacerda government decided to relieve some of the pressure by making the tunnel. What ended up shortening travel time for those with enough money also meant increasing travel time for those with no money.

Following the opening of the tunnel, a small slum on top of the hill, known as the Favela do Pasmado, began to really grow in size, but by early 1964 it was removed and the space would be turned into a park and lookout point (which still exists).

Once the forced removal was complete (see images below), firefighters lit a controlled fire to burn any semblance of what existed before (a “purification by fire”, if you will). In total, 3,900 residents – or 887 families – were forced out and moved to the “projects”, mostly to Bangu. What was promised to them by the government, as incentive to accept the move, hadn’t become reality in October of ’64, as can be seen in this image saying they merely went from one favela to another.

Keep in mind, the post-removal fire is the opposite of what happened a few years later at Praia do Pinto in Leblon, which first was burned to the ground, then the residents were removed.

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If you’re interested in a good academic read on this favela removal, go here (PT). For the general wave of removals that happened in the 60s, there’s a promising 2013 documentary called Remoção out there but it doesn’t seem like it’ll be released publicly at any point. Below is the trailer.

The Pasmado tunnel, by the way, is also famous for a 1968 film starring singer Roberto Carlos, in which he passes through in a small helicopter.

Documentary Series – Rio Por Eles

The documentary series Rio Por Eles is a different kind of historical and sentimental revival of the city of Rio. In it, viewers will discover how foreign documentarists, reporters and TV broadcasting station saw the city throughout the 20th century. It’s a mostly black & white record of Rio through the eyes of foreigners in different languages.

Directed and scripted by Ernesto Rodrigues, the series is the result of a two year research project through hundreds of foreign sources, in the Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa. Nine reporters from O Globo will take the viewer through 43 characteristic locations which contextualize more than 200 excerpts from 127 films and televised reports.

The series consists of five 30-minute episodes, which I’ve put in order below: the transformation of the landscape, the political happenings, the interpretation of Brazilian culture, the style & behavior, and finally the tragedies & disasters shown abroad.

Vidigal – Early 19th and 20th century

I’ve transfered part of a post on the Vidigal Beach Privitization here, and elaborated on the history of the neighborhood, its namesake and the first men to own the land. I’m also adding some 1918 images at the bottom.

The favela of Vidigal, between Rio de Janeiro’s Zona Sul neighborhoods São Conrado & Leblon has a history that predates its occupation by European immigrants and poor Brazilian migrants. The most interesting stories about the place now known as Vidigal involve two white men who would not have been pleased knowing their property landed in the hands of the poor and discriminated classes.



(Vidigal – by Firmino Monteiro, 1880)

In the 1820s, during what was Brazil’s First Empire, the top enforcer in the colonial Carioca police force, and one of the most influential and powerful men in Rio de Janeiro was Major Miguel Nunes Vidigal. Being as important as he was, he often received gifts, some of them lavish, such as the land on which a favela now exists.

The city of Rio, back then, much like now, was said to be chaotic, where robbery and murder went unpunished. The royal response was Major Vidigal, who was said to be a cold-blooded, vicious person – a destroyer of quilombos and a hunter of escaped slaves – who not only hated criminals, but practicioners of candomblé, samba and capoeira. This often translated to the poor and those of darker skin, who were routinely tortured on his orders and by his hand, with a whip he carried on his person. The Major’s reputation would eventually give rise to the phrase “lá vem o Vidigal”, which came to mean something terrible was coming, as he was also known for his “Ceia de Camarões”, a particularly nasty torture session reserved mostly for capoeiristas, those without work and, by relation, serenata singers.

Two stories of note come to mind regarding the type of people he usually targeted. Despite his distaste for these types, it is said that he once successfully called upon capoeiristas to fight off a drunken revolt by German & Irish mercenary troops. As for serenata singers, he once told a judge that the only thing necessary to convict the person presently accused was to have a look at his fingers, as they were obviously those of a guitarist!

Epigram by playwright Arthur Azevedo

Naquelle tempo, Vidigal famoso,
Mais rancoroso do que um bicho máu,
Tinha jurado aos deuses seus prender-me
Para metter-me na policia o páu.


1820 – Benedictine monks gave Major Vidigal an extensive piece of land on which they had a monestary, ranging from the slopes of Dois Irmãos to the sea, where he built the Chácara do Vidigal.

1886 – Vidigal’s heirs sold the property to Engineer João Dantas whose dream it was to build the Sapucahy Railway betweeen Botafogo and Angra dos Reis. Having just started work on laying railway, the Melhoramentos da Lagoa Company complained the project was harmful to its efforts to sanitize the lagoon, thus it was the end of line for Dantas, yet the work later served as a basis for Av. Niemeyer’s construction.

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1911 – British professor Charles Armstrong acquires the abandoned land of the canceled project to serve as the seat of his Anglo-Brazilian School.

1913 – Mr. Armstrong, looking to facilitate access to his school, improved upon the small strips of road Dantas had created, and cleared the way to Leblon. Up until this point, the only way to the school was via the Caminho do Céu, a dangerous zig-zagging “road” from Leblon.

1915 – Commander Conrado Niemeyer, owner of much of the area’s surrounding land, extended Armstrong’s road all the way to Gávea beach (now São Conrado beach).

1941 – the occupation of the favela began in the area between Av. Niemeyer & Vidigal beach.

1942 –  Av. Niemeyer was extended, the Estrada do Tambá (now Avenida Presidente João Goulart) was occupied.

1950 – the shacks from 1941 were removed and placed above Av. Niemeyer.

1958 – the community was threatended with eviction by the industrial enterprise Melhoramentos do Brasil.

1967 – with the creation of the Resident’s Association, the eviction was avoided.

1968 – construction of the Sheraton Hotel was started on Vidigal Beach where apparently the Hotel Colonial existed previously (I cannot find more than one mere mention of this hotel).


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An Englishman named Charles Wicksteed Armstrong, who had previously been working in Manaus for a British shipping company that imported Amazonian rubber to Europe, was hired to tutor the grandchildren of the then São Paulo governor – likely the city’s very first – Antônio da Silva Prado. In 1899, Armstrong created the Gymnásio Anglo-Brazileiro (The Anglo-Brazilian School) in São Paulo, and due to its success, opened a branch in Niterói, Rio de Janeiro, in 1910. After a robbery and a taxation problem in the year that followed, he gave up and restarted in “Gávea” at his newly-purchased property, the Chácara Vidigal – sold by the owners who in turn had bought it from the Vidigal family.

Thus, long before the favela, and before the hotels Colonial and the Sheraton, the year 1911 brought the Anglo-Brazilian School to the beach at Vidigal. There, Mr. Armstrong created not only a school but a dormitory and a pool on the private beach with the intent of living there himself and preparing young boys from wealthy families for university.


An interesting side note in my research – Mr. Armstrong both a fan of eugenics, and author of at least one book on the subject, and he planned to open the first eugenics colony in Brazil in 1933. Whether his views permeated the school’s teachings and vision remains unknown but it does give one reason to pause.

Being a lifelong admirer of Spain, he eventually sold his school to the Colégio Stela Maris (which still exists) in the mid-1930s and returned to Europe to live with his Spanish wife and four children. He would return to Brazil once more with his family to open the Armstrong School in Petrópolis. As for what became of him after this point, I cannot say, though a webpage by one of his sons speaks of his life growing up and living as an adult in Rio.


Part of the caption above: “On this spendid dwelling, students enjoy pure air from the ocean, forest and mountains.”


1 – The great open-air pool, recently inaugurated at the Anglo-Brazilian Gymnasium, situated on Vidigal Beach, in Leblon. Athletic games, Swedish gym and military exercises, the administration of the great educational establishment just added, with a large and magnificent pool for swimming, one more very valuable means for the physical culture of the students trusted to their care.

2 – A group of students waiting for the order to take their morning bath.


1 – The Machine housing, where one can find the electric motor and the pump through which the swimming pool is filled up with sea water. Next to it, Charles Armstrong, the school’s director, and some swimming students.

2 – Another view of the pool.