News from Rio’s favelas is largely about armed confrontations between drug traffickers and police, but most of the inhabitants have very different stories to tell about their lives.


When his parents had trouble finding even rice and beans to feed their children, Renato Santos, 32, took a decision. Not right away. He got drawn into the drug business by a good friend, Rafael, who had been dressing fancily lately and had been carrying quite a lot of money. Renato was 18 years old.

“He asked me to join him at a favela near Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro’s wealthy southern beach district. It was Christmas time. My father, who was a truck driver, hadn’t brought home any money for quite some time. My family wouldn’t be able to celebrate Christmas the way we like to do, with a lot of food and presents. I spent the day there with Rafael. I didn’t have to do anything. But at the end they gave me 500 reals (nowadays almost £100 or €136). Because of the risk I had taken to be with them. I was happy to buy all the Christmas stuff and told my parents that I had earned the money as a guard at an expensive club in Copacabana.

“From that moment on I started working with the drug dealers and earned 700 reals a day. In the beginning we didn’t shoot. We just ran away when the police was coming. It was all settled. They were paid not to bother us too much. But later they wanted more money and things got tough. Sometimes I couldn’t leave for a whole week because of the shootings.”

Leave the business

Wies Ubags (1962) werkt vanuit Brazilië voor oa het ANP. Ze is ook te horen op de Nederlandse en Belgische radio (vooral BNN, WNL en VRT).  Ze schrijft over ambitie in Latijns Amerika, in het klein en in het groot. Economische onderwerpen krijgen veel aandacht.